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AIPAC and Crypto Industry Spent Big — But Did Super Tuesday Deliver for Them?

David Dayen of American Prospect discusses key contests in California, North Carolina, Arizona, and elsewhere.

On Super Tuesday, millions of voters cast ballots in primaries across the United States, and we look at key contests in California, North Carolina, Arizona and elsewhere with American Prospect executive editor David Dayen. He says the California race to fill the seat of the late Senator Dianne Feinstein highlighted the ideological fight inside the Democratic Party, with centrist Congressmember Adam Schiff successfully boxing out his more progressive rivals by spending millions to elevate the profile of Republican candidate Steve Garvey. Both men are now headed to the general election, where Schiff is all but certain to win. “It was quite successful,” Dayen says of Schiff’s strategy.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with the results from Super Tuesday, when millions of voters in 15 states went to the polls.

President Biden and Donald Trump appear headed for a rematch in November after both candidates won nearly every race. Former President Trump defeated Nikki Haley for the Republican presidential nomination in Texas, California and 12 other states. Haley beat Trump in Vermont but is now reportedly expected to suspend her campaign today. President Biden won in all 15 states with Democratic contests.

Despite Biden’s victories, many Democratic voters continue to show their opposition to the president’s support for Israel’s assault on Gaza. In Minnesota, 19% of voters in the Democratic primary cast their ballots for “uncommitted.” About 12% voted “no preference” in North Carolina, as did 9% in Massachusetts.

In North Carolina, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson won the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary. MSNBC described him as a, quote, “Holocaust-denying, gay-bashing, extreme anti-abortion radical.” The Human Rights Campaign described Robinson as one of the most radical anti-LGBTQ MAGA politicians on the ballot in the country. Last week, Trump praised Robinson, who is Black, saying, quote, “I think you are Martin Luther King times two. In November, Robinson will face off against Josh Stein, who won the Democratic primary in North Carolina for governor.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced she will not run for reelection this year and will leave the Senate after one term, during which she left the Democratic Party after years of shifting further to the right.

Super Tuesday was the start of the primary season for House and Senate races in at least five states. In Texas, Colin Allred won the Democratic Senate primary, defeating state Senator Roland Gutierrez and others. Allred will face Republican Ted Cruz in November.

Many contested races were in California. In the primary race to replace longtime California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who died last fall, Democratic Congressmember Adam Schiff defeated progressive Congressmembers Barbara Lee and Katie Porter. Under California election rules, the two Senate candidates with the highest number of votes advance to the general election. In this race, Republican Steve Garvey, the baseball star, came second, knocked out the other two Democrats. Garvey is a former Major League Baseball player, first-time contender, celebrated his victory Tuesday night.

STEVE GARVEY: Welcome to the California comeback. What you all are feeling tonight is what it’s like to hit a walk-off home run.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Congressmember Adam Schiff was the front-runner through much of the race, and he and his allies spent more than $11 million to elevate Garvey in hopes of beating his main intraparty opponents and keeping them off the ballot. This is one of the ads.

NARRATOR: Democrats agree: Conservative Republican Steve Garvey is the wrong choice for the Senate.

REP. BARBARA LEE: Our Republican opponent here on this stage has voted for Donald Trump twice.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Mr. Garvey, you voted for him twice.

REP. KATIE PORTER: As your own man, what is your decision?

NARRATOR: Garvey is wrong for California, but Garvey’s surging in the polls. Fox News says Garvey would be a boost to Republican control of the Senate. Stop Garvey. Adam Schiff for Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, this is part of the concession speech Tuesday night from Congressmember Schiff’s opponent Katie Porter, who slammed Schiff’s spending during the primary.

REP. KATIE PORTER: Our opponents threw everything, every trick, millions of dollars, every trick in the playbook, to knock us off our feet. … We’re standing three to one in TV spending and an onslaught of billionaires who spent millions peddling lies, and our opponent spending more to boost the Republican than promoting his own campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Also on Tuesday night, protesters chanting “ceasefire now” interrupted Schiff’s victory speech.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: … get through all the travails of these challenging times without my incredible family.

PROTESTERS: Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: I also want to thank my brother Dan and my brother David, who’s also here this evening.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Los Angeles to speak with David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect. His latest piece, “The Intra-Democratic Battles Kick Off in California: Millionaire self-funders, dirty-trick tactics, pro-Israel and crypto money everywhere. The ideological sparring within the party takes a back seat to campaign shenanigans.”

David, welcome back to Democracy Now! For people who don’t even understand what happened in California’s Senate primary, that it’s an open primary, if you can explain how the winner, Adam Schiff, the congressmember, helped to propel Garvey, the Republican, to be his opponent over his Democratic colleagues Barbara Lee and Katie Porter?

