Random Lengths News

Democracy on the Ballot

Local House Races Could Hold Key to Nation’s Future

- By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

Democracy itself is on the ballot this November: 299 election deniers are on the ballot — more than half of all Republican­s running for congressio­nal and state offices, according to an exhaustive investigat­ion by the Washington Post. Some, like Jim Marchant of Nevada, are running to be secretary of state, where they could block the will of the voters in 2024, just as Donald Trump wanted in 2020.

“If [we] get all of our secretarie­s of state elected around the country like this, we take our country back,” Marchant said, standing next to Trump at a rally on Oct. 8.

But the House of Representa­tives may be even more crucial, for that’s where real solutions can be forged if Democrats can defy historical trends and keep their majority — and it’s where Republican­s have already promised to impeach Joe Biden just for beating Donald Trump if they do not. A handful of

Southern California races could be crucial in determinin­g who controls Congress — problem-solving Democrats or mischief-making Republican­s.

So meet Will Rollins, Christy Smith and Jay Chen, running to unseat Republican­s in three of the tightest races. Rollins is running explicitly against extremism and disinforma­tion, Smith is running on reproducti­ve freedom, and Chen, who’s focused on consensus-based policies his opponent has abandoned, was just targeted with a photoshopp­ed red-baiting ad. He pushed back hard, but what comes next is anyone’s guess.

Stopping Extremism

“My campaign is about stopping extremism,” Rollins told Random Lengths News. “We need a legal framework to end profit-driven lies and division, so Americans can start to agree on basic facts again.”

Rollins is running for Congress in the Inland Empire against 15-term election-denier Ken Calvert, but his website’s front page video ad starts with a shot of him in front of the Vincent Thomas Bridge, putting the fight to save American democracy right on our front doorstep.

“I want to tell you a story,” Rollins says, in the video shot last year. “Last March the U.S. Navy sent a ship called the Mercy here to the Port of Los Angeles. The Mercy is a massive floating hospital and it was here to help if our ICUs became overrun with COVID cases.”

Just days after the Mercy docked, a train engineer attempted to derail his train toward the Mercy because he thought it was part of a government conspiracy.

“As a national security and terrorism prosecutor, I worked on that case,” Rollins explains. 9/11 is what first motivated him, “But today some of our biggest threats are right here at home,” and that train engineer is just one example. “This is a systemic problem …. But we can stop it,” he argues, going on to spell out how. And once we can agree on basic facts again, “there is a lot of work that we need to do together.”

It’s a relatively straightfo­rward argument for a serious problem-solving approach that seems well-suited to a swing district electorate.

The Power of Branding

But that’s not how such elections are won according to political analyst Rachel Bitecofer, who was the first to accurately predict the size of the Democrats’ blue wave in 2018, based in part on a theory of “negative partisansh­ip” that warned of a similarly likely red wave this year. As she explained on The Last Word in 2019, after my Salon interview drew attention to her:

Under my model, Democrats win the White House in 2020, and then in 2022, they’re going to have a very tough electoral cycle because turnout for Democrats will go back to normal. And because Democrats

have a poor electoral strategy, they’re going to compound that problem, probably by not appealing to Democrats to get them to the polls.

To address that problem, Bitecofer switched from academic polling analysis to forming her own super PAC, StrikePac, to run the sorts of ads that Democrats needed to win. Her premise was simple, she told me in June 2021:

The GOP doesn’t really run anything except a marketing/branding op and it’s predominan­tly a branding offensive against the left. They don’t spend a lot of time on their own brand, but they do spend a lot of time in their messaging on discountin­g, discrediti­ng, and debasing our brand.

One of the first ads she released, “Fuse,” focused directly on Trump’s threat to democracy.

Its purpose was also simple. “It’s flipping that GOP tactic over to our side,” she explained. “It’s attacking the Republican­s to make a conversati­on about their anti-democratic power grab.”

Roe Reversal Changes Landscape

Bitecofer has had some success in influencin­g others, but not nearly enough to counter the 2022 red wave she saw coming. But then “The Roe reversal happened,” she told me last week. “It triggered a negative partisansh­ip emotion on the left side, the in-party’s side of the electorate, because it taps right into fear, threat and hate, and it’s visceral,” she said. “If there had been no policies in America that made abortion illegal, it might’ve been a little bit different,” but because of all the laws on the books that kicked in right away, and some headline-grabbing cases, “It has allowed Democrats to capture or catch up that deficit of enthusiasm.”

Smith, who lost to Rep. Mike Garcia by just 333 votes in 2020, was already laser-focused on reproducti­ve freedom. In an ad released last December, she said, “I will be damned if I nearly died having both of [my daughters], only to have them see the day where they would become second-class citizens, where their rights to their own health care, freedom, and reproducti­ve choice is decided by people who see this as a political narrative, more about control than freedom.”

“Garcia’s proposal would outlaw abortion in every state even in cases of rape incest or health of the mother, an ad released in mid-September points out. “He even voted against keeping birth control legal.”

 ?? ?? From left to right: Christy Smith, Jay Chen and Will Rollins, all Democratic candidates for the U.S.
House of Representa­tives. Photos courtesy of their respective campaign websites
From left to right: Christy Smith, Jay Chen and Will Rollins, all Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representa­tives. Photos courtesy of their respective campaign websites
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