Reporting on the 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections
Christopher M. Tuttle, senior fellow and director of the Renewing America initiative at CFR, and Emilee Fannon, capitol reporter for WDJT – Milwaukee, discuss the significance of the 2022 U.S. midterm elections and share ideas for framing state politics and elections in local news stories. Carla Anne Robbins, senior fellow at CFR and former deputy editorial page editor at the New York Times moderates the conversation, followed by questions and answers.
FASKIANOS: Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Local Journalist Webinar. I am Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.
CFR is an independent and nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, publisher, and educational institution focusing on U.S. foreign policy. CFR is also the publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
This webinar is part of CFR’s Local Journalist Initiative, created to help you draw connections between the local issues you cover and national and international dynamics. Our programming puts you in touch with CFR resources and expertise and provides a forum for best practices.
We’re delighted to have more than forty-five journalists joining us from twenty-six states. Thank you very much for taking time from your busy schedules and deadline-driven schedules. I want to remind everyone that this webinar is on the record and the video and transcript will be posted on our website at CFR.org/localjournalists.
So we’re delighted to have Christopher Tuttle and Emilee Fannon with us today, and Carla Anne Robbins.
Emilee Fannon is the Capitol reporter for CBS 85 (sic: 58) WDJT Milwaukee. She previously served as the Capitol bureau chief for WKOW in Madison, Wisconsin, where she interviewed former Vice Presidents Mike Pence and Joe Biden while covering the 2020 presidential election. Ms. Fannon began her career as a statehouse reporter, covering state politics in Illinois.
Chris Tuttle is the senior fellow and director of the Renewing America Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. He previously served as policy director of the majority staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations under than-Chairman Bob Corker. He joined CFR after having spent time at the U.S. Department of State and in the U.S. House of Representatives of chief of staff for Wisconsin Representative Mark Green.
And finally, Carla Anne Robbins, a senior fellow at CFR. She is also faculty director at the Master of International Affairs Program and clinical professor of national security studies at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs. Previously, she was deputy editorial page editor at the New York Times and chief diplomatic correspondent at the Wall Street Journal.
I’m going to turn it over to Carla to run the conversation, and then we’re going to go to all of you to ask your questions. And we also encourage you to share your best practices with each other, because this is a forum for learning and sharing. So, Carla, over to you.
ROBBINS: Irina, thank you so much. And, Emilee and Chris, thank you so much. And thank you to all the reporter who are here. I mean, we know you guys are frantically on deadline, and the deadline is twenty-four hours a day now. So it’s great that you took the time to join us today.
So I know it’s not all about the horserace but, of course, let’s start with the horserace. First, there were the predictions of a red wave. Then there was the post-Dobbs, women are furious, the Dems might pull this off phase. And now we’re on the Dems peak too soon narrative for the midterms. So Matt Yglesias has pointed out this morning in his newsletter, and if you—you know, I really recommend it if you’re not reading him—the party in power always takes it on the chin in the midterms. The only recent times when they didn’t were the post-9/11 election and the 1962 midterms, which were held right at the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
So, Chris, if we can start with you, is this going to a normal midterm shellacking, a bloodbath for the Dems, or something else? And we’re not going to hold you to it. We’re not going to remind you. Of course, we’re recording this, but—
TUTTLE: Thanks, Carla. It, obviously, remains to be seen. I think that most of the numbers out there show Republicans picking up twenty-five, maybe a few more seats than that, which is actually not out of the ordinary. You know, I don’t—I would not call that in a midterm election where you have a Democratic president, Republicans picking up twenty-five maybe thirty seats, as being a bloodbath. And if you look at the current circumstances, that is really—if that does occur, that’s kind of an underperformance for Republicans. Inflation is higher than it’s been in forty years—or, as high as it’s been in forty years. There’s a lot of discontent out there. We’re well into several quarters of negative economic growth. By all accounts, it should be a bloodbath. If it is not, that is a sign of, you know, some underperformance when it comes to Republicans.
Now, that’s under current polling, and I’ll do a little bit on the horserace. Right now there are thirty-one—according to the Cook Political Report—there are thirty-one sort of toss-up seats in the house. So Republicans only have to win, you know, a handful of those to take the majority. In the Senate, I think it remains to be seen. I think if you look at the major races that are out there—and I don’t want to get too far into the Senate races because there are a lot of people on the line who are following them a lot more closely than I am. But you really have basically four Senate toss-up seats, according to most of the polling averages.
You’ve got Warnock, who appears to be slightly ahead, although Walker seems to be gaining some ground in that state. You’ve got Cortez Masto in Nevada. Laxalt appears to be ahead, but it’s in the margin of error. In Wisconsin, you’ve got, of course, Ron Johnson, who appears to be fairly consistently ahead but, again, by very small numbers. In Pennsylvania, the Pat Toomey seat that’s open, John Fetterman seems consistently ahead by a point or two. And then, of course, you’ve got things like North Carolina and Ohio, where the Republican appears to be ahead.
But I think what we may end up with, and I’ll end this with sort of, like, where I think we’re going to end up and then a caveat at the end. The current polling is that the Republicans are probably going to pick up twenty-five, thirty seats. On average, the president’s party picks up—or, the opposition party to the president picks up a little bit more than two dozen seats. So that’s pretty average. And like I said, that would indicate an underperformance by Republicans. In the Senate, I think we may end up fifty-fifty once again.
