Dec 06, 2020
THE BROCKBANK POLITICAL REPORT
2020 Election Results and Commentary
Dec 06, 2020
By Greg Brockbank
Note: The views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and are not intended to reflect those of MCBA nor is this column an endorsement of any candidate.
MARIN’S NONPARTISAN RACES
Marin’s November 3rd election featured more local races than in past years because it was the first time most city councils, school boards, and special districts had been consolidated into an even-numbered-year election under a recent state law. It also featured first-time races by district, instead of at large, for San Rafael and Novato city council and school districts, with more districts coming in 2022.
There were a couple hundred or so potential seats up for election in the fifty or so different bodies in the above three categories, but as usual, less than half had contested races because in most of them only the same number of candidates filed as there were seats available—often just the incumbents running for another term. Throughout Marin, there were seven contested (i.e., with more candidates than seats available) races in six cities for city council (counting the San Rafael Mayor’s race), seven contested school board races, and five contested special district races.
This election showed many exceptions to the usual rule of thumb that incumbents usually win. In a surprising number of races, all incumbents ran for re-election (not unusual), but what was unusual was the strength of the challengers in terms of their experience and preparation for this race, along with the fact that a surprising number of them raised a significant amount of money, especially compared with many of the incumbents, who surprisingly often did not raise much or any money. Many or most of these challengers were surprisingly young (20-somethings) and progressive (clearly and proudly stated in the many candidates’ forums I watched or worked on). And some of them were also LGBTQ activists. It’s unusual to see more than the occasional candidate who fits this description in Marin, so it is indeed surprising to have so many such candidates run in a relatively large number of races, and most surprising of all was that so many of them won. Most of the losing incumbents were older white guys.
SAN RAFAEL MAYOR. People started talking about Kate Colin running to replace retiring incumbent Gary Phillips nearly two years ago, and as a former council member myself and candidate for Mayor nine years ago (I lost by 11 points to Phillips), I rarely found anyone who didn’t agree that Colin, who was first appointed a couple years after my service and then re-elected unopposed, is a bright light, if not the bright light on the council, as the most active, energetic, and invested in things like community participation, environmental protections, and what we can do to prevent and adapt to climate change. So it’s no surprise she did in fact run, as an overwhelming favorite, and although she had a local unknown shop owner run against her at the last minute, she got over 86% of the vote.
SAN RAFAEL CITY COUNCIL, DISTRICT FOUR. This race featured John Gamblin, an incumbent councilmember appointed about six years ago, who then ran unopposed for a full term, but this time was challenged by two incumbent school board members in this new Terra-Linda-based district. The incumbent wasn’t well-known or very experienced or active when he was appointed, and didn’t seem to gain much during his time in office, and didn’t seem to campaign much, at least judging by his failure or unwillingness to raise money, so we shouldn’t be surprised he lost. One school board member challenger—Greg Knell—has been a well-known community activist, is from a political family, and raised about $25,000, but lost to his school board colleague Rachel Kertz, who got nearly 50% more votes than he or Gamblin did. She, along with all other election winners, will be sworn in this month, along with Maika Gulati, who was unopposed in her new San Rafael city council district. Gulati is also an incumbent school board member as well, and the board’s first-ever Hispanic board president, and will now be the first-ever Hispanic councilmember, from a district based in the Canal area (which was the purpose of changing to district elections: to give under-represented minorities a better chance to win seats).
SAN ANSELMO TOWN COUNCIL. This was another of the races in which all three incumbents filed for re-election, which is not unusual, but where there were two strong challengers, which is unusual. One of the challengers, Eileen Burke, came in third, winning a seat with two of the three incumbents: Brian Colbert and Alexis Fineman. The odd-incumbent-out who did not win re-election was John Wright, who spent over 20 years on the elementary and high school district boards, and then the town council, and even had a dog park named after him behind Red Hill Shopping Center.
FAIRFAX TOWN COUNCIL. Like San Anselmo, this race featured all three incumbents running for re-election, plus two challengers, one of whom was particularly strong and won: Chance Cutrano, one of several young (20-something) progressive activists who ran for seats in Marin, in this case an executive of an environmental nonprofit. He raised the most money in his race, so we shouldn’t be surprised he was in fact the top vote-getter. The other winners were incumbents Barbara Coler and Bruce Ackerman. The odd-incumbent-out who did not win re-election was John Reed, a decades-long Fairfax volunteer who, like John Wright in San Anselmo, has spent several terms on the council but perhaps did not campaign hard enough.
