We don’t yet know how the wrenching, “Rashomon”-like Senate testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh will influence the looming midterm elections — in part because we don’t yet know how the forthcoming FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations will influence a handful of moderate senators, Democrat and Republican, whose votes early next month will determine whether Kavanaugh ultimately ascends to the highest court in the land.
But we might start to pick up on the earliest ripple effects if we pay close attention to the races where #MeToo candidates are themselves running for office.
Katie Hill is one such candidate. Hill is 31 years old. She is bisexual. She and her husband live on a small ranch in Agua Dulce, Calif., where they raise goats. Before declaring her candidacy on International Women’s Day, she was leading one of the region’s largest homeless-services providers. In May, Hill and her staff — “the most millennial campaign ever” — participated in a remarkably intimate two-part documentary on HBO’s Vice News Tonight. One of her campaign videos shows her free-climbing a hundred-foot cliff in the Angeles National Forest.
She has also been open about her own experiences with sexual trauma.
“I have experienced sexual assault multiple times, in different ways,” Hill said in another campaign video posted shortly before Kavanaugh and Ford appeared on Capitol Hill. “None of that is OK. If we let that go for someone in power, who should be held to the highest possible standard… we are showing to boys and men across the country that … it’s not that bad. And we’re never going to see change if that’s what we do.”
Hill isn’t alone. Ayanna Pressley, a progressive member of the Boston City Council who upset Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano earlier this month, put her “status as a [rape] survivor and advocate for others near the forefront of her campaign.” Katie Porter, a consumer-protection attorney who captured the Democratic nomination in California’s 45th Congressional District, centered on Irvine, revealed in May that she had escaped an abusive ex-husband. Former Miami Judge Mary Barzee Flores, a Democratic candidate running in Florida’s 25th Congressional District, outside Miami, released a campaign ad this spring in which she referred to an “assault from a boss” and experience with “handsy customers” during her time in the food service industry. Inspired by the #MeToo movement, many others — including Arizona senate candidate Martha McSally, a Republican, and Michigan gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat — have shared their stories as well.
If and when the Kavanaugh fallout starts to affect down-ballot races, we will likely see it most clearly in the contests where candidates have already made #MeToo an issue. In that regard, Hill’s insurgent campaign against two-term GOP Rep. Steve Knight, a former Los Angeles police officer, could be prove to be a particularly telling case study.
For one thing, the race is close. California’s 25th Congressional District ranges from the comfortable northern suburbs of Los Angeles (Simi Valley, Santa Clarita) to the much poorer and more desolate communities (Antelope Valley, Lancaster) at the edge of the Mojave Desert. Voters there — many with links to the LAPD, like Knight and Hill, the daughter of a cop — have long sent Republicans to Congress. But in 2016, as a result of shifting demographics and widespread anti-Trump sentiment — the district is nearly 40 percent Latino — it was carried by Hillary Clinton. Today, the local electorate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and polls show Hill in a statistical tie with Knight, whom she has outraised by nearly $800,000.
Meanwhile, Hill hasn’t just spoken out; she is continuing to speak out. During a debate last week in Palmdale, Hill said “she had suffered sexual violence and could attest to how hard it was for a survivor to come forward,” according to a report in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal; Knight described the confirmation battle over Kavanaugh as “an interesting issue” and said he would wait until Ford testified before weighing in. A few days later, Hill posted a thread on Twitter in response to new allegations by Julie Swetnick that Kavanaugh participated in drunken “gang rape” parties while in high school.
“Julie Swetnick risked everything to come forward with her story,” Hill wrote, noting that recent events had been “triggering.” “This is not just about the Supreme Court, this is about believing women and protecting survivors. I’ve lived this reality and I know why so many of us never report.
“I quickly opposed the Kavanaugh nomination because he is a threat to reproductive health, campaign finance reform, and our workforce,” she continued. “But now we’re talking about putting a serial predator up for a lifetime appointment in the highest seat we have in the U.S. That can’t happen.”
Hill and other #MeToo candidates first shared their personal stories — Hill “came out,” so to speak, last December — in a pre-Kavanaugh context. Back then, a study conducted by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation found that, across party and gender lines, voters favored candidates who promised to address sexual harassment and shied away from those who dismissed the #MeToo movement as overly extreme.