And the caveat to end with is polling has become increasingly difficult. It’s increasingly difficult to reach people. People don’t have landlines and, you know, when it comes to mobile phones it’s a dicey proposition. So polling is tough to – is tough to do these days. And there are signs that some of the folks who might, typically on the Republican side, may not be answering pollsters’ questions. And that would indicate sort of an under-polling on certain populations who I think are probably more likely to vote Republicans.
So right now the polling does not indicate a bloodbath. Polling indicates, you know, wins by Republicans, taking the House, maybe a fifty-fifty Senate. But I think we could have some surprises on election night, and it could end up being closer to what my—what the artist instead of the scientist in my head thinks, which is this is a presidency that is—that is seen by a lot of voters as presiding over an economy that’s in trouble, gas prices, everything else that’s up—you know, inflation, that kind of thing. We could see actually more of a Republican wave than I think the polling indicates.
ROBBINS: Thanks for that. And I have lots of questions, but I’ll ask—do one very quickly because I want to get to Emilee about—because she’s got at least one very cool race and probably lots in her—in her—in her world.
So you follow Cook. I mean, I sort of obsessively follow the Cook Report, but I also look at FiveThirtyEight all the time. Anything else that you follow, just on your daily junkie basis?
TUTTLE: Oh, are you talking to me?
ROBBINS: Yeah, Chris.
TUTTLE: Oh, yeah. No. I follow—the RealClearPolitics averages are quite good. And I also follow Morning Consult because I think that their polling is very timely, up-to-date, and pretty accurate. So those are two that I follow.
And I don’t necessarily look at the RealClearPolitics average. I look at the trendline. So the nice thing about them is they would post the most recent, you know, four or six polls. And you can kind of gauge from those, you know, whether they’re blue or red, who’s been sort of consistently ahead. So there may be a new poll that you see come out that shows the race sort of flipping, and somebody pulling ahead who has otherwise been behind. But if you look at the numbers over time and over lots of different polling sources, each of which have, you know, inherent biases—not necessarily political biases but inherent biases—that’s a really good resource for those—for those kinds of things. And then I do try as much as I can, with the time I’ve got, to sort of dive into some of the cross-tabulation in some of those polls, because some of those can be pretty telling.
So, Emilee, so can you talk to us about the races you’re covering, and how have the politics changed in the last few months, or how have they not changed?
FANNON: Sure. So my main focus has been the U.S. Senate race, which Chris kind of highlighted there. There is a Democrat who is currently the lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, who is going up against an incumbent, Ron Johnson, the Republican who is very popular among Republicans. He’s kind of the stronghold, I will say. And that’s been kind of a very interesting dynamic because shortly—right after the August primary, Mandela Barnes, the Democrat, was doing very well in polling. I mean, he had nearly an eight-point lead over Ron Johnson. And that since has evaporated. Mandela Barnes is not doing well in the polls. Some national outlets are considering possibly pulling out some money when it comes to the ads wars. I mean, there is—Wisconsin right now is ranked fourth in the country of the most expensive race when it comes to specifically campaign ads. And the race has gotten very ugly, very personal. And a lot of people kind of predicted that.
Also top of the ticket we have an incumbent governor who’s been there for four years, his name is Tony Evers, who’s going up against kind of a construction businessman, construction executive Republican Tim Michels. He has been out of politics for more than two decades. He last ran in 2004 in a Senate race and lost. Didn’t perform too well, I will say. So he’s kind of coming back into the political scene. And right there, it is dead even. It is a toss-up. I think that race might be closer than the U.S. Senate race, if you want my predictions now. I think Chris is right with the Republican, you know, quote/unquote, in a midterm, you know, Republicans are expected to perform better.
But the crime message here in Wisconsin has been really resonating with voters. It’s an issue that Republicans kind of across the country, some are running on. And I think it’s working right now to Republicans’ advantage. With inflation right now, Democrats don’t have a lot of positive news to talk about. The governor, of course, has been asked, you know, what can you do? There’s little he can do. Of course, he’s tried to do—you know, repeal the minimum markup when it comes to gas prices. He’s had a host of, you know, billions of dollars at his possession from COVID relief funds. So he’s really trying to tout I’m helping little communities, I’m helping small businesses, I’m investing in health care. But I think right now voters are really caring about their pocketbook and how it’s impacting them. And, you know, a lot of Republicans vote that way.
So I don’t know who is going to win, but here in Wisconsin we are a battleground state. And in 2018 Governor Evers just beat the Republican incumbent by just a few thousand votes. So it’s very, very narrow here. It’s kind of the history of Wisconsin. But I just don’t know if it’s going to be as close of a race with the U.S. Senate race, at least right now. I think—I think Ron Johnson will have an edge in that race. But we still have a few weeks to go. You never know what can happen, or maybe the bad headlines that might come out of it.
ROBBINS: So why has the Mandela Barnes-Johnson gap closed so much? I mean, you know, I follow Ron Johnson from here. And he’s, you know, I mean, a friend of Putin beyond belief. You know, he’s got a very—you know, he has, shall we say, a problematic past. And is it just tribal at this point? Is it inflation? Is it—you know, what’s the story here?