SAUSALITO CITY COUNCIL. This race featured only one of the three incumbents running for re-election, Joan Cox, and she led at the end of election night by 29 votes for the third and final seat. But she then saw her lead evaporate in the subsequent weeks of ballot counting, with Ian Sobieski having a lead as high as 10 votes at one point. It finally came down to Sobieski winning the third and final seat by one vote over Cox. The first- and second-place winners were impressive young newcomers who each raised over $30,000 (a startlingly large amount for Sausalito): Janelle Kellman, a planning commissioner and progressive activist, and Melissa Blaustein, running for a second time, who has Democratic party experience, is a marathon swimmer, and indefatigable campaigner.
BELVEDERE CITY COUNCIL. Far fewer people care about this council, and the one in Ross, because the towns are so tiny, and their councilmembers are so rarely active outside their towns. One incumbent ran for re-election and won, Nancy Kemnitzer, and two of the three new candidates, Steve Block and James Lynch, also won.
MARIN COMMUNITY COLLEGE (COLLEGE OF MARIN) DISTRICT. (Full disclosure again: I served on this board for 18 years, before I was elected to the San Rafael City Council.) This was still another race with all incumbents running for re-election (four in this case, all veterans of more than one term), but with two challengers, one of them quite strong, Paul da Silva, who raised over $50,000, a surprisingly large amount, and who was the top vote-getter, followed by three of the incumbents: Stephanie O’Brien, Phil Kranenburg, and Eva Long, leaving incumbent Stuart Tanenberg as the odd-incumbent-out who did not win re-election.
COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, AREA FOUR. This board is the poster child for incumbents who stay on for decades, often unchallenged, and when they are, rarely seriously. But in this race, such an incumbent, Robert Goldman, was challenged by heretofore unknown Felicia Agrelius, a 20-something LGBTQ activist and professional educator who raised over $12,000. The incumbent raised little or nothing and apparently didn’t feel the need to campaign much, if at all. Agrelius won with about 60% of the vote.
TAMALPAIS UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT. This race, again, featured both incumbents running, who both seemed fine and were ultimately re-elected: Leslie Harlander and Karen Loebbaka, but it certainly wasn’t the kind of smooth sailing that you might expect for seemingly fine incumbents. There were three strong, young, impressive challengers, two of whom raised some money (unlike the incumbents), and there is enough dissatisfaction in the community that a parcel tax renewal and increase was soundly defeated in March, although a straight renewal passed last month.
SAUSALITO MARIN CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT. This has been a contentious district for decades, and again in recent years, with a basically all-Black public elementary school in Marin City, and a larger, more diverse charter school in Sausalito. Earlier this year, the Attorney General’s office announced the conclusion of a long, drawn-out investigation and declared the district to be illegally segregated and ordered it to integrate immediately. The investigation was the backdrop of the last election two years ago, and now this one, where the proponents of the two schools battle it out in various forums, including the ballot box. Neither of the two incumbents ran for re-election, but four candidates threw their hats into the ring, including a slate of two supporting the charter school. One of them, Alena Maunder, was the top vote-getter, despite the fact that her slate-mate, who ran two years ago, came in fourth. The other winner was recently emerged progressive super-activist Lisa Bennett, who was the only one who raised any significant money (over $15,000).
NOVATO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD, AREA THREE. Here, a young, progressive LGBTQ activist and professional educator, Desmond Fambrini, but who raised no money, lost to super-activist (at least in the school district) Julie Jacobsen, who had raised about $9,000.
MILL VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD. One incumbent ran for re-election in this race, and he lost. Michele Crncich Hodge was the only candidate who raised any money (about $17,000), and was the top-vote-getter, with the second-place-vote-getter (and seat-winner) being super-district-activist Elli Abdoli.
REED UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD. Incumbent Liz Webb was the only incumbent running for re-election, and she was the top vote-getter. The other winner was a new candidate, Jacqueline Jaffee, a local volunteer.
