Because it’s never too early to talk about the next election cycle, we talk 2022 midterms on this week’s episode. We discuss the lessons learned from the 2021 results and what we can expect a year from now—we review the biggest contests, redistricting fallout, and the leading issues on voters’ minds.
Cassie Smedile is Executive Director of America Rising PAC. She joined the team after serving concurrent roles as the Deputy Communications Director and National Press Secretary at the Republican National Committee. Prior to working at the RNC, she spent ten years on Capitol Hill in communications capacities in both the Senate and House, including Communications Director roles for Senator Todd Young (R-IN) and Congressman Sean Duffy (WI-07) in addition to other offices.
And welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you’re allowed to think for yourself. I’m your host, Beverly Hallberg. And on today’s episode, we talk 2022 midterms because it’s never too early to talk about the next election cycle. We’ll discuss the lessons learned from this month’s results, and what we can expect a year from now, from the biggest contest, to redistricting, to the leading issues on people’s minds.
And joining us is someone to break it all down, Cassie Smedile. Cassie Smedile is executive director of America Rising PAC. She joined the team after serving concurrent roles as a deputy communications director and national press secretary at the Republican National Committee. Prior to that, she spent 10 years on Capitol Hill in communications capacities in both the Senate and the House, and that included communications director roles for Senator Todd Young and Congressman Sean Duffy in addition to other offices. So she’s very knowledgeable on this, and it’s a pleasure to have her on the program. Thank you so much for joining us, Cassie.
Wonderful to be with you. I’ve been a longtime fan of all of the work that you guys do. So this is a lot of fun to be with you today.
Well, thank you for following us, and thank you for joining us to give us your insights on elections. Before we turn to the midterms, which we’re going to spend the majority of our time focusing on, it would do a disservice to all of us, to at least take a look at this week’s election results, some big races, especially in Virginia, you have the Republican winning the governor’s race in Virginia. Just give us, big picture, what do you make of this?
Well, certainly a fantastic night for Republicans. Should be a very humbling night for Democrats, but I really want to underscore in the big picture — and as we do transition to the conversation about next November — what a big night for parents, for local issues, for average hardworking Americans ending up and saying, “My voice does matter. My concerns are valid, and we will not allow, whether it be unions or Democrat machine candidates, to write us off.” And I think that is a huge win, obviously just for democracy, but certainly for any candidate who’s going to have their name on a ballot over the next 12 months, something to keep in mind for their path as well.
I think something that just really stood out to me is don’t mess with moms. If you mess with their kids, they’re going to come out and they’re going to vote women care and women have a lot of issues they care about, but one of the most important is their children and the education of their children. So I think, as we learn more and more about who came out and why, that’s going to be the big story. But it does make me wonder how we expect Democrats to approach the midterms. As they take a look at what happened with the Republicans, the issues that mattered, in your perspective, do you think this really leads to a big fight between moderate Democrats and progressives?
Well, it should. And we’re seeing already that they’re pointing fingers at each other, saying “well, it was because you, Manchin and Sinema, held up the vote, we didn’t get anything done, that Terry McAuliffe didn’t have anything to run on.” And then it’s the “moderates” saying, “No, it’s because you all insisted on making our entire agenda about multitrillion-dollar socialist programs that nobody wants, and we can’t afford that did us in.” And so, of course, as Republicans and conservatives, you love to see it. The more that they fight, the longer we delay their agenda, which is good news for the country, ultimately. But it also, what it should be doing, like I said in the beginning, it should have been a humbling night for them. And unfortunately, the takeaways that we’re seeing in the immediate aftermath is that they’re not learning that lesson.
They’re not saying, you know what, we got it wrong. We didn’t listen to the voters. We didn’t listen to the constituents; instead, we dismissed them. And one other note, as much as we would be led to believe that we are a very polarized nation — and there’s certainly some truth in that — your point about don’t underestimate the power of moms on a mission, of parents on a mission, what we saw here is an unlikely coalition of parents who said, “I’m going to take off my Republican hat or my Democrat hat, and I’m going to join together for a cause that’s very personal to me and important to our community.”
And while education certainly was the top issue on the ballot in Virginia, we see it also in New Jersey, in the immediate conversation about what impacted voters’ decisions there as well.