FANNON: I think one big aspect is these ads that are out there. I mean, you cannot—I don’t know what it’s like for other people, but it is—you can’t watch anything now without getting just upset because there’s just so many out there. I also think the reasoning is I don’t know if the abortion message on the Barnes side is still really connecting with voters. You know, we have a current lawsuit right now fighting against right now we have a criminal abortion ban in effect. That’s being challenged by the Evers administration. We’ll see what happens. But there’s not going to be any action before the election. That’s what, of course, Democrats had hoped, right? Maybe it’d get to the state supreme court, there would be a ruling, it would energize votes.
I think that message is dwindling. And Democrats are not right now, and Mandela Barnes, is not really talking about inflation. He’s trying to portray himself as, you know, I came from the middle class. You know, I want to help you. Help families. But I think the crime and economy is just working to Ron Johnson’s favor. And in Milwaukee itself, I mean, crime is happening so often and so many people are tired of it. And Madison and Milwaukee are such strongholds, Democratic strongholds. And I think Democrats are—over the years—are kind of slightly losing their grip on the Milwaukee suburbs. But on the flip side of that as well, Ron Johnson still has some negative views about him when it comes to, like, the suburban moms and his views on abortion.
We’ve seen Ron Johnson kind of change his stance on that multiple times. He’s supported multiple bills in Congress that would, you know, reduce the—you know, or greatly reduce abortion access. Some of the strictest that we’ve seen. And now he’s trying to post this message of let’s put it before voters. However, what I don’t think a lot of voters understand is that here in Wisconsin we can’t put a ballot referendum. We need action by state lawmakers to make that legal. So he’s trying to say, well, it’s up to voters but, you know, the reality is he can’t get that done. So I think that’s the main thing, is that the abortion issue is not exciting as many voters as of right now.
There’s a lot more events that are coming in. You know, reinforcements are coming in. And it’s next weekend, former President Barack Obama is coming to Milwaukee. That could help. To what degree? The governor’s race is kind of, you know, putting the Heisman to President Biden, as in other states. I think the only state he’s traveling to right now is Pennsylvania. Other Democrats just don’t really want to be seen with him. So that’s something different as well, because of the negative views of Republicans are tying any Democrat in a race right now to Biden’s inflation and Biden’s economy.
TUTTLE: If I could just—Carla, if I could just add one more thing, you know, Mandela Barnes, you know, you’ll hear it reported in Washington that, you know, he’s a candidate who’s run statewide. But he’s run statewide as a lieutenant governor. And from a definitional standpoint, running as a lieutenant government, as the second part of a ticket, is not the same as running statewide in terms of name ID and defining a candidate. And so, you know, Wisconsin has a reasonably late primary. It was kind of a question as to who was going to be the nominee. And when it came to Mandela Barnes being the nominee, he really wasn’t defined. And, Emilee, I’m not trying to step on your—just it doesn’t mean much.
FANNON: No, you’re absolutely right. You’re right.
TUTTLE: So it’s a lot easier to define someone like that in terms—because a lot of people it’s the first time they’ve ever heard of or paid attention to Mandela Barnes.
FANNON: Republicans defined him before he was able to define himself. Also, he has been saying—the past comments of kind of aligning himself with the defund the police movement. Of course, now he said he never wants that. I want to invest more. So that crime and defund the police, he was defined so early on. He’s been really struggling to try to combat a lot of those negative headlines that have come up.
ROBBINS: So just very quickly, when you say the ads—which goes also to Chris’ notion of the definition of him—are they Willie Horton ads? I mean, are they dog whistle ads? I mean, when you say, I mean, there’s lots of ads, I mean, there’s this—
FANNON: I think almost—it’s almost scare tactic. It’s fears you that if he’s elected, here’s what could happen. You know, I’ve had—I’ve done multiple stories lately just trying to explain to viewers why us, as TV stations, have to air misleading ads, and how to even talk to your children about these ads. I mean, there’s kids that I work—or, you know, co-workers’ children who is on, you know, YouTube and there’s a negative ad that comes up that says Mandela Barnes wants to harm your families.
I mean, it’s those—it’s these extreme, you know, flashy, you know, ads that I think, you know, can probably turn people off. I mean, some people understand that this is the political climate, but I think it just has not—I think they’re more extreme on the Republican side, of fearing people, that you don’t want him in charge because crime will go up in your neighborhood. Look what’s happened since he’s been lieutenant governor and trying to tie him to Evers and the rise in violent crime as well.
TUTTLE: Barnes has also made some inopportune statements when it comes to some issues. And some of the ads are just him in his own words.
ROBBINS: But they sound a lot more dog-whistle-y than that. And, you know, this is Mandela Barnes. I mean, I’m fascinating by this, Emilee, that you’ve done stories explaining why you have to run these ads, and also stories about how to—you know, how to explain—basically why disinformation’s a bad thing and having to get past it?
FANNON: Mmm hmm. Right. I mean—
ROBBINS: I mean, how do you—how do you frame a story like that, and why do your editors let you do that? I mean, bless them for doing it, but tell me about that.