MARIN HEALTHCARE DISTRICT. After decades of division over progressive control of this board, including corporate control by Sutter, they’ve seemingly been singing Kumbaya in recent election cycles, with former-opponent incumbents now running alongside each other with each other’s full support. It looked like this year might be another one of those, as the two incumbents (always allies) who were up for re-election ran together as a slate. But they were challenged by Edward Alfrey, a prominent surgeon (which fits the typical profile of board members), who had run two years ago and lost, but who raised the most money this time. Both incumbents, especially one, were quite weak as campaigners. Not surprisingly, Alfrey came in first by a considerable margin, followed by the not-quite-as-weak incumbent Ann Sparkman for the second and final seat.
MARIN MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT BOARD, DIVISION FIVE. This board has also seen pitched battles in recent decades, but not recent years, and the two races this year seemed relatively civil. In division five, long-time incumbent Larry Russell got over twice as many votes as challenger Chris Hobbs.
MARIN MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT BOARD, DIVISION TWO. A board member stepped down, and for this open seat, water “professional” Monty Schmitt, supported by mainstream environmentalists, won the seat by beating local high school teacher and San Rafael Planning Commissioner Mark Lubamersky. Schmitt raised over $45,000, and Lubamersky about $20,000, despite the fact that Lubamersky’s campaign consultant was Paul Cohen, Chair of the Marin Democratic Party (my successor), who has an extremely impressive won-lost record since he became an independent campaign consultant in Marin about a decade or so ago.
TAMALPAIS COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT BOARD. Incumbents Steffen J. Bartschat, Steven M. Levine, and Mathew McMahon defeated their lone challenger and were handily re-elected.
MUIR BEACH COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT BOARD. New candidates David H. Taylor and Paul Jeschke beat another new candidate in this district of several hundred voters. What I like about this district as an example of pure democracy was that, several years ago, they held a public forum for some parcel tax or local measure, and over half the district's voters showed up.
STATE BALLOT PROPOSITIONS
PROPOSITION 14: STEM CELL RESEARCH FUNDING. Even though this seems like an unusual way to fund scientific research, I guess just enough people like at least the idea of stem cell research enough to barely grant it a second round of funding, passing this measure with 51% of the vote.
PROPOSITION 15: REASSESSMENT OF COMMERCIAL PROPERTY TO FUND SCHOOL AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES. Proposition 13 in the 1970s limited increases in assessed value for property tax to 2% per year until the properties were sold, at which time they would be reassessed to market value. Residential properties do eventually turn over, but commercial properties markedly less often, in large part through corporate ownership where each transfer involves less than 50% of the ownership, thereby avoiding an official change of ownership for assessment purposes. To correct that unfair advantage of almost eternally and unfairly low property taxes on too many commercial properties, this measure, talked about for years as a much-needed revenue source for schools and local governments, and as leveling the playing field with residential property owners, lost narrowly with 48% of the vote, perhaps because too many voters were scared that soon their residential property taxes might go up, as falsely advertised by commercial property owners, or because commercial tenants feared that their rents would go up.
PROPOSITION 16: AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN GOVERNMENT DECISIONS. You’ll recall that affirmative action used to be legal in California and was indeed practiced by various government agencies in hiring and contracting, as well as in admissions to UC, until a state ballot measure in the 1990s banned the use of it and enshrined that ban in the state Constitution. This measure was an attempt to overturn that ban, with some hoping that our current “national reckoning” over racial relations would help it pass, but it got just under 43% of the vote and failed.
PROPOSITION 17: RESTORES RIGHT TO VOTE AFTER PRISON TERM. California usually leads in prison reforms and electoral reforms, but somehow this one remained undone, until now. It passed with 58.6% of the vote.
PROPOSITION 18: VOTING RIGHTS IN PRIMARY ELECTIONS FOR 17-YEAR-OLDS. Our voter registration and voter turnout levels are fairly low among civilized countries, contrary to the jingoistic impressions we may get in grade school about our wonderful democracy. This measure would have gotten 17-year-olds more interested in voting (too few are) in November general elections if they were going to be 18 then by allowing them to vote in the primary election even if they weren’t quite yet 18. It got only 44% of the vote and failed.
