LOS ANGELES - The clock is ticking. What was once months, and then weeks, then days, is now only hours until the end of the 2020 Election cycle, one of the most heated, expensive, and unprecedented in history.
It’s the finish line to a political year that began with an impeachment trial, was dominated by a global pandemic, and, in the final days, saw the confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice. Now, with more than 80 million voters having already cast their ballots, Tuesday’s results will determine whether President Donald Trump gets four more years in office, or if former Vice President Joe Biden will return to the White House, this time as President.
To break it all down, Elex Michaelson is joined on The Issue Is by California Governor Gavin Newsom, as well as an all-star panel of political consultants, Bob Shrum, Mike Murphy, and Rick Gates.
The conversation begins with Newsom, who, on Friday, visited Dodger Stadium to both celebrate the team’s recent World Series victory, and to survey the brand new voting center - one of many in the state to be housed in a major sporting venue.
“What a year for LA, the Lakers, Dodgers,” Newsom said. “You know what, it’s great just how happy everyone was after the Lakers won, after the Dodgers — In politics, you can’t legislate spirit and pride, and that’s what sports does, it brings people together at a time we’re so desperate to have something in common, as opposed to an election that divides all of us.”
With Tuesday’s election in mind, Michaelson asked Newsom how the Golden State’s future might differ depending on whether President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden claim victory.
“It’s more of the same,” Newsom said of a possible Trump re-election. “We’re involved in more than 100 lawsuits against he Trump administration, almost 60 in the environmental space, so we’re consistently playing defense, all the headwinds coming out of Washington DC. And while we’ve established a good working relationship, not a sparring one, on issues of wildfires and of COVID, the reality is that it’s tenuous, at best.”
Newsom was more bullish on the prospects of a Biden-Harris administration, which he said would provide tailwinds instead of headwinds, would allow the state to address those outstanding lawsuits, and would enter office with “an agenda that aligns with the values of this state.”
Should the Biden-Harris ticket prevail on Tuesday, it would then fall to Newsom to name someone to serve out the final two years of Harris’ term as California’s junior Senator.
Speculation about a possible replacement has run rampant since Harris was chosen for the ticket in August, with names like California AG Xavier Becerra, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and California Congresswoman Karen Bass, being floated.
Michaelson asked Newsom who he might be considering, and what the thought process behind it might be.
“There’s not a book, because no one would read it, but there’s certainly a blog I can write about the interesting folks who have had no problem calling directly and saying ‘I absolutely am the right person,’” Newsom said, before noting that there are other stresses like wildfires and COVID that are taking precedent before he knows he even has to select someone.
Next, the conversation turned to COVID19, and the continued efforts to reopen the state amidst a new rise in cases. California is now home to more than 920,000 positive infections, a total only recently surpassed by Texas, which now tallies 940,000 positive cases.
In recent weeks, Newsom has experienced pushback from frustrated Californians who believe the reopening measures are too restrictive, especially when it comes to schools - the Los Angeles Unified School District this week announcing that in-person classes will not resume until, at least, January 2021, some nine months after initially closing.
“I totally get it, I’ve got four kids myself, I want them back in school, the social-emotional learning, it’s incredibly challenging,” Newsom said, noting how it’s almost impossible to get distanced learning right, especially for younger kids. “We want to get them back, be we’ve got to do it safely.”
“Here’s the good news,” Newsom said of the state’s progress in combating the virus, “California has gotten our positivity rate down to around 3%…outperforming most of the rest of the country.”
“Here’s the bad news, that number has trended up in the last couple weeks,” he cautioned, pointing to the UK, Germany, and France, which, this week, announced the reinstatement of lockdown measures to combat intense second waves of the virus. “We don’t want the fits and starts, we want a sustainable solution, so we’re driven by one thing, data, not by political decisions.”
That reliance on data has led the state to adopt a four-tiered system in which restrictions are decreased from tier to tier. Currently, nine counties, including Los Angeles, remain in the most restrictive “purple” tier.