FANNON: I mean, in short, why I was able to pitch it and do it is because the amount is just unprecedented. I mean, I thought there was a lot two years ago. I thought there was a lot of ads four years ago, right? But it is—you can’t just watch a football game here in Wisconsin and even see a normal commercial for a cellphone or a medication. It is just back-to-back nonstop. So that—you know, how I frame those stories—I mean, we’ll start with the—you know, I don’t have—I don’t have kids. But a lot of people that I work with do. And just talking to them in the newsroom from time to time they’re, like, my kid’s asking me, why does Mandela Barnes want to harm families? Or Ron Johnson wants to—wants people to cross border lines, just leave the state if you want to go get abortion. And these are some young kids asking these questions.
So we thought it would be maybe worthwhile, you know, explaining to our viewers. I teamed up with two different type of experts, a child psychologist and kind of, like, a mental health therapist to—how to talk to your children. Like I said, I don’t have children, so I had to ask them very basic questions of, you know, what do you tell them? And they kind of just listed some advice of sitting down, talking about these things at the kitchen table, those type of things. And the other part, too, of that was why us as TV stations have absolutely no control over the massive amount of ads.
Of course, our newsrooms are always blowing up, and we can’t be too upset because how much money—we rely on these campaign ads, right? I mean, it helps us run a newsroom, and advertising. But, you know, FCC laws—and doing an explainer of, yes, you can call and be mad at me that you don’t like what’s on your TV, but we can’t control that. Each candidate also has to have equal airtime as well. So it was kind of just kind of combing through what are the rules, what are the regulations. And there’s kind of, like, the fine line of what TV stations can take off the air.
But that’s more also, like, the Facebook, the Twitter. Those are the social media companies that can remove an ad if they don’t like it. But also in this heightened, you know, political climate, you know, they can also get flagged for removing a controversial ad. So it’s—that I thought—and it actually did very well on social media. We were—it was a trending story for over a week because I think people had those questions. And that’s an example of if people have a lot of questions about this, it’s probably worth doing a story on it.
ROBBINS: That’s great.
So, Chris, can you look nationally about this? And you and I have seen a few elections over the years. I mean, does this feel different? And is this happening nationally? Does this feel nastier than most elections? And how much of what’s going on is more character assassination? How much is disinformation? And how much of this is election denialism? I mean, just to bring that third element into it? I mean, what do you see nationally?
TUTTLE: I don’t—I haven’t done sort of a—you know, a study of, you know, every single ad that’s out there. But the ads I’ve seen do not seem characteristically different from previous ads. And that applies to both sides. You know, I don’t see particularly—I don’t see a change in the character of negative ads, you know, this season versus previous seasons. On the election denialism front, I think that, you know, that’s not something that Republicans are running on in the general. It may be—and I think it may have been in certain races sort of the price of admission or price of victory.
But you see in some races too that, for example, in New Hampshire in the Senate race, you saw a sort of very Trump-oriented candidate actually win the Republican primary in a fragmented field. And if you add it up, the people who were beneath him, who were non—sort of non-Trump Republicans, they actually would have—if that had been a single candidate, if you add up their numbers, they would have run that race. And a big reason why Bolduc is running as the Republican nominee in New Hampshire is because the Democrats—or, the Democratic campaign committees actually plowed a lot of money sort of tearing down that nearest Republican opponent—or, that nearest Republican opponent to Bolduc, the non-Trump—the strongest of the non-Trump candidates.
So, you know, I don’t think that that’s something, though, that sort of election denialism, that kind of thing, is something that Republicans are running on in the general. I don’t think they see that as a winning issue. Maybe in the primary it was sort of, like I said, the price of admission. But I don’t see that.
FANNON: To add to that, I would say, yeah, they’re not—most attack ads have always been nasty, right? They’ll find something to bring up your past or make it very extreme. But I think the amount of ads and the amount of spending that is on it, to me, has changed, especially here in Wisconsin where, of course, we are one of the states that could, you know, decide who controls Congress. We have right now the most money also spent in the Wisconsin governor’s race.
So we’re number one. And this is AdImpact, that’s also some of that—or, it’s an organization that tracks spending in campaigns, and how much is on air, and TV. But the digital age, now you see them on your cellphone. You know, it’s not just the billboards and TV anymore. It’s on Facebook, it’s almost everywhere you go. It’s on the radio. So they’re trying to reach even the younger people too on, you know, streaming services like Hulu. It’s now all political ads. You can’t get away from it.
TUTTLE: The numbers are striking. And I think that you—I think that just the level of people’s—politics has become more and more a part of just sort of American culture. We’ve seen people not be able to get together at Thanksgiving and we see politics sort of infusing so much more of our entertainment, and that kind of thing. And government is affecting people more. As government continues to get larger and larger, there’s more at stake. So naturally you’re going to see more money being plowed into it, because the stakes are higher.
ROBBINS: So I want to turn this over to the group. And I do at some point want to get you to talk about the Renewing America Initiative, but we’ll save that for a little bit further along. But we definitely have to get to it. How much do—and I’ll ask Chris and then we’ll turn to Emilee before we go. Chris, do you—certainly in the primary, there were a lot of people who ran in the Republican Party on election denialism. And there are certainly some very key people who could potentially win who could control the levers of future elections.
If people lose, you know, how much do you think there are going to be people who are going to context the results of this election? Are we going to see—and, you know, do you think the general public is going to go along with this, or? Because in the past, people would just say, oh, you’re just being a spoilsport. How much has the psyche changed here that—or is that just going to be left to the next presidential election?