PROPOSITION 19: CHANGES PROPERTY TAX EXCLUSIONS. Currently, seniors can transfer their low property tax basis when buying a new house only once in a lifetime, only within the same county except for a small minority of counties, and only when purchasing a lower-priced home. This measure got just over 51% and will allow three lifetime transfers to any county in the state and to a home of any value (although increasing the transferred basis by any increased value of the new home over the sold home), having been pushed entirely by realtors who can now make more sales. After a recent, similar failed measure, proponents bet that there were enough additional senior voters to pass this year’s measure, and there were. But it nearly eliminated the ability of children to inherit their parents’ property tax basis, which is now restricted only to a primary residence, limited to one million dollars in value, and requires the child to make it his or her primary residence within one year. By lowering the hit on tax revenue and creating a firefighting fund, the realtors were successful this time, although at the cost of close to $50 million, with essentially no money spent in opposition.
PROPOSITION 20: PAROLE RESTRICTIONS FOR CERTAIN OFFENSES. There was a time when Californians would pass sentence enhancements regularly, but those days have been gone a while, and this anachronistic attempt garnered only 38% of the vote.
PROPOSITION 21: GOVERNMENTS’ AUTHORITY TO ENACT RENT CONTROL. This incredibly complex measure, very similar to one which failed two years ago, got only just over 40% of the vote this time and failed again. A statewide law from the 1990s restricted localities’ ability to enact rent control going forward. Despite the Legislature’s recent passage of a limited statewide rent control law, relentlessly rising rents in many locations (until the pandemic at least) led proponents to try again—and fail again.
PROPOSITION 22: APP-BASED DRIVERS AND EMPLOYEE BENEFITS. This proposition set records for spending by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and similar companies to exempt themselves from the landmark AB 5 passed last year, which requires many heretofore independent contractors like those in the companies mentioned above to be employees, with increased rights and costs. Over $200 million bought these companies their exemption by getting 58.6% of the vote, but I fear the precedent that sets for rich companies who want to go to the ballot to abrogate employee rights. I also just heard that the new administration may try to do something early next year on the federal level regarding employee status and rights for ride-hailing app companies. It will be difficult for California to do anything because of a little-noticed provision in the proposition that requires a 7/8 vote of the Legislature to change the law.
PROPOSITION 23: STATE REQUIREMENTS FOR DIALYSIS CLINICS. This is another measure that failed two years ago and again last month, getting only 36.6% of the vote. It’s a “typical” story (which some people say should never be on the ballot) of a relatively recent industry (two companies, mainly) who figured out how to make a lot of money, and whose employees objected to the lack of safety they felt they, and the patients, were being forced to endure, relative to the profits (which would have been capped in this measure in a complicated formula, possibly saving patients and insurance companies money). In my opinion, it’s a shame the public didn’t seem to understand what this would have done, in the face of the rich companies’ massive advertising to keep the status quo and all their profits, framing it as a threat to dialysis itself and the lives of dialysis patients.
PROPOSITION 24: AMENDS CONSUMER PRIVACY LAWS. This measure was confusing, and some good-government and privacy groups said it will make things worse, but it got 56.2% and passed, perhaps because it sounds good, and most people want more privacy in a world where it seems to be diminishing. More education and time are needed to assess its effects, and the possible need for a follow-up measure.
PROPOSITION 25: MONEY BAIL. In the United States, cash bail for defendants charged with a crime has been around since before the Constitution. Supposedly proportional to the defendant’s income or net worth, it was designed to make all defendants equally loathe to flee when the financial pain should theoretically be equal for them, regardless of their wealth. But too often very poor people (a huge percentage of the cases) can afford no bail at all, causing them to be jailed until trial, snowballing their and their families’ problems because the jailed person can’t work and earn money they need for their everyday lives. New criminal justice reforms (including by progressive district attorneys who oppose cash bail, and who are still rare, but increasing in number) are moving away from cash bail, and in fact the Legislature last year banned its use, in favor of a different approach that would evaluate defendants’ flight risk regardless of their net worth. In opposition to that law, the bail bonds industry, for whom this new idea is an existential threat, got this referendum on the ballot and funded it, getting it a 56% “no” vote and killing last year’s bill.