The Governor stressed that the state is making progress, but that, as the winter approaches, there is potential for a downturn, especially as people return inside to escape the colder weather, as the holidays lead to households mixing together, and as the seasonal flu serves as a twin pandemic.
“We want to be vigilant, and we don’t want to go too far only to fall three steps back.”
On a more personal front, Michaelson put Newsom’s tenure in office in perspective, asking how he has dealt with the last two years, which have seen COVID, record wildfires, and racial injustice simultaneously.
Newsom recognized the problems the state faces, including rising housing costs and homelessness, but praised the state for its resiliency in the face of it all.
“At the end of the day, it’s California, there’s no state in America, no state in the world, like this state,” he gushed. “I’m proud of this state, I’m proud of its resiliency, our capacity to weather this… when people say the best days of California are behind us, they couldn’t be more wrong.”
Next, the final all-star political panel before next week’s all-important election.
This week, Michaelson was joined by three legendary political consultants. Bob Shrum worked on the Presidential campaigns of Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry, Mike Murphy worked on the campaigns of Republicans George H.W. Bush and John McCain, and Rick Gates worked on the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump.
First, Michaelson asked the three what they make of the current state of the race, which currently has Biden leading Trump nationally and in many of the key swing states.
“I think the polls are off, I think they were off in 2016, I think they’re off today, the race is going to tighten considerably,” Gates said, pointing to the “silent Trump vote,” which he thinks will be even more significant this cycle than last.
Shrum, who serves as co-director of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future, alongside Murphy, agreed that there may be a “shy” Trump voters, but said that his polling shows there are also “shy” Biden voters, particularly among blue-collar, non-college educated women.
Citing changes to polling methodology since 2016, Biden enjoying larger margins than Hillary Clinton held last go-around, and the fact that more than 80 million voters have already cast their ballots, Shrum said an upset is possible, but that most indicators point to a Biden victory.
Murphy was even more certain of a Biden victory.
“Get a fork, Trump is done… There will be angry plates full of meatloaf flying across the White House dining room,” Murphy said, pointing to lagging poll numbers in Florida, Michigan, Georgia, and other bellwether states.
In the lead up to Tuesday though, the two campaigns have employed very different strategies. President Trump has returned to the campaign trail in a big way, holding multiple large rallies daily, on Friday, his campaign announced 14 more to be held in the closing 72 hours of the race. Biden, on the other hand, has been more cautious, holding fewer, socially-distanced, events.
Which strategy is more effective?
“One, Trump is out of money, so he needs earned media,” Murphy said. “Two, he has a psychological need for the rallies. I don’t think they’re helping him, I think they’re hurting him, we’re getting pounded to death with Trump, and the country has shown a lot of Trump-fatigue, which is part of Biden’s theme.”
Murphy added that Biden’s campaign optics may not be as good, but the message of his scaled-back events is more responsible during the ongoing pandemic.
Gates pushed back on Murphy’s point about lack of money, saying that the 2016 Trump campaign was run on a very small budget, but was run effectively, using those available funds to target voters through digital advertising.
Looking back on the 2016 campaign, Gates added that then-candidate Trump was able to communicate his message directly to the people, something he continues to do today with boundless energy: “a lot of what Trump has been able to do in 2020 is what worked for him in 2016.”
The conversation ended with Michaelson asking the three political pros to offer up their advice for what viewers should watch for as the returns come in on Election Night.
“When they show the pictures of election headquarters, you’ve got to get a sense of the mood and the atmosphere at each campaign,” Gates advised.
Murphy suggested that viewers should not be phased by early results, instead focusing in on specific bellwether counties, namely those in Ohio and Florida.
“Look at the crowds, wait for the results, but don’t listen to the spin from either side,” Shrum concluded.
The Issue Is: with Elex Michaelson is California's only statewide political show. For showtimes and more information, go to TheIssueIsShow.com.