TUTTLE: I think it’s hard to say. But I think that there will be in close races on both sides there are going to be allegations of illegitimacy. Whether they’re Democrats or Republicans. The reasons they may cite will be different, but I think you are going to see—if there are some close races, you are going to see people saying this election was not legitimate. Now, whether or not they take it to court and then continue to challenge the sort of what actually comes out after a canvassing, after a recount, after court decisions, that kind of stuff, I think is an open question.
But I think that there is—we are at risk in the cycle of seeing Republicans alleging vote fraud and Democrats alleging voter suppression. And ending up in a worse place after these midterms with both sides having sort of poster children for we lost this race because, we lost this race because. And then you’ve got sort of this thread that goes through both parties of saying elections are illegitimate and undermining the faith of the electorate, the American people, in the legitimacy of sort of our democratic institutions. And that leads to bad places, like people turning to undemocratic means to get done what they want to get done. But I do see a significant risk on both sides of, on sometimes scant evidence, that races were not legitimate.
ROBBINS: Emilee, are you expecting this to bubble up after or explode after the election? Are you hearing from voters or from candidates, well, it was rigged last time and it’s going to be rigged this time, if my guy doesn’t win?
FANNON: Yeah. I mean, I live in a state capital and work out of a state capital most days, which is in Madison. And it’s very, very liberal. But I do have predictions of what could happen. I think if Tony Evers, the Democrat, wins, I think Republicans will come in droves, they have before, and protest at the state capitol, not accepting the results of the election. On the other hand, it’s a liberal city. I think there will be also people very upset. But I don’t think it will be questioning how the election was administered, if it goes for Michels. I think regardless this is a big protest—you know, city. I expect something regardless of who wins.
What’s interesting is the Republican candidate, Tim Michels, has really kind of changed his tone recently. And I just asked him two days ago, chased him in an elevator—that they weren’t happy about, because he doesn’t really answer reporters’ questions, is will he accept the results of the November election? He’s been endorsed by President Trump. And he finally said, yeah. Certainly, I will accept the results. That was the first time he’s ever said that, because before he didn’t answer it during the one and only governor’s debate that voters were able to watch. He declined to answer that.
He also has really embraced Trump’s widespread, unproven claims of widespread voter fraud. But ever since the primary, he has not mentioned Trump once. So that’s also interesting, to even see that—I don’t know if there will be a visit from the president—or, former president, excuse me, to come and host a rally for Michels, because I don’t think he wants that. But it remains to be seen. I think, to answer your question in short, I think there will be an uproar regardless of who wins in the governor’s race. Senate race, I still don’t know. But it’s more the governor’s race that I think will take a grip on that.
ROBBINS: Fun times.
ROBBINS: So Charles Robinson, can you identify yourself? And you have your hand up, can you ask your question?
Q: Sorry about that. Apologize for that. I said part of it in the chat as well.
I want to ask a question about women candidates, and the code words that are used to diminish their expertise and veracity to govern. I’m specifically concerned about Black women, people like Val Demings and Karen Bass. Many times—and I was in a conference this summer with a study that came out of Rutgers—that they would use terms like “sassy,” or, if you will, “a little pushy.” And how does that affect the electorate? And this whole idea of the demonization—you know, I’m a big reader of the 19th. And I think the work that they’re doing there is important. But what I—what I can tell you I’m finding in my home state of Maryland is that there are very few women who want to jump out there on a statewide election. We don’t even have a woman in our congressional delegation or state that supposedly has, you know, a purple or blue, you know, constituency.
ROBBINS: So does the sassy reporter want to answer that?
FANNON: I will say, you know, it’s harder as a woman to run. We had, for example, I will say, during the primary there was a woman, Rebecca Kleefisch, who was the former lieutenant governor. And she had it all the way up. Like, she didn’t have anyone else running into the race. She was basically cleared to win the primary until Tim Michels and an election conspiracy theorist joined the race. And I’m getting to my point here, the rumors were Wisconsin wasn’t ready to elect a woman as governor. And to me, that’s just disheartening. You know, put the R and Ds aside. That is still just a stereotype here in our state and, I think, in other states.
And we can’t come off as angry or testy. You know, it’s just certain demeanors that we get defined differently. And I know me as a journalist, I feel at times I’m treated differently by certain lawmakers and lobbyists, and stuff like that. I don’t know what happened. I wish it wasn’t that way. But yeah. I wish there was more women. I think it was in 2019 we had the most women elected to the state legislature. And why are they leaving in droves? Threats. They are constantly threatened for their views. Death threats. I mean, there’s probably a lot of journalists on here, I don’t know, I’ve had a few. And it drives them not to want to do the job anymore. And I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is what it is for some individuals.
ROBBINS: Chris, is there—and I’m sorry that you’re going through this. It seemed like there were just an enormous number of women coming into politics. Is there—are we in some sort of retrocession about that?