CONTROL OF CONGRESS
DEMOCRATS SUFFER SURPRISING LOSSES IN THE HOUSE
Everyone, including me, predicted that Democrats would gain another dozen or two seats in the House this year, to add to the 41 they added in 2018 to take the majority, and would keep all seven of the newly added Democratic seats in California, but we were all wrong. It wasn’t the polling, at least not directly, since House races aren’t polled very often, if at all, so there wasn’t much to go on in the polls except the “generic” polls asking whether voters preferred a generic Democrat or a generic Republican; enthusiasm for the generic Democrat has been consistently high all year (in fact, since the 2018 election, and even since Trump’s election in 2016).
Perhaps Democrats at all levels got complacent, thinking their blue wave of 2018 would continue through this year, just as the blue wave of 2008 followed the blue wave of 2006 (when Democrats took the House and made Pelosi the Speaker the first time). Several races had not been called as of December 1, including one in California where the candidates are separated by 400 votes out of nearly 350,000 counted, which is a wide margin compared to a race in Iowa with 40 votes separating the candidates, and Democrats’ margin in the House could be as small as four seats past the halfway mark, although it may be slightly larger. Why at least a dozen Democrats, mostly new ones, lost this year, in a presidential election year (when turnout is supposed to be more favorable to the party not in the White House), is being hotly debated. Progressives and moderates are pointing fingers at each other. Some say strategy from the DNC was not tailored to specific races and quite interestingly, some say the DNC’s blanket prohibition on in-person, on-the-ground campaigning because of the pandemic was unnecessarily restrictive and was certainly a disadvantage compared to the amount Republicans were doing.
I took particular note of first-term Democrat Elyssa Slotkin, who just missed losing her seat, who at a Democratic Caucus meeting immediately after the election called out what she said was poor Democratic strategy and execution, predicting an even worse slaughter in ’22 unless things change. She cited “radical” proposals like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, etc., as dooming too many Democratic members, and she thinks will doom many more unless the Dems change their message. Will they? Certainly many of the Democratic losses were in swing districts where winning over independents is essential to victory. If the Dems don’t win both Georgia Senate seats on January 5th, then the Republican Senate Majority will be able to block nearly all of Biden’s and the Dems’ proposed ideas, making this a do-nothing session that will further frustrate voters. Such frustration could possibly lead to more Republican gains in the House in ‘22, since the Dems are still in the majority in the House (albeit a smaller majority), and will have had the White House as well for two years. But if the Dems do take control of the Senate, and produce significant and meaningful legislation (easier said than done) which impresses enough people, perhaps the Democrats can gain back the seats in the House they lost this year, and more.
THE SENATE HANGS IN THE BALANCE UNTIL AT LEAST JANUARY 5
The Senate results were the big disappointment for the Dems. Their chances of capturing majority control of the Senate went from “slim” a year or two ago, based just on the number of incumbent Republicans that the Dems needed to beat whose seats were up, to “quite good” in this election, based on polling showing slight Democratic leads, regular or occasional, in four or five states that ultimately narrowly re-elected their Republican incumbents, including, as discussed below, Maine, North Carolina, Iowa, and Montana. Some of us optimists were looking at even longer shots where the Democrat was only a few points down in some polls, like South Carolina, Alaska, and Kansas.
Democrats did beat Republican incumbents in Arizona (Mark Kelly beat Martha McSally) and Colorado (John Hickenlooper beat Cory Gardner), as expected, but they lost, also as expected, Doug Jones’ seat in Alabama. That net gain of one seat brought their number from the current 47 to the projected 48, with the two Georgia runoff races to be decided by the special election on January 5th. If the Dems take them both, there will be a 50/50 tie in the Senate, thus creating lots of work for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, whose office rarely has to break ties, but may well in the next two years at least.
MAINE. Longtime Republican incumbent Susan Collins often poses as a rare (perhaps only?) moderate Republican Senator, but moderate voters in Maine had seemingly given up on her and were particularly incensed by her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Four million dollars was raised last year for whomever the Democratic nominee turned out to be in the hope of defeating her. It turned out not to be needed because the Democratic candidate, Sara Gideon, raised $34 million by herself, an astounding sum for a state like Maine with inexpensive media markets. Collins trailed moderately or badly in nearly all the polls, nearly all year, and yet she won by ten points. The result was especially surprising since Trump lost Maine badly, as expected, making Collins the only incumbent Republican Senator to survive in a state Trump lost (not counting the yet-to-be-decided Georgia Senate races). Clearly the polls were way off, well beyond their usually advertised four percent, and we may or may not ever fully understand why. At this point, many theories are being debated.
