Power Rankings: Iowa swings for the fences

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On the roster: Power Rankings: Iowa swings for the fences - White House: Trump never briefed on Russian bounties - SupCo deals pro-lifers a blow - Under pressure, Trump looks to son-in-law for help - He took the bait

As with much in political language, the term “swing state” has been so tortured that it might confess to any definition at this point.

Take for example the recent discussions about Arizona, Texas and Georgia, longtime Republican strongholds that are looking quite squishy these days. Republicans are getting clobbered in Arizona and both Georgia and Texas are looking quite competitive, at least for now.

But these are not “swing states” – at least not yet. These are states that might depart from their electoral histories and vote Democratic, but that doesn’t make them swingers.

Consider some of the surprises of our last big electoral earthquake in 2008: Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina hadn’t gone for a Democrat in at least a generation, but all went blue.

Twelve years later and only one of them is politically competitive. Indiana’s Democratic rumspringa was brief indeed, returning to the Republican fold four years later with a 9-point GOP win. Virginia, on the other hand, left the Republicans and didn’t look back.

North Carolina, however, has embraced its swing state status with vigor. Races up and down the ballot remain tight with lots of ticket splitting along the way. There’s a reason both parties have chosen Charlotte for conventions within a span of just eight years.

Swing states are not competitive states. There are lots of states, like Minnesota and New Hampshire, where races tend to be close but where one party has a consistent advantage.

Swing states are ones that show consistent political volatility – states where the electorate is elastic enough to switch sides with some regularity. Florida and Ohio have been the best examples in recent history, but the list changes subtly over time as states like Colorado and Nevada migrate out and states like Wisconsin and North Carolina migrate in.

Which is a big part of the reason why we are moving Iowa from “Lean Republican” to “Toss-up” in our electoral power rankings.

Iowa swung 12 points from 2012 to 2016, indicating a state with a significant number of persuadable voters. That’s the same reason Ohio looks so competitive this time around despite going so big for Trump in 2016.

It’s not that Iowa became a Democratic state in the Obama years, or it became a Republican state in the time of Trump. Instead, Iowa continues to swing like an oiled fence gate.

We don’t have a ton of polling from Iowa, but some of the polling we do have is primo stuff from pollster Ann Selzer for the Des Moines Register. Her March survey found President Trump up by 10 points, while her poll this month found him leading by a single point.

That’s on track with what other surveys have found as well as the nationwide movement of independent voters away from the GOP over that same time period.

The good news for Trump is that unlike some other battlegrounds, voters don’t seem too thrilled with his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden. Twelve percent of voters aren’t sold on either candidate and Trump’s overall approval numbers are down, but well within his normal range. The trend could certainly change.

The good news for Biden is that voters are undecided about an incumbent who has been in charge for four years, so they are highly susceptible to an argument for needed change. Iowa is one of several states where Biden can win if he can remain a reasonable-sounding alternative in a chaotic time.

The Iowa change brings our current tabulation to Democrats with 249 electoral votes in the lean/likely categories, Republicans with 180 votes similarly situated and 109 votes as toss-ups.

That means Republicans would have to win at least 90 of the toss-up votes – 83 percent – to claim victory. Democrats meanwhile need just 21 more votes – 19 percent of the toss-ups – to go over the top. Put simply, Democrats could win just by flipping Florida while Republicans need to win in at least five of the seven toss-up states.

“Ignorance will be the dupe of cunning, and passion the slave of sophistry and declamation.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 58

NPR: “Flying snakes like Chrysopelea paradisi, the paradise tree snake, normally live in the trees of South and Southeast Asia. There, they cruise along tree branches and, sometimes, to get to the ground or another tree, they'll launch themselves into the air and glide down at an angle. They undulate their serpentine bodies as they glide through the air, and it turns out that these special movements are what let these limbless creatures make such remarkable flights. That's according to some new research in the journal Nature Physics that involved putting motion-capture tags on seven snakes and then filming them with high-speed cameras as the snakes flew across a giant four-story-high theater. How far they can go really depends on how high up they are when they jump, says Jake Socha at Virginia Tech, who has studied these snakes for almost a quarter-century. He recalls that one time he watched a snake start from about 30 feet up and then land nearly 70 feet away.”