TUTTLE: I haven’t looked at the numbers. I will say that there—often in the sort of larger media coverage, there is a tendency I think, and this is anecdotal, to sort of celebrate the year of the woman, for example, if the candidates have sort of the right views. And I think if you talk—if you talk to—and you can dispute that, Carla, if you’d like, but—
ROBBINS: No, no. I understand what you’re saying. You’re suggesting no one’s going to be celebrating Kari Lake if she wins as the—
TUTTLE: That’s exactly right. If you talk to—and everybody knows, I worked for Senator Corker. I’m a Republican. I’ve been that way for a long time. But if you talk to Republican female candidates, they will tell you that the amount of sort of attention or sort of lifting up they get from being sort of a female candidate is pretty minimal. So I think that from a coverage standpoint, there needs to be—if we’re going to, you know, sort of say, OK, we need to have greater diversity in our legislative bodies or our gubernatorial offices, or whatever, we need to be pretty even—and I’m a former journalism student. I worked briefly at CNN and I’ve done journalism. We need to be evenhanded about that.
If being a female candidate is an inherent good for the sake of, you know, diversifying our legislatures and bringing in different perspectives, then we need to be evenhanded about that. I think if you talk to a lot of, like I said, Republican candidates or former elected officials—there’s one in Wisconsin who I’m thinking of actually right off the top of my head who’s very conservative, no one was shedding any tears when she stepped down, at least not within sort of the—in the same way that she would have gotten coverage that isn’t it awful that she has to step down. So that’s really all I would kind of say about that. But I don’t have any numbers, Carla, in terms of the number of female candidates this year. I would be curious. I would guess that the trendline continues upward, even though this year may be sort of slightly anomalous.
ROBBINS: Annie Todd from I believe it is the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. My daughter’s name is Annie, so please. I love the name. Can you ask your question?
Q: Hi. Thanks. Yeah, so, like Carla said, I’m in South Dakota. So covering the Kristi Noem-Jamie Smith gubernatorial race.
But I’m curious, like, Christopher, you had said earlier that, like, if Republicans and Democrats, like, don’t like the terms of, like, the election results, that the illegitimate allegations. Like, how could that play out especially in statehouses during legislative session, if we would see, like, more bills being brought forth to, like, really target the way that people—either it’s, like, county auditor’s offices or secretary of state offices, how they operate elections.
TUTTLE: Yeah. So I think it depends on the level of evidence. You know, if, for example, in some of these states where there has been—I mean, you do have—you do have some states, for example, in North Carolina there was a congressional race that had to be redone, basically, because there was significant ballot fraud. It was actually a Republican candidate, and there was ballot tampering. And North Carolina responded with different laws to sort of try and minimize that. I think similarly you could see in some states, if the—if there’s significant evidence that, you know, some of the recent state election laws that passed were genuinely suppressive in terms of keeping certain voters away from the polls, the evidence for that is fairly scant so far, at least in what we’re seeing in terms of some of the early voting, in states like Georgia for example.
But you could see significant calls for changes to those. Whether or not that I might actually occur, it’s hard to say. I think it remains to be seen. I think we need to see how many close races there are, and how many candidates are actually out there saying—you know, this is following a canvass of votes and potential recount and potential court cases, and that kind of stuff, where people after the fact continue to allege those things, and how much purchase that can get in various state legislatures. But it really is going to vary legislature by legislature.
ROBBINS: Thanks for that.
So we have a question from a Susan King, who is a very old friend. Hi, Susan. Do you want to ask your question? So should I ask the question? Has the January 6th hearing—
Q: Oh, OK. I’m up. Can you hear me now?
ROBBINS: Hi, Susan!
Q: Hi, Carla. Good to see you.
So I’m just wondering if January 6th is playing out at all in the—you haven’t mentioned that, the whole debate there. Because it feels like sometimes when journalists or scholars—I’m now at UNC Chapel-Hill. I stepped down as dean, but I was there at the journalism school. And sometimes when the scholars talk about the importance of this election for democracy, some people read that as being a partisan statement almost. So I’m just wondering how January 6th hearings are playing into it.
ROBBINS: Susan was also a very famous television person. So she wasn’t just an academic.
TUTTLE: Emilee, I don’t know if you want to mention if you’re seeing anything. You have a more on-the-ground view.
FANNON: Yeah. There’s only one race that’s really honing in on January 6th, and that’s the Third Congressional District in La Crosse. It was—for a very long time leaned Democrat, and now is sort of slowly trending to a Republican district. A long-time Democrat, his seat is up. So the Republican, Derrick Van Orden, that is running had photos of him at January 6th. So that is really the only race in Wisconsin that I’m really seeing it be an issue. In the Senate race with Ron Johnson, with his whole handling of the fake electors, that has also been in the news, but I don’t think it’s sticking.
But we do see Democrats in general talking about, like, exactly what you said, Susan. You know, we are here to defend democracy. And in the governor’s race, you know, he has his powerful veto pen. He has vetoed several GOP election bills that would completely overhaul elections. And that came after the frustrations by Republicans, you know, after the 2020 election. So democracy on the line is a message we’re hearing, but not so much about January 6th specifically. And that’s at least what I’m seeing here in Wisconsin. I don’t know too much nationally.
ROBBINS: So and that’s—that is, I think—that may be because, sadly, only Democrats are watching the January 6th—
FANNON: Yeah, right.
ROBBINS: The January 6th, even though I must say that I spend more time watching it than I do Netflix. And it is pretty captivating. But it is more about the bubble, which is unfortunate. So I have a question for Chris.