DAVID DAYEN: Sure. In California, everybody, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican or whoever, no party preference, gets the same ballot with all the same candidates on it. And then, the top two, regardless of party, advance to the general election.

Because of the size of California, money and name recognition are big factors. And what we’ve seen in a lot of races over the years, since this top-two primary has been put in place, is that the front-runner will try to pick their opponent. And in California, a very blue state, if the front-runner is a Democrat and they can pick a Republican for the general election, then in a statewide race they’re almost guaranteed to win that general election pretty easily and not have to exert too much effort.

So Schiff made a very concerted effort to elevate Steve Garvey. Steve Garvey did not run a single advertisement on his behalf. He did not campaign very much. Adam Schiff spent upwards of $40 million in terms of his total ad spend between him and his allies, and 60% of those ads mentioned Steve Garvey or, in the case of the ad you played, were entirely about Steve Garvey, including playing ads on Fox News saying Steve Garvey is too conservative for California, he voted for Trump, he’s too conservative. The idea was to consolidate the Republican vote in California and use that to force Garvey into the top two, thereby boxing out Schiff’s rivals Katie Porter and Barbara Lee. And it was quite successful.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, David, California is also important in terms of the results of House races for potential control of the House of Representatives. What did you see happening in the races for some of the congressional seats there?

DAVID DAYEN: Well, here we have some very interesting results, at least preliminarily. The one race I would point to is California’s 47th District. This is actually Katie Porter’s seat that she vacated to run for Senate. And there were two top Democratic candidates and one Republican. And it turned into a proxy fight involving AIPAC. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, their super PAC spent close to $5 million in negative ads against Dave Min, who’s a state senator in that district. And, you know, these supported Joanna Weiss, who is an attorney and a first-time candidate down there. And despite that onslaught, which is a really large amount of money for a primary race, it looks like Min is going to reach the top two, defying that almost $5 million in AIPAC spending. And he’s currently up by about 7,000 votes on Weiss in second place. And so it looks like Min is going to advance to the general election.

This is kind of a seismic result. We know that AIPAC is going to spend something around, according to reports, $100 million in primary races throughout the country this year. And the fact that their first foray, their first main race, they come up short, I don’t know — you know, every race is different, and Min was an elected official. He had won in that district before. But this is a pretty bad result for AIPAC in their very first attempt to influence the Democratic Party primaries.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you also about Alabama. There was a significant redistricting battle in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. There were nearly two dozen candidates. How does this primary differ from previous elections in Alabama?

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah, so, it was because of a Supreme Court ruling that they added this second, plurality-Black district in Alabama. Before this point, there was only one Democratic member of Congress in Alabama. This was the 2nd District. And as you say, it spawned a free-for-all, opened up — people who live 200 miles away from the district were running in this race, because it was a rare Democratic-leaning seat in Alabama.

What happened was, there’s going to be a runoff in April between the top two candidates, because nobody reached a majority. One of them is a guy named Shomari Figures, who is the son of a state legislator down there, who was boosted by a good deal of support from the crypto industry, got millions of dollars of ads on his behalf from a crypto super PAC.

I should mention that in California, in addition to the spending by Schiff, you know, elevating Steve Garvey, Katie Porter was subject to $10 million in negative ads by — also by the crypto industry, by a crypto super PAC. And the combination of that, you know, the elevation of Garvey for second place to box her out and this heavy negative spending — I mean, practically all of the ads that I saw in the run-up to the election were negative ads against Porter or these ads against Garvey that were kind of too clever by half. So, you know, I think the crypto industry — we thought, after Sam Bankman-Fried was disgraced and convicted, that — you know, he was the main funder of crypto super PAC ads in 2022 — you thought that would die down. But, no, there are other crypto millionaires who are spending lots of money to get their favorite candidates into Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play a clip of the now North Carolina Republican gubernatorial primary winner, North Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson winning the gubernatorial primary, MSNBC describing him as a “Holocaust-denying, gay-bashing, extreme anti-abortion radical,” Human Rights Campaign saying he’s one of the most radical anti-LGBTQ MAGA politicians on the ballot for making comments like this one from 2021.

MARK ROBINSON: The transgender movement in this country, if there’s a movement in this country that is demonic and that is full of anti- — the spirit of anti-Christ, it is the transgender movement. And these same people gonna tell me, “You need to believe in global warming.” And then they tell me, “Follow the science. Follow the science.” You don’t even know what gender you are!

AMY GOODMAN: David Dayen, Trump praised Mark Robinson, saying, “I think you are Martin Luther King times two.” The significance of this primary victory for him?