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

Trump: 39.4 percent
Biden: 49.6 percent
Size of lead: Biden by 10.2 points
Change from one week ago: Biden ↓ 1 point; Trump ↓ 1.6 points
[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: Trump 44% - Biden 52%; CNBC: Trump 38% - Biden 47%; NYT/Sienna: Trump 36% - Biden 50%; Fox News: Trump 38% - Biden 50%; Quinnipiac University: Trump 41% - Biden 49%.]

(270 electoral votes needed to win)
Toss-up: (109 electoral votes): Wisconsin (10), Ohio (18), Florida (29), Arizona (11), Pennsylvania (20), North Carolina (15), Iowa (6)
Lean R/Likely R: (180 electoral votes)
Lean D/Likely D: (249 electoral votes)
[Full rankings here.]

Average approval: 41.4 percent
Average disapproval: 55 percent
Net Score: -13.6 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 0.8 points
[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 41% approve - 57% disapprove; CNBC: 39% approve - 52% disapprove; NYT/Siena: 41% approve - 56% disapprove; Fox News: 44% approve - 55% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 42% approve - 55% disapprove.]

Fox News: “The White House on Monday insisted there is ‘no consensus’ that the intelligence that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops is accurate, which is why, it said, the issue was never flagged to President Trump or Vice President [MikePence, despite reports to the contrary by outlets including The New York Times. The comments from the administration come after a Sunday night tweet from Trump insisting he had not been informed of the reports because the intelligence community ‘did not find this info credible’ and amid mounting pressure from Congress to get to the bottom of whether Trump knew of the alleged bounties, and if so, why there was no known retribution against Russia. ‘POTUS was never briefed on this issue because there is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations,’ a senior administration official told Fox News, indicating that the intelligence did not make it up the chain of command to the president because intelligence department heads did not agree on the credibility of the information or that it had been verified to the degree necessary to flag to Trump.”

Fox News: “The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a Louisiana law requiring that individuals who perform abortions at clinics have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital is unconstitutional, as it places an undue burden on women seeking abortions. The court ruled 5-4 in the case, June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, with Chief Justice John Roberts once again casting a deciding vote by siding with the court's liberal justices. The opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, noted that the Louisiana law is ‘almost word-for-word identical’ to a Texas law the court ruled was unconstitutional in 2016's Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. A District Court had rejected the Louisiana law because of that precedent, but a court of appeals ruled otherwise. ‘We have examined the extensive record carefully and conclude that it supports the District Court’s findings of fact,’ Breyer wrote. ‘Those findings mirror those made in Whole Woman’s Health in every relevant respect and require the same result. We consequently hold that the Louisiana statute is unconstitutional.’”

Politico: “Donald Trump knows he's losing. The president has privately come to that grim realization in recent days, multiple people close to him told [Politico], amid a mountain of bad polling and warnings from some of his staunchest allies that he's on course to be a one-term president. Trump has endured what aides describe as the worst stretch of his presidency, marred by widespread criticism over his response to the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide racial unrest. … Behind the scenes, Trump and his team are taking steps to correct course. In the week since his Tulsa rally, the president has grudgingly conceded that he’s behind, according to three people who are familiar with his thinking. Trump, who vented for days about the event, is starting to take a more hands-on role in the campaign and has expressed openness to adding more people to the team. He has also held meetings recently focusing on his efforts in individual battleground states. Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who effectively oversees the campaign from the White House, is expected to play an even more active role.”

Sunbelt corona woes complicate GOP strategy - Politico: “The explosion of Covid-19 cases in Sun Belt states is becoming another albatross for President Donald Trump’s reelection hopes — and creating a new opening for Joe Biden and Democrats in November. Republican governors in Florida, Arizona and Texas followed Trump’s lead by quickly reopening their states while taking a lax approach to social distancing and mask-wearing. Now each of them is seeing skyrocketing coronavirus caseloads and rising hospitalizations, and Republican leaders are in retreat. It’s hard to overstate the gravity of the situation for Trump: Lose any one of the three states, and his reelection is all but doomed. Liberal outside groups and the Biden campaign have launched digital and TV ads in Florida, Arizona and Texas hitting Trump for allowing a second wave of coronavirus. The developments have buttressed Biden’s main argument against Trump: that he’s incapable of bringing stability or healing in a time of crisis. … Polls indicate Florida is Biden’s best pick-up opportunity, followed by Arizona and then Texas, a bigger reach.”