TUTTLE: I would add—I would add that midterm elections tend to be more bubble elections than—with people staying within their own bubbles. You know, the member—you know, you’re talking about base versus base, and some independents who actually go out for a midterm, for a particular reason a lot of times. There’s a particular issue that is a motivator for them. And Republicans, by and large, has not been—they have not moved numbers. And among Democrats, they haven’t moved numbers because, you know, the Democrats were already pretty rock solid, you know.
So the question I think is how many independents will actually be swayed by that? And I think that—I think there were probably a small number who may be swayed by some of the—you know, some of what the January 6th Committee has presented. But if you—if you stack that up against eggs costing 31 percent more this year than they did last, it’s hard for—it’s hard for issues like that to get traction.
ROBBINS: So I have a question which is for both of you, just sort of quickly, which is—and it’s why should voters care? It’s a midterm election. And it’s a midterm election in which you have a congress that’s basically been paralyzed for years. And even the Republicans gain control of both houses, they’re not going to have a veto-proof majority and Biden is still going to be in the White House. And if the Democrats hold on to control of both houses or it were split, let’s face it, there’s not going to be a lot of legislative progress here.
So we as journalists have to explain to people why they should care about the results of this, beyond the sheer sort of car crash, horserace, whatever you want to call it. And I think we also, as people who care about democracy, we have to explain why people should go out and vote. You know, that’s one of our responsibilities there. So, you know, Emilee, you want to take a shot at that? You know, I don’t know if you’re doing stories that explain to people why should they care about this? Because certainly, there’s not going to be a lot of action on Capitol Hill for the next two years.
FANNON: Right. Well, you know, I’m kind of—I have my hand in two cookie jars. I got the U.S. Senate race and then the governor’s race. I think it’s a little bit different in portraying those stories, because it’s easier to tell the story of what’s at stake in the governor’s race. Either it is going to be full Republican control, where they can do anything they want, or is it going to be the Democrat governor Tony Evers defending against Republican policies and blocking, you know, those massive education reforms, overhauling elections, et cetera? I ask myself this every day, why should viewers care? And I think the question is also, you know, how do I tell the story to a broader audience and make a viewer try to learn something?
So, you know, maybe if you don’t have a family, well, your taxes are going to go towards this. I think it’s just kind of just making it a little bit more personal about the issues, you know, that are up for debate, that are on the ballot. I think you’re completely right though, Carla, in that, you know, nothing might not change in Congress. But the message is then maybe, you know, why you should care about local elections. Why these school board elections matter, why legislative seats matter, why statewide races matter. So it’s kind of tough, but what’s at stake is definitely always something. And why should I care is something that I think about almost every day of trying to portray that differently to people and, you know, for people to still care about politics and to go cast their vote.
TUTTLE: And—oh, sorry, go ahead.
ROBBINS: No, no. I was just asking you, I mean, I think—I mean, Emilee’s got—it’s easier on the governor race, but on the congressional race, I mean, tell me how reporters explain to people to care about the congressional elections.
TUTTLE: Yeah. So I don’t know that you need to convince voters to care about congressional elections. You know, I’m a former state legislative staffer. Actually, a communications guy. So I worked with a lot of people who would have been Emilee’s colleagues if we were anywhere near the same age, which we are not. But the sun doesn’t rise and set in Washington, you know? You’ve got an enormous amount—you’ve got an enormous amount—number of policy issues at stake. Gubernatorial seats are up. State senate seats are up. State assembly seats, local school boards, as Emilee mentioned. And I think that you’re seeing also within sort of when we talk about the congressional races, you’re seeing a bit of a squeeze on Democrats.
So they’ve got the pressures of having an incumbent president who, you know, has an economy that’s in pretty rough shape. But you also have this local level discontent. And that is going to bring out voters. They may not care about commerce, but they sure care about their school board and what’s being taught in their schools, that kind of thing. They sure care about local policing and those kinds of issues. And a lot of those issues at the local level are not playing in Democrats’ favor either. And I think you have to remember that a lot of people, maybe a majority of voters this time, are not voting as a reward. They’re voting as punishment.
And they are not happy, a lot of them. If you look at the numbers, they’re not happy with how things are going. And that sort of negative motivation—which is no less legitimate than an affirmative motivation for voters who go out and vote for someone where, like, oh, I really, you know, love this guy’s policies—they also want to be able to have some control if something’s going on that they don’t like, that they can come out during a midterm and they can at least feel like they’re having some say in the way things are going.
ROBBINS: Boy, voting as a punishment. That’s a concept. I understand what you’re saying, just never heard the term before.
TUTTLE: I just—I maybe just coined it right now, Carla.
TUTTLE: So but that’s—that really is. I mean, if you look at some of—you know, some of our most recent elections, a lot of times voters are coming out to punish an incumbent.
TUTTLE: Say, you know what? This is not working for me. And it’s actually oftentimes a more powerful motivator. You know, if things are going OK, you know, you may not be likely to take action. But if someone’s stepping on your toe, you’re much more likely to be like, OK, this hurts.
ROBBINS: Especially for a midterm. Especially for a midterm.
Rickey Bevington from the World Affairs Council, you get—you have a great question. Rickey, do you want to ask it?
Q: Let’s see, can you hear me?
Q: Thanks so much. This is fabulous.
