The crime elections

The District of Columbia’s City Council might seem a strange place to start a political newsletter a few days out from the midterms. As Democrats will never miss an opportunity to remind you, voters in Washington, DC will not get a say in a race that will help decide control of Congress. But a meeting of city leaders this week is an instructive part a national story that will be central to next week’s vote.

On Tuesday, the DC Council voted 12-0 to support a rewriting of the capital’s criminal code. Reforms include reduced mandatory minimum sentences, the expansion of the right to jury trials for most misdemeanors, a broadening of the opportunities for early release and the elimination of accomplice liability in felony murder cases. The reforms are opposed by the District’s US Attorney, Matthew M. Graves, and police chief Robert J. Contee. Graves said that some of the provisions “could undermine community safety and impede the administration of justice in our courts.” Also opposed to the proposals as they stand: the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, who has said she will not sign them into law, but thinks some kind of reform is needed.

Crime is set to be a decisive factor in next week’s elections. It is the biggest reason why governors’ contests are closer than expected in Oregon and New York. It is the main line of attack in crucial Senate races in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It is why Los Angeles might be about to elect a former Republican property developer as its mayor. Nationwide, it’s a major issue for swing voters and traditionally Democrat-supporting working-class voters. For some Democrats, this seems to be a head-scratcher: We’ve cut it out with calls to Defund the Police. We get it.

And this is why the DC story is so instructive. It’s not that Democratic leaders are actively defunding the police, or fail to appreciate, at least theoretically, that the issue is a major concern for voters. It’s that they time and again fail to act as though public safety is their number one concern. Violent crime is spiking in Washington. It is the city’s most pressing problem and should be its elected officials’ number one concern. In place of any sense of urgency or decisive action is a blue-on-blue debate about which criminal justice reform measures are worth keeping and which are worth watering down. The message to voters is clear: your worries about safety are not our top priority.

Across the country, the Democratic Party’s messaging on crime has been all over the place. First, the crime problem was nothing more than a Republican scare campaign: a racist figment of the right-wing imagination. When more and more Democrats acknowledged the problem, they made the slightly trollish claim that crime is actually higher in red states. Absent from their pitch to voters on one of the most important issues: a straightforward pledge to actually deal with the problem.

A survey by progressive pollster Stan Greenberg demonstrated the Democrats’ problem clearly. He asked voters what they feared most if the Democrats won the upcoming elections. The top answer, with support of 56 percent of respondents was “crime and homelessness out of control in cities and police coming under attack.” Compare that to voters’ top concern about Republican victory, “a national abortion ban and women losing equal rights forever”, which earned 32 percent support.

The bottom line is that Democrats have lost all credibility on the crime issue, and have taken very few steps beyond the most cosmetic and obvious, to address that problem. For that they are set to pay a high price. And deservedly so.

Trump 2024 prepares for liftoff 

Trump’s return is imminent. Well, he never really left. But Axios reports that the former president’s inner circle is weighing an announcement of his 2024 bid on November 14. At a rally in Iowa last night, the former president said, “In order to make our country successful and safe and glorious, I will very, very, very probably do it again.” It’s the latest hint at the increasingly obvious, and the Trump camp will be feeling bullish after summer concern over Trump-backed candidates looks set to be lost in a red wave. A November announcement suggests that Trump is ready to claim credit for the results — if things go as well as Republicans now overwhelmingly expect.

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O no, Oz

Perhaps the most closely watched midterm race of all, the Pennsylvania Senate contest has had a last-minute sprinkling of stardust. Yesterday, television titan Oprah Winfrey declared her support for John Fetterman.

“If I lived in Pennsylvania, I would’ve already cast my vote for John Fetterman, for many reasons,” she said yesterday.

Will the endorsement make much of a difference? On the one hand, there aren’t many bigger names than Oprah, and in a close race, every little bit of support counts. On the other, Oprah’s liberal politics aren’t exactly a secret, and so her endorsement could just be treated with a shrug.

There is, though, a compelling personal element to her intervention, given that she helped build Mehmet Oz into the TV star he is today. An Oz spokesperson said that he “loved Oprah and respects the fact that they have different politics.”

What you should be reading today

Stephen L. Miller: Democrats made Kari Lake a star
Ben Domenech: Kitchen table versus kitchen tablets, the real midterm divide
Teresa Mull: Poverty is a major issue in the midterms
Jacob Stern, the Atlantic: Democrats keep falling for superstar losers
Roxanne Roberts, Washington Post: The British Ambassador brings her unique style to Washington
Ben Schreckinger, Politico: Free advice for Elon from a free speech mogul

Poll watch

President Biden job approval
Approve: 42.5 percent
Disapprove: 54.9 percent
Net approval: -12.4 (RCP Average)

Georgia Senate race
Raphael Warnock (D): 48 percent
Herschel Walker (R): 48 percent (Marist)

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