NORTH CAROLINA. Cal Cunningham, the Democratic candidate, must have been quite charismatic to take a pretty good lead over his Republican incumbent opponent, Thom Tillis, relatively quickly this summer and fall. But his racy texts to a paramour from the campaign were discovered, leading to his admission of an affair. Even then, he held onto a narrow, but meaningful, lead. In the end, he lost, like the others on this list.
IOWA. Republican incumbent Joni Ernst was first elected six years ago on the strength of her claim to have significant experience castrating hogs, but she couldn’t use that line again, which didn’t leave her with much of anything. As happened in Maine, a top state legislator, Theresa Greenfield, ran against her and suddenly led in the polls, albeit narrowly. But Greenfield lost, albeit narrowly.
MONTANA. Republican incumbent Steve Daines was elected to the Senate after serving in the state’s only House seat, but he was challenged by current-but-termed-out Governor Steve Bullock, who is still popular, and a major method of his campaigning seemed to be getting on the news all the time talking about what his state is doing about COVID-19, which all governors are doing. The polls showed a close race, but sometimes Bullock had a slight lead. Even though Montana is a pretty red state in presidential elections, they usually have Democratic governors (like Bullock), and their other Senator, Jon Tester, is also a Democrat. But Bullock lost, like the others.
THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE
It is virtually always true that presidential races are of far more interest to most of the public than everything else, and there’s almost never a snoozer. That’s been particularly true in recent decades as we’ve gotten more polarized than ever, and people must be getting tired of being told every four years that this one is the most important election of their lives.
Still, we’ve never seen a president like this one, or an election like this one. From the day he descended the Trump Tower escalator five and half years ago to announce his candidacy, Donald Trump riveted the public’s attention and never let go. And although few took him seriously at first, despite his celebrity and wealth, he was just shocking enough to grab just enough people’s attention to give him a quick lead in an extremely crowded field, which stayed so crowded that none of the others could ever get close to Trump’s increasing lead.
But few thought he’d ever win over a majority of the American people, even many of his supporters. And he didn’t, but unlike every other president, he didn’t even try. But perhaps surprisingly, he did win over virtually all the Republicans (The Lincoln Project and other prominent Republican never-Trumpers notwithstanding), not so much, in this Democrat’s opinion, by virtue of his superior ideas and strengths and experience as a candidate (since he was lacking all those things), but through sheer audacity and brashness, perhaps, as the well-known host playing himself as the domineering billionaire boss.
He catered only to his base, which consisted then and now of about 40% of the voters, give or take (but remarkably stable given his huge number of scandals and gaffes, which his base either didn’t believe or care about), with the rest of the Republicans going along (some reluctantly, some enthusiastically), and surprisingly even a few independents.
That put him over the top of the electoral college four years ago, but that was with a Democratic opponent whom many people viscerally disliked (deserved or not), who ran a campaign that was considered not all that great (going for Arizona and Georgia was apparently premature, and neglecting the three upper Midwest states was fatal). And we Democrats who believed the polls (which were flawed then, as they were again this year with the same candidate) watched in horror as one state after another we’d hoped and expected to go to Clinton went to Trump instead, starting with Florida and North Carolina, and then the upper Midwest.
This year it looked like déjà vu all over again in Florida and North Carolina, which Joe Biden once again narrowly lost despite what we’d thought and hoped was a narrow lead in the polls (Biden underperformed the polls by one-half percent on average, and Trump over-performed them by five percent on average), and with even greater horror at the huge Trump leads in the three upper Midwest states early on election evening, unless we knew about the expected “red mirage.” A red mirage of Trump leading substantially on election day was forecast based on Trump leading among election-day votes, which are counted first in many states, because he urged his supporters to vote in person on election day. Biden would supposedly catch up in subsequent days as the vote-by-mail ballots, which were counted later in many states, were tabulated and of course fell heavily for Biden, because he told his supporters that it was safer to vote early by mail.