The question is whether this week’s dramatic Senate spectacle will change that dynamic. Ford insisted “100 percent” that Kavanaugh assaulted her. Kavanaugh insisted “100 percent” that he didn’t. And Democrats and Republicans instantly (and near-uniformly) retreated to their respective corners, choosing the reality that best aligned with their political interests. The result is that the #MeToo movement’s most consequential achievement — a growing consensus that society must believe women who report abuse — may start to polarize along party lines.
“When this is all said and done, there is something that is going to have really long-lasting effects in, I think, a very negative way on how people view discussions of gender in society and sexual assault,” explained former Barack Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer on Pod Save America. “Because it’s polarizing … and this is what happens when you have someone like Trump as president, [who has been accused of sexual misconduct himself]. To believe the victims is somehow a slight on the president. So Republicans have to take the other side, whether it’s Brett Kavanaugh, Roy Moore, Rob Porter, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, whoever else. You have to side with the man. Somehow those are your Republican bona fides in this day and age. And that’s going to matter for a very long time, whether Brett Kavanaugh is on the court or not.”
It’s too early to say how next week’s Senate vote will play out — particularly after retiring Arizona Republican Jeff Flake announced Friday that he will not support Kavanaugh’s final confirmation until the FBI conducts an investigation into the allegations of Ford and others.
If some decisive combination of Flake, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and/or Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota breaks Kavanaugh’s way, Democratic base voters and college-educated suburban women may be even more motivated to punish Trump’s party in November.
If Kavanaugh goes down, on the other hand, those same voters may seek to stymie whoever gets the nomination in his place by electing a Democratic Senate — while their GOP counterparts may have a new reason to turn out and keep Republicans in control.
Kavanaugh’s fate won’t decide the election in California’s 25th Congressional District; both Hill and Knight are campaigning on a broad array of issues. But given the hardening partisan and gender divides over whether to believe Ford or Kavanaugh — a poll taken before Thursday’s hearing showed a 19-point gender gap overall and a 50-plus-point gap between Republican men and Democratic women — it’s races like these, where #MeToo already has a megaphone and survivor-candidates have shown a willingness to campaign on their own experiences, that will amplify the down-ballot effects of the latest Supreme Court developments.
A clue to the potential power of these political crosscurrents can be found in the most recent poll of CA-25 voters, by Siena College. Overall, the survey shows Knight leading by 2 percentage points, 47 percent to 45 percent. Dig deeper, however, and a massive gender gap emerges, with male voters preferring Knight by 19 points (56-37) and female voters preferring Hill by 12 (52-40). Also buried in the results is the fact that while Siena’s turnout model predicts that the November electorate will be 53 percent female and 47 percent male, the proportion of poll respondents was reversed: 51 percent male, 49 percent female.
The opportunity for Hill is clear: Increase your margin among women and/or convince more of them to vote, and you may very well take the lead. In that sense, it’s unlikely that the candidate — or her peers — will stop rallying women around #MeToo and Ford anytime soon. But the risk here is clear as well: a potential counterreaction that has only grown in the wake of the week’s polarizing events. The story of Kavanaugh’s effect on the midterms may ultimately come down to which force is bigger — the base or the backlash.
Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District: Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year turned congressional candidate, is part of a class of progressive Democratic women, people of color and teachers who won their primaries, in many cases running against the party establishment, reports Yahoo News’ Kadia Tubman.
If victorious in November, Hayes is poised to be the first black woman and first black Democrat to represent Connecticut in Congress. But first she must defeat her Republican challenger, Manny Santos.
The key to victory will be winning over independent voters, who represent more than 40 percent of the district’s electorate.
Hayes attributes her primary victory to her success in doing just that. “We didn’t just target traditional Democratic primary voters,” she told Yahoo News, “[but also] every single person who I could register, who I could move from unaffiliated to Democrat. And it’ll be the same strategy moving forward.”
Santos, meanwhile, has also set his sights on unaffiliated voters. “They, and frankly also Democrat and Republican voters in general, need to be given clear choices,” said Santos. “And this year they have a clear choice.”