DAVID DAYEN: Well, we’ve seen all over the country in past elections Republicans nominate very extreme figures that end up hurting not just their own candidacies, but the candidacies of other Republicans in these races. We saw it in Arizona last election with Blake Masters, very extreme Senate candidate, and Kari Lake, the gubernatorial candidate, both of whom lost. We saw it in Pennsylvania with — Josh Shapiro had a very large gubernatorial victory against an extreme candidate.

So, what tends to happen is that when Republicans nominate these real far-right candidates, their rhetoric, their comments get elevated, and other Republicans have to answer for them. And I think, almost certainly, we’re going to see that with Mark Robinson. He’s going to be one of the more famous Republicans over the next several months, you know, relative to Donald Trump, of course. And I think a lot of Republican candidates all over the country are going to have to answer for the comments of Mark Robinson.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of Senator Kyrsten Sinema saying she will not be running? She had been a Democrat, became an independent, famous, among many other things, for curtsying on the floor of the Senate as she then voted down an increase in the minimum wage.

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah, I think it’s quite significant. Obviously, there was going to be, it looked like, a three-way race. Sinema had left the Democratic Party and became independent this year. And so it looked like there was going to be a three-way race between her, Ruben Gallego, the Democrat, and Kari Lake, who lost the gubernatorial election two years ago but has now come back and is going to be likely the Republican nominee. And in that three-way race, it looked like Lake had a bit of an edge just because she had two people, you know, on the center-left side of the spectrum. Now it’s going to be a head-to-head between Gallego and Lake, and I think Gallego has a bit of a better shot. And as for Sinema, I guess the private equity job offer came through, and she’s going to move on.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: David, I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about the presidential vote totals in the primaries. One is the significant numbers of “uncommitted” votes in Minnesota and a few other states on the Democratic side, but also the turnout. It seems to me — I haven’t looked at all the states yet, but it seems to me that there was far more turnout among Republicans than there was among Democrats in several major states. Does that suggest, obviously, the question of enthusiasm among both Republicans and Democrats as we go through this primary season?

DAVID DAYEN: I don’t think so. I mean, there really was no race on the Democratic side. Joe Biden is an incumbent. You had token opposition, people like Dean Phillips, who were running, but that race has largely been over.

It’s kind of true that the Republican race has largely been over, but you had two major candidates between Trump and Nikki Haley, and so I think there was more interest in turning out. And, of course, Nikki Haley received — you know, she won in Vermont, and she received significant vote totals in other states, so the enthusiasm may have been coming from the Nikki Haley side of the spectrum to get out and try to vote. But, of course, you know, Trump has kind of been the de facto nominee — and now probably the real nominee if Nikki Haley indeed suspends her campaign today — for a long time.

And so, even though I think voters haven’t quite tuned in yet, and they don’t really know yet that there’s going to be a rematch of 2020 — and whether that’s something they want or not, it’s clearly going to happen. But I wouldn’t read a whole lot into the turnout statistics at this point.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the uncommitted?

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah, I mean, it’s quite a phenomenon. I mean, these particular “uncommitted” campaigns in Minnesota and North Carolina and Massachusetts really sprouted up in a week in the wake of the Michigan “uncommitted” vote, which had a little bit of money and a little bit of a campaign for several weeks. The fact that 19% of the vote in Minnesota is going “uncommitted” shows that for those — you know, that small section of the electorate that is showing up in these primaries on the Democratic side, a nontrivial amount of those people are really agitated by the war in Gaza and want to see the administration change course on what they’re calling for. The administration has slightly shifted its rhetoric around a ceasefire but really is asking for the same temporary pause in fighting and return of hostages that they’ve always asked for. And so, clearly, there’s continued discontent among a slice of the electorate, which could be — you know, have a major impact in November, if they don’t see results.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we have less than a minute, David, but the significance of one of the richest men in the world, if not the richest, Elon Musk, meeting with Biden [sic] at Mar-a-Lago this weekend, could pay off, what, all of his campaign debts, has referred to the Biden administration’s immigration policies as “amounting to treason”?

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: He met with Trump, sorry.

DAVID DAYEN: Yes. Obviously, the factor there would be if he writes a big check, Elon. You know, he certainly has gotten more and more interested in politics. He tried to influence the DA’s race in Austin, Texas, where he lives, and failed spectacularly yesterday. Mr. Garza, the DA, progressive reform DA, won pretty convincingly in Austin. So he was unsuccessful in that foray. However, if he writes, you know, a $30 million, $50 million check to Donald Trump, obviously, there would be significant repercussions from that.

AMY GOODMAN: David Dayen, we want to thank you for being with us, executive editor of The American Prospect. We’ll link to all of your coverage of Super Tuesday.

When we come back, as Donald Trump solidifies his lead Super Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled Monday he can’t be barred from the ballot under the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment. Stay with us.

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