Trump’s ‘white power’ tweet brings more headaches - NYT: “President Trump on Sunday retweeted a video of one of his supporters yelling ‘White power!,’ once again using the vast reach of his social media platforms to inflame racial divisions in a nation roiled by weeks of protests about police brutality against black people and demands for social justice reforms. The edited racist video shows a white man riding in a golf cart bearing ‘Trump 2020’ and ‘America First’ signs during what appears to be an angry clash over the president and race between white residents of a Florida retirement community. Mr. Trump deleted the tweet more than three hours after posting it. … The president retweeted the video to his millions of followers just after 7:30 a.m., thanking ‘the great people of The Villages,’ the Florida retirement community where the clash apparently took place. He added: ‘The Radical Left Do Nothing Democrats will Fall in the Fall. Corrupt Joe is shot. See you soon!!!’”

The story behind Arizona’s evolution - FiveThirtyEight: “For years, Arizona was to Democrats what Lucy’s football was to Charlie Brown. …In fact, no Democrat won a statewide election in Arizona on any level after 2008 until 2018, despite numerous close calls. But Arizona is changing. In the 2008 and 2012 presidential races, the state was 16 points and 13 points more Republican-leaning than the country as a whole, respectively. But in 2016, President Trump won Arizona by only 4 points, making the state just 6 points more Republican-leaning than the nation. And in 2018, four Democratic candidates broke through and won statewide, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Now, in 2020, Joe Biden looks like he has a chance to actually win Arizona’s 11 electoral votes. As of June 29, Biden led Trump by 4.7 points in our Arizona polling average. And it looks like Democrats could flip another Senate seat here too, as Democrat Mark Kelly leads Republican Sen. Martha McSally by double digits in numerous polls.”

Salt Lake Tribune: “A new poll in the primary race for Utah governor has the two front-runners — Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former Gov. Jon Huntsman — in a virtual dead heat just days before the election. With 30% support, Cox was 1 one percentage point ahead of Huntsman in the Salt Lake Chamber survey conducted June 17 to 24 and released Thursday. That gap is within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 2.77 percentage points. The polling firm, Dan Jones & Associates, indicated the race is simply too close to call between the front-runners and ‘turnout will be the deciding factor as it is in most every close election.’ … Cox was ahead by a wider margin among the 492 respondents who said they’d already cast their ballots, leading Huntsman by 35% to 30%, just outside the poll’s margin of error. On the other hand, Huntsman appeared to have the upper hand among the 755 people who said they hadn’t yet cast a ballot but would; these voters backed Huntsman over Cox by 29% to 27%, although that difference was inside the poll’s margin of error.”

The unusual race to take on party-switching N.J. congressman - WaPo:  “[Amy Kennedy] 41, grew up in this Jersey Shore outpost in a family that was politically active only at the municipal level. She spent 10 years as a public school teacher. Now, the mother of five is running in a key congressional battleground that has the backdrop of President Trump and a Democratic vendetta to take out a once trusted ally who betrayed them. And, in perhaps the most unusual fashion, she is running as an outsider, trying to establish a new beachhead for one of the most famous families in Democratic politics. The irony is not lost on Kennedy’s main opponent, who has spent 20 years as a political commentator in New Jersey, a tenure that helped to quickly win the backing of six of the eight Democratic county chairmen in this district. ‘The Kennedys as outsiders,’ Brigid Callahan Harrison said Wednesday, in an hour-long telephone interview, amazed at how much the race is pivoting on personality. ‘That is how they’re marketing this.’”

Federal Election Commissioner rendered toothless again by resignation - Politico

Pergram: How the Senate's police reform bill stalled in political purgatory Fox News

Montana GOP busted for funneling cash to Green Party effort AP

Putin pulls out all the stops in power grab amid waning support Bloomberg

Frank Bruni: Duckworth is Biden’s best option for veep - NYT

“By all means, overshadow us.” – An unnamed Biden campaign aide quoted by the NYT responding to the concerns that former President Barack Obama would overshadow his former vice president by taking a more active role in the 2020 campaign.