Hayes, who most recently received a nod from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, holds progressive views on immigration, the minimum wage, gun control, free education and Medicare for all.
Santos, a veteran and an immigrant — he came with his family as a child from Portugal — says the Trump administration has improved the country’s mood. “There’s a substantive hope. People are finding work. Companies are hiring. We see economic prosperity, finally, after too many years of a stagnant economy. In general, Americans are again proud of their country because we have a president that speaks highly of veterans, of the American potential and in what makes America great.”
According to Santos, for Republicans, there is “a better chance of winning” in the Fifth District because it “leans more conservative” than other parts of the state.
Before 2006, the district, which covers the hill towns, farms and suburbs of the state’s northwest corner, was traditionally represented by Republicans. Then Chris Murphy beat GOP moderate Nancy Johnson. Even so, Hillary Clinton won there by only a narrow margin in 2016 — 4.1 percentage points.
“This district covers the full spectrum,” said Hayes. “It’s like a microcosm of the entire country. You can’t take anything for granted in this district because it could go either way.” – Kadia Tubman
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Collecting chits for 2020: For politicians considering a presidential bid — there may be more Democrats who are than aren’t at this point — midterm elections can be convenient things. Especially when money is involved. Case in point: major cash grabs this week by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy.
Garcetti (who has repeatedly said that he is open to running in 2020) chose to tap into his well-connected, well-to-do Los Angeles donor network on behalf of a long list of conveniently located state Democratic parties — California, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — raising $100,000 for each at a Hollywood bash featuring Jimmy Kimmel and DJ Khaled.
“We are taking a unique and strategic approach to these midterms,” Garcetti said. “State Democratic parties are where it all comes together — they’re working to flip Congress and secure victories in 2020 and beyond by winning state legislative seats and registering voters. Keep in mind that state legislatures are in charge of drawing — or gerrymandering — House districts. Our opponents certainly do.”
Garcetti didn’t mention that state-level legislators and politicos are also key early presidential endorsers, but then, he didn’t have to.
Murphy’s approach is similar, but focused on a single issue as opposed to the broader electoral map. The Connecticut senator seized on gun violence as his signature issue after 2012’s Newtown school shooting, which occurred in his former congressional district; now he will be spearheading (as he put it in a statement) a “one-day online fundraising campaign for eight Democratic candidates who are strong on gun violence reform and who are running to replace incumbents who are A-rated NRA members in seats or states that Hillary Clinton won.”
The plan is to simultaneously blast the appeal to the email lists of many of the biggest names in Democratic politics (Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, etc) and raise $100,000 each for U.S. House candidates Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, Jason Crow of Colorado, Susan Wild of Pennsylvania and Josh Harder and Mike Levin of California, as well as Nevada Senate candidate Jacky Rosen.
Political hack: In a new New York Times Magazine feature, veteran cybersecurity reporter Kim Zetter asks a critical question: “As the midterms approach, America’s electronic voting systems are more vulnerable than ever. Why isn’t anyone trying to fix them?”
The answer, according to Zetter, is money. All of the 350,000 voting machines in use in the country today fall into one of two categories: optical-scan machines or direct-recording electronic machines. Each of them suffers from significant security problems — and each is a product of a $300 billion industry “known for its secrecy, close political ties (overwhelmingly to the Republican Party) and a revolving door between vendors and election offices.”
In her story, Zetter details a number of ways that hackers could alter the results of the upcoming midterm elections: by accessing voting machines via “the cellular modems used to transmit unofficial results at the end of an election”; by subverting “back-end election-management systems — used to program the voting machines and tally votes — and spread[ing] malicious code to voting machines through them”; by designing their code to “bypass pre-election testing and kick in only at the end of an election or under specific conditions — say, when a certain candidate appears to be losing — and erase itself afterward to avoid detection.”
Did anything like this happen in 2016? The Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence community and election officials have all insisted that there is no evidence that Russian hackers altered votes in 2016. But the truth, according to Zetter, is that “no one has really looked for evidence” — meaning there’s also “a good chance we simply won’t know if someone has altered the digital votes in the next election” either.
An important — and terrifying — read.
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