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Senate Debates In North Carolina And Wisconsin-- Plus... Is Oklahoma Flipping Blue?

Yesterday, the NY Times took a conventional wisdom look at the final sprint into the midterms. You don’t have to read it to know what it says: GOP will win the House majority and the Senate is see-sawing back and forth; huge money is being spent by both parties. “Republicans,” they wrote in their sleep, “have pounded voters with messages about the lackluster economy, frightening crime, rising inflation and an unpopular President Biden. Democrats have countered by warning about the stripping away of abortion rights and the specter of Trump’s allies returning to power. Both parties are tailoring their messages to reach suburban voters, especially women, who are seen as the most prized and persuadable bloc in a polarized electorate.”

But conventional wisdom sometimes falters. Oklahoma is as red as it gets. The last time the state went for a Democrat was in 1964 (LBJ). Trump beat Biden in massive landslide— 1,020,280 (65.4%) to 503,890 (32.3%). Trump carried every county in the state, as did George W Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney. Both senators and all 5 congressmen are conservative Republicans. The 48-member state Senate has 39 Republicans and 9 Democrats and the state House consists of 82 Republicans and 19 Democrats. The entire executive branch is made up of Republicans— with one exception. The state Superintendent of Public Education, Joy Hofmeister, is a Republican who switched parties in 2021 and identifies as a conservative Democrat. She’s running against Trumpist Kevin Stitt. And, according to a new Sooner poll released yesterday… she’s beating him by almost 4 points— 46.8% to 43.0%. It’s not a state anyone expected a serious contest in.

But Wisconsin and and North Carolina are both states where the Democrats hope to flip 2 Senate seats from red to blue. They’re both swing states that lean red— Wisconsin with a PVI of R+2 and North Carolina with a PVI of R+3. According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average North Carolina is neck-and-neck, MAGA Republican Ted Budd leading by less than a point.

The neo-fascist GOP incumbent, Ron Johnson, is doing much better— beating a weak Democratic opponent, Mandela Barnes, by nearly 2 points:

Both states had their first and, in North Carolina’s case, only Senate debates on Friday. The Raleigh News&Observer reported that “Budd, the Republican nominee and a current member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Beasley, the Democratic nominee and the state’s former Supreme Court chief justice, had avoided all debates in 2022 until now… In Budd’s closing statement Friday night he said, ‘Joe Biden is on the ballot on Nov. 8, and he goes by the name this year of Cheri Beasley, because she will be a rubber stamp.’ Beasley said Biden and Congress ‘could work a whole lot harder’ to lower inflation, laying a share of that blame on Budd. She said she’s glad when Biden comes to North Carolina to hear the state’s challenges and its successes and to meet residents. ‘It’s wrong to align me with anybody unless I specifically say what my positions are, and I’m glad to talk about my positions, because my positions really do support people here in North Carolina…’ Beasley said."

On Jan. 6, 2021, Budd was one of many members of Congress who voted against certifying Biden’s election. On Friday night, Budd acknowledged that Biden is the president of the United States.
“I don’t like what Joe Biden is doing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. …but he is the president and unfortunately, he’s destroying our country,” Budd said. “He’s got 70% of the people saying we’re on the wrong track. I don’t like what he’s doing, but he is the president.” He was asked if he stood by his vote against certifying Biden’s election. “The core of that vote, Tim, was to inspire more debate, because I think debate is healthy for democracy, so that’s what it led to,” Budd said. “We didn’t have the votes to overturn it, but of course, having the debate was a healthy thing, and I do stand by it.”
Budd did not shy away from his connection to former President Donald Trump and reminded viewers that Trump won North Carolina in 2016 and 2020.
Budd went on to tout a better economy, lower inflation, record unemployment and growing wages under Trump’s administration. “President Trump endorsed me before, and I don’t run away from that like my opponent may be running away from Joe Biden, even though she’s a rubber stamp for his policies,” Budd said. “She would be a rubber stamp for him. He endorsed me because I’m an America First candidate and I believe in the things that led to that 1.4% inflation, that led to record low unemployment for women, for people of color, for Hispanics, so again, he had a lot of wins here in the state, including for our economy, including for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” Beasley, on the other hand, said Trump represents the most extremist policies and ideologies and pointed out that when he recently visited Wilmington, the former president called her a “Marxist liberal.”
“The reality is that Congressman Budd has aligned himself with somebody who was truly an extremist, in this race, and that’s a reflection on him, so folks need to be reminded of that as they’re thinking about the clear choice that can be made here in this race,” Beasley said.
Both Budd and Beasley were asked where they stood on legalizing marijuana. On Thursday, Biden announced he would pardon federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana and encouraged state officials to follow suit.
Budd said he believes the president overstepped his authority. He said he does not support legalizing marijuana and thinks doing so sends a bad message to children. “If someone can prove to me that there is a medical case for marijuana, we can certainly have that discussion,” Budd said, after saying he is absolutely opposed to recreational use. Beasley said she would legalize both recreational and medical use.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covered the Johnson-Barnes debate, noting that “they clashed over crime, abortion, the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and riots in Kenosha.” Reporter Bill Glauber focused on 5 takeaways:

Bail reform and police funding
Barnes said his support for so-called cashless bail has been "mischaracterized and sensationalized."
"Under my plan, dangerous people don't get to buy their way out of prison," said Barnes, who favors a system where conditions for keeping a defendant locked up are based on whether the person is a flight risk or a threat to public safety.
Johnson countered, "We have a huge problem with skyrocketing crime. One of the issues is we're not keeping criminals in jail." The senator called out the parole policies of the administration of Gov. Tony Evers and Barnes.
On policing, Johnson conceded that Barnes hasn't used the phrase "defund the police" but "he has a long history of being supported by people that are leading the effort" and uses "code words" like "over bloated police budgets."
Barnes said “we need to do more to make sure that communities have the resources they need to prevent crime from happening in the first place." He boasted of $100 million invested in state law enforcement through the American Rescue Plan, a bill Johnson voted against.
Views on abortion
Like Democrats across the state and country, Barnes went on the offense on abortion, saying he supports laws that held under Roe v. Wade, which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned.
"Now, the senator called the overturning of Roe vs. Wade a victory," Barnes said. "He celebrated the court's decision. And he said that if women don't like the laws of their state, like the 1849 criminal abortion ban we have here, he said they can move. I can't think of more callous out-of-touch more extreme position to take."
Johnson made his push for a referendum on the subject, even as Republicans in the Legislature recently blocked an Evers initiative to take up a constitutional amendment allowing statewide referendums.
"We all agree that society has responsibility to protect life," Johnson said. "But at what point does society have responsibility to protect life in the womb? I want we the people to decide that. I would have one vote like every other Wisconsin citizen."
On the insurrection and Kenosha riots
Barnes accused Johnson of trying to pass along a slate of fake electors to then-Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6, 2021 and added, "Let’s talk about the 140 officers he left behind during an insurrection he supported."
Johnson defended his actions: "The fact of the matter was nothing was delivered. The whole episode took less than an hour."
Johnson also pivoted to rioting the previous summer, including in Kenosha. Johnson charged "that instead of trying to calm things down," in Kenosha, Barnes gave a news conference and said "it felt like a vendetta was carried out against one of our community members. He incited the riot."
Barnes countered that Kenosha County's Republican sheriff said the governor provided the resources needed.
Marijuana legalization
With President Joe Biden pardoning thousands who have simple marijuana offenses and calling for a review of federal law, the candidates were asked about marijuana legalization.
Johnson said it should be done on the state level but added "I would suggest any state should really take a look seriously at the harm being done by the legalization of marijuana and consider that very carefully."
Barnes said he supports marijuana legalization and said: "Now marijuana is harmless and marijuana is something that states all over the country have embraced and they are seeing phenomenal benefits."
There has to be a better format than this
The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation boasts of having more than 32 years of history in running statewide debates.
But this wasn't so much a debate as a joint news conference, with the two candidates outnumbered by a moderator and a panel of five journalists asking questions. A sixth was sidelined by COVID but her questions were asked by a colleague.
Throw in all the filler, and the viewers were left to chew over around 50 minutes of discussion on the issues.
WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) gets a crack at the candidates Thursday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. from Marquette University's Varsity Theatre. TMJ4’s Charles Benson and Shannon Sims are the moderators.
A potential third debate fell through with WISN-TV (Channel l12). The station said Johnson accepted an invitation but Barnes declined.

My own favorite parts of the debate were when Johnson said a minimum wage is a form of price fixing and when Barnes called him out for being an insurrectionist:

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