That scenario more or less played out, although it took until the Saturday after election day for enough close swing states to be called to put Biden over the 270 electoral-vote threshold needed to win. Pennsylvania, which does not start counting mail-in ballots until election day, confirmed it, ironically giving Biden the exact same number—306—of electoral votes that Trump won with four years earlier, having won back the three upper Midwest states, as well as Arizona and Georgia (the first time in decades either had voted Democratic in a presidential race).
When Trump took office, many of us thought his already-low approval ratings would fall far and fast, but we were wrong. They did fall, perhaps, a little, and only at the very end as Trump approached the election with an ever-increasing number of scandals and gaffes, including a debate in which he exploded petulantly throughout the debate (which was not a good look for him or anyone), not to mention being hospitalized briefly by a case of COVID-19. I think he was aware of his slightly dropping polls and desperately threw one Hail Mary pass (explosive and reckless and false charges, for example) after another, and perhaps just enough voters sensed that desperation and basic dishonesty to decide to vote against him after all, and flip the five states in the prior paragraph that Clinton had lost.
Volumes will be written (some already have been, and more are being written as we speak) about this sui generis president, who nonetheless has set a precedent which makes it more likely for other anti-democratic presidents to be elected in the future. Much was written about the supposed “shy Trump voter,” a theory modeled after the Bradley effect, in which voters may well have been embarrassed to even tell a pollster they were voting against Tom Bradley (the LA mayor running for governor of California some decades ago), but it went much deeper than that with Trump. His constant criticism of the media as “fake news” generally made a surprisingly large number of his supporters refuse to even talk to pollsters, which is why Trump over-performed the polls by an average of 5% (varying widely by state), while Biden underperformed the polls by only one tenth of that. Almost everyone missed these “non-talking” Trump supporters and one mysterious Republican pollster who didn’t miss them thought there were more than there were, foiling his prediction of a wide Trump victory.
No one disputes that a huge part of Trump’s base was white men with no college education, who are understandably quite sensitive about their stereotyped negative portrayals in the media. They stayed loyal to Trump, although they are a shrinking demographic. Where Trump lost a few key percentage points was among women, particularly suburban and/or college-educated women, some of whom voted for Trump four years ago primarily because they were white, but then turned on him because of his continuing outrageous comments and behavior, not to mention his undisguised misogyny.
Speaking personally and not just as a left-leaning Democratic political pundit, I’ve been waiting for weeks and months (four years, actually) to say that we are seeing the beginning of the end of our long national nightmare, as Trump exits stage right. I never believed so many of my friends who thought Trump would win, or that if he lost, he would incite his supporters to riot and/or insurrection, and refuse to leave power and the White House, and on and on. As much as Trump may have tried to go down that path, he hasn’t made it very far. Nor do I take seriously those who say, including Trump himself, that he may well run again four years from now (he’d be 78—Biden’s age now, but I think his health is much worse than Biden’s), or have a family member or at least another Trumpy candidate run, allowing Trump himself to continue to pull strings and have a huge influence in the national dialogue for at least another four years.
The reason I don’t believe those things is that I think Trump will be imprisoned in a New York state prison in a year or two, given the time it will take the politically ambitious Manhattan D.A., Cyrus Vance, who has designs on the governor’s mansion, to bring charges (even if Biden or Trump himself gives Trump a valid federal pardon). I believe a jury will believe the Michael Cohens and numerous others testifying at the trial(s) against Trump, even if some or most of those witnesses have lied in the past, because there will be documentation of tax fraud and other crimes to back up those witnesses. When he’s found guilty, and it is clear he will be sentenced and imprisoned, maybe then we can consider our long national Trump nightmare to be over.
Greg Brockbank is a 30-plus-year attorney and civic and political activist, having served for 18 years on the College of Marin Board of Trustees and then 4 years on the San Rafael City Council. He is the senior member and immediate past chair of the Marin Democratic Party governing board and has attended 30 state Democratic conventions. For over 20 years, he has provided numerous groups with detailed lists of the contact info for all candidates for Marin’s local offices, and appears as a commentator and election-night co-host on public access television.