“Due to an appalling lack of leadership we now find ourselves with the worst pandemic combination possible, high rates of infection and economic collapse. Multiple opinions exist as to which of our leaders contributed most to this. I understand these differences and can attribute them to ideological differences. I am however baffled by the controversy surrounding masks. The scientific consensus regarding mask wear is that they provide some protection to the wearer but that most protection is to those with whom the wearer comes in contact. In short, the mask protects your neighbors more than it protects you. Assuming that is the case it seems that mask wear is the easiest thing one can do to demonstrate one's regard for their fellow citizens. In short, not wearing a mask while in an indoor public space says, ‘I don't care about you.’ It is a malignant twist of Patrick Henry's quote, ‘Give me liberty and give you death.’ I understand the freedom and liberty argument. However, I have heard it stated that we have freedoms from and freedoms to. We have freedom to wear a mask or not. Conversely, we have freedom from preventable exposure to a potentially deadly pathogen. This is a low risk, high benefit intervention. It seems silly and selfish to choose this as a cause to argue individual liberty.” – Bill Ciao, Bellingham, Wash.

[Ed. note: *retweet*]

“Is mandating face masks at the federal level constitutionally allowed?” – Jackson Sperry, Chaska, Minn.

[Ed. note: I cannot imagine how it would be. Even given the recent trend of presidents attempting to rule by fiat, I can’t imagine any order forcing all Americans to do so would pass constitutional muster. Former Vice President Biden did a little weasel wording in his answer where he talked about “everything I can,” and I suspect that would not include a presidential diktat. As my dear mother would have called it, it sounds to me like bar talk.]

“I signed up for your daily report in the hope of reading a smattering of right-leaning material. What I read, however, seems slanted to a Joe Biden campaign ad. If that was your intention from the outset, consider me misinformed. I do not have to watch Hannity to know about Biden’s corruption, his sexual harassment, his lack of accomplishments over a lifetime of political life, his obviously deteriorating mental state, and his inability to communicate from his basement without making a complete fool of himself. You did hear him tell the public that 120 million of our citizens have died from COVID. But reading your piece one might come away with the opinion that Biden is going to skate into the presidency. If your intention is to scare us from complacency, consider it done. I won’t have to endure intruding CNN idiocy on my Facebook feeds any longer.” – Jeff Maidment, Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.

[Ed. note: Mr. Maidment, if you came here looking for “right-leaning material” I am happy to disappoint you. But I’m sorry you find us slanted in the other direction. Our goal is to give readers our best take on the state of politics as we can without tilting one way or another. And for those purposes, it doesn’t matter who you or I think is better suited for the presidency or which candidates’ defects we find most glaring. It sounds like you really despise Joe Biden, which is your business. There’s plenty of folks who just hate, hate, hate President Trump. Like them, your vote is not up for grabs, which is fine, too. But we would encourage you to stick around and keep an eye on the state of the race from our perspective. We think you’ll learn things and have some fun along the way as well. And that would make us the happiest of all.]

“Chris has often mentioned his dislike of the primary system for choosing a party's candidate, arguing that ‘smoke-filled rooms’ are better suited to selecting a strong and effective candidate. Although I can see how the primary system arguably failed the Republicans in 2016 (at least in my view) and produced Donald Trump. But didn't the mainstream Democratic party choose Biden for 2020 and Hilary in 2016, and wouldn't it have chosen her in 2008 as well but for the primaries, and aren't these arguable weak, flawed choices?” – Stacey Sovereign, North Beach, Md.

[Ed. note: I think, Ms. Sovereign, that you will never find a system that does not produce some weak, flawed choices. Nor do I think that weakness or flawedness are static measures. Take Hubert Humphrey. Under different circumstances he might have been a potent candidate, but with the administration he served a mess, the country in turmoil and segregationists in revolt, what chance did he have. I can’t imagine any Democrat they could have picked who would have fared better than Humphrey. The same was true of Barry Goldwater four years earlier when Lyndon Johnson ran as the heir to a martyred John Kennedy. The strength of Johnson and Richard Nixon was overinterpreted, as was the weakness of Goldwater and Humphrey. While we certainly care about a system that produces good leaders, our interest in the partisan selection process isn’t an algebraic one in which we try to solve for a desired outcome. As some of our accidental presidents, like Calvin Coolidge and Harry Truman, reveal, you never know where you’ll find a great leader. What’s wrong with the primary system isn’t as much about the individuals it selects but what the process does to governance. Switching to a model that relies on state-run primary elections takes its toll up and down the ballot. The only way to get ahead in politics prior to 1980 was to pay your dues. There were always wunderkinds and rising stars and the occasional military leader but running for office meant getting inside the system and working your way up. That helped form candidates who learned the skills necessary for government. It took consensus building and compromise and the establishment of a good reputation to advance. By the time a candidate had made it to Congress or another high-level post, he or she would have been well-trained in the arts of persuasion and coalition building. Parties were a lot more like demi-governments. Now, that had its own problems in terms of high barriers to entry and unwillingness to change, to say nothing of cronyism and patronage. But I think that the primary system has introduced far worse ills by rewarding extremism, punishing consensus building and developing skills within election winners unsuitable to success in office.] 