I just wanted to just briefly—we’re at the end—but early voting is something that I’ve always paid attention to. I’m a twenty-year broadcast journalist. And I just put a few data points in the Q&A about how early voting in Georgia is exceeding 2018 and 2020. And of course, this goes against the narrative of our senate bill, State Law 202, that changed our, quote, “restrictive” voting. And of course, the Democratic camp said that it was going to—you know, Jim Crow 2.0. And this goes against that. But beyond that, I’m just wondering how early voting numbers are looking nationwide, where early voting may or may not be happening, and what you all think this says, and kind of what—how you tell this story to your audience.
ROBBINS: Emilee, do they have early voting in Wisconsin?
FANNON: Yes. Now got reduced to just one week before the election. It used to be two weeks before the election. So early voting—
TUTTLE: Emilee, was that a—Emilee, was that a reduction—is that a—pre-COVID, what was it?
FANNON: When that was enacted?
FANNON: That was post-COVID.
TUTTLE: No, when it was—when—so, in other words, was that a COVID—the two-week, was that a COVID—
FANNON: Oh, like a rule for COVID?
TUTTLE: Right. I’m sorry, I don’t—
FANNON: I don’t believe so. I don’t believe so, no. Because it’s very technical with what happened at the state elections—Wisconsin State Elections Commission.
TUTTLE: Right. Yeah.
FANNON: They voted down and reduced how long the window is.
FANNON: Anyways. So early voting trends in Wisconsin since I’ve been here since 2018—I mean, the COVID factor I think plays a huge role into that. But we haven’t had early voting yet, so I don’t really have the statistics. But in general, more people are voting early to avoid lines, to avoid the headaches. Absentee voting, of course, surged during the pandemic. It was an easy method that a lot of people enjoyed, and that, I think, is carrying over today. But I think the messaging about early voting and absentee ballots, you know, more from the Republican side, that it leaves more windows open for fraud, or we just had absentee ballot drop boxes no longer can be used here in Wisconsin. So it’s almost restricting, in a way, how you can return the absentee ballot.
So my prediction is that it’s not going to be as large for early voting, because the window’s a little bit shorter and, you know, more people might just want to vote in person to make sure their vote is secure. You know, some people still have those concerns. But I don’t have any specific data. But I think COVID played a large part in that because it was unprecedented numbers that we saw here in Wisconsin of people voting early.
ROBBINS: Thanks. So—
TUTTLE: Yeah, you are—you are—yeah, no. Go ahead, sorry.
ROBBINS: Renewing America.
TUTTLE: Oh, yes. Thanks, Carla. I appreciate that. I talked to Carla beforehand if I might be able to put in a brief plug for the program I run, because it’s actually really relevant for local journalists. The Council on Foreign Relations is obviously a foreign policy organization, but we have a keen understanding of the reality that our power, U.S. power, our place in the world, our upward trajectory over the past century and hopefully beyond has been powered by our domestic strengths. And right now, some of our most important national security threats come not from without but come from within. They are things like is our education system up to—up to snuff with, you know, our peer competitors, that kind of thing. What’s the state of our current democratic institutions? What are we doing in terms of our infrastructure?
So we’re doing a lot of work on what would be traditionally considered domestic issues, but we’re putting them in a foreign policy context and saying we don’t have these national rudiments. If these basics aren’t, you know, keeping pace, that our chances of success in the 21st century are going to be undermined. So we’ve got nine different buckets. So for those of you who are covering multiple beats or are on some of these beats, you may want to take a look at what we’re doing. We’re doing excellent work on democracy and governance, education, energy and climate, the future of work, immigration, infrastructure, a category we’re calling social justice and equity, and trade and finance. So if you would—we’re going to post our website to the chat. Please take a look.
ROBBINS: It’s already there.
TUTTLE: And follow it on Twitter—follow us on Twitter. It’s @renewingamerica. And also, if you go to the bottom of our website there’s a sign-up where you can get regular updates on our blog posts and other materials. But we’ve got a pretty good cohort of folks at the Council on Foreign Relations who are writing on these issues. So thank you, Carla, for the chance to promote the program.
ROBBINS: Thank you. Thank you for telling us about it. And I think it really is relevant for local journalists, so that’s great.
Well, we have run out of time because this has been such a great conversation. Emilee, thank you. I mean, it’s just—the work you do is so really interesting. And I just—we all want to follow you. So Irina’s going to tell—or, you can tell us your Twitter handle. And Chris—
FANNON: It’s my name, right there, very simple.
ROBBINS: And, Chris, thank you so much. It was great. And we’ll follow you too. And I’ll turn it back to Irina.
FASKIANOS: Yes. Thank you all for doing this. We appreciate it. We will send out a link to the transcript and this webinar recording as well. We’ll include in there a link to the Renewing America page, so that you can sign up for the blog post, et cetera, and follow on Twitter. And Emilee Fannon can be followed on Twitter @emilee_fannon, correct?
FASKIANOS: OK. Just make sure we’ve got that correct. We also hope you’ll come to CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com and ThinkGlobalHealth.org. And of course, the CFR.org/program/renewing-america for more information and analysis on international and domestic trends, and how they are affecting the United States. And as always, please do send us your suggestions for future webinars. You can email [email protected]. So thank you all again for today’s conversation.
ROBBINS: Thank you, guys.
TUTTLE: So long.
FANNON: Thank you.