“I’ve gotten a little behind in reading the Report, but I felt compelled to comment on your Wednesday edition where you said you were leaning towards supporting Madison’s idea to base electoral votes on congressional districts.  In theory this would not be bad, because it would more closely reflect the popular vote, but until we eliminate gerrymandering, I’m not sure I want to go there.  If we thought gerrymandering was bad now (when it only affects the House), imagine the extra effort that might go into drawing contorted districts when the Presidency might be at stake.” – Steve Arthur, Woodland Park, Colo.

[Ed. note: While I know many problems are laid at the feet of gerrymandering, Mr. Arthur, it is not a primary driver of the partisan composition of Congress. While the parties in each state certainly engineer districts to give themselves the maximal benefit, studies have made clear that using other, more neutral means would not produce huge shifts in partisan proportions in the House. Play around with FiveThirtyEight’s atlas and see for yourself. The real objective of gerrymandering is to create districts that are easy for one party to maintain. That’s one of the ways in which our primary system fails us. Because so few general election House contests are competitive and because the districts are arranged to concentrate members of one party or the other encourages extremism and punishes compromise. But as for how it would play in the Electoral College, I don’t suspect gerrymandering would have that much to say about the final outcome. Though I should consider the role increasing the value of districts would play in encouraging even more gerrymandering. I will keep noodling!]

“I see the yearly ‘D.C. statehood’ cycle is upon us. Seriously? A 70 square mile city as a state? Why not just cede it back to Maryland and/or Virginia? I agree the representation issues need to be addressed. What are other considerations/options to solve the issue?” – Jack WhitemanSt. Louis

[Ed. note: Not only is your suggestion of retrocession a potentially good one, Mr. Whiteman, it has already been done. If you look at the District of Columbia on a map, it is about two-thirds of a diamond laid on a north-south axis, with the western border formed by the Potomac River. That’s because in the mid 19th Century Congress decided that the federal government didn’t need the land on the Virginia side of the river in the original plot for the city. What is now mostly Alexandria, Va. was retroceded to the commonwealth and ultimately accepted in 1847. Now look at the current map again and eye the long expanse of land the north of, say, the National Zoo. Why do those folks need to live in the federal district? The same goes for the land on the east side of the Anacostia River. Why doesn’t the federal government enfranchise those voters for congressional elections by retroceding that land to Maryland. The answer is that it is not in the interests of anyone but the people. Maryland politicians have no interest in seeing Baltimore robbed of its power in the state by the arrival of what would be a huge, wealthy new city. And the leaders in the District of Columbia have no interest in seeing their clout watered down. Nor would Democrats like to give up on the chance to gain two new Senators while keeping D.C.’s three electoral votes. It’s a classic example of the divergence between those in power and their constituents, but not one I expect to be remedied anytime soon.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

Fox News: “A Louisiana man seen in a viral video swimming inside an aquarium at a Bass Pro Shop store has been arrested, according to reports. Kevin Wise, 26, of Slidell, was charged with simple criminal damage to property, a misdemeanor, the Bossier City Police Department said. The suspect went in the tank in Bossier City as part of a TikTok stunt, KSLA-TV of Shreveport reported. ‘I said that if I got 2,000 likes I would jump in the tank,’ Wise said, according to the station. ‘I got way more than that and didn’t want to be a liar.’ The video, posted by Treasure McGraw, allegedly showed Wise swimming in the store’s fish tank, climbing out, and then fleeing the store, Shreveport’s KTAL-TV reported. Wise was arrested after subsequently returning to the store, Bossier City police said. The store determined that it would incur costs for emptying and cleaning the 13,000-gallon tank following the alleged stunt, prompting the filing of a complaint with the police, KTAL-TV reported.”

“Everyone now has his nail-clipper, tweezers or X-rayed-shoe story. Can-you-top-this tales of luggage and body searches have become a staple of cocktail chatter.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in Time magazine on March 10, 2002.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.