I think these other local issues about safe communities and having food on the shelves at the grocery store and pushing back against this incessant spending and taxing. All these kitchen table conversations that have been happening really are what’s going to drive people’s voting behavior, and whichever party or candidate who happens to be under the banner of the party is fighting for those local issues — all politics is local after all — is going to see the better election night next November. And I think that you’d be really stubborn at your own peril if you kept trying to make this a divisive R versus D conversation versus really looking at what’s driving people to take the voting action that they are.
And something I was thinking about, too: it’s so often with issues in elections, there is a candidate who is forecasting what could happen if we don’t do anything, so I think of the entitlement reform. We’re going to go, social security’s not going to be there for our younger generations, or Medicare and Medicaid, they’re going to go bankrupt. Things like that, where it’s this forecasting, this warning.
And what was so different about this election cycle is that people were experiencing the pain. So, shutdown of schools, change in curriculum, prices going up on food, prices going up on gas, we see the things changing in real-time in ways that really impact people on a day-to-day basis, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s anything more powerful about what is going right and wrong in a country than the day-to-day issues affecting you.
Oh my gosh, it’s a fabulous point. And one that we don’t always get to use in real-time. To your point, it’s always, what’s happening in the future, what’s the promise I can make to you versus what needs to change right now. And it reminds me of the old — I think it’s Bill Clinton adage — who you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? And all these parents said, “Well, apparently, my lying eyes because I looked over my child’s shoulder for 18 months and watched them struggle on Zoom. I heard what was being taught to them. So you telling me, Terry McAuliffe, that this is a conspiracy theory, what I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears only makes me run further away from you and further away from anyone who supports what you’re espousing.”
And that was a big difference-maker. We don’t typically get that. For so long, conservatives, especially those of us who have really been big supporters of school choice, parental choice, and education, you’re kind of talking about something that you know to be true, but that most parents who of course are going — and you’re at work all day, and it’s just enough to maybe check your child’s homework at night, you’re just trying to keep up with so many things — hadn’t had the opportunity to see for themselves until, ironically, the teachers’ unions worked overtime to keep kids on Zoom and out of schools. And then parents had this extended amount of time to see what’s really been going on in their child’s classrooms.
And frankly, I have to give a nod to teachers. There were a lot of teachers who were upset with how things were being done, too. And they themselves also felt hamstrung by the teachers’ union. So these Democrats who continue to prioritize teachers’ unions over teachers, parents, students, will also continue, I think, to see bad election nights for themselves. And I hope that it becomes a change in behavior on that front as well. I’m not optimistic. We know the teachers’ unions are incredibly powerful, but if they’re seeing that their long-used talking points are not working anymore, maybe that’ll inspire some change as well.
And I think that the bringing up the talking points is such an important part because we didn’t just see teachers’ unions helping Terry McAuliffe campaign, of course. It was also the narratives that we saw out there. It was to the point of calling parents domestic terrorists if they came to school board meetings and speaking up, calling parents racist, white supremacists, if they disagreed with aspects of the curriculum being taught, most notably CRT, critical race theory. And so do you think that Democrats need to take a hard look at some of the naming, the tactics that they’re using, and calling groups of people, whether parents, whether it’s just individuals, certain names? Do you think we’re going to see a change of tune on that or do you think they’re going to double down on it?
Well, if you look in the Twitter bubble, I’m hedging my bets towards doubling down. But a smart politician, of which we know, and again, in Virginia, for example, there are a lot of targeted races for Democrats, especially in Northern Virginia. They don’t have a lot of wiggle room; certainly, they don’t have a wiggle room with their majority in Congress. So smart candidates will recalibrate because, for so many people, the Democrats are now just painting any person who considers themselves a Republican with this broad brush that you must be a racist, or you must be a conspiracy theorist.
Obviously, the vast, vast, vast majority of those voters reject that assertion about themselves. And we’re pretty stubborn people and we’d say, “Just for that, I’m not going to support you. I’m not going to listen to you. And I assume that everything you are telling me is the exact wrong direction for me and my family.”
And I think that was a lot of the backlash that we saw that motivated these parents to either cross over — I mean, people who just voted for Joe Biden last November, he won Virginia by a margin of 10 points — to now see a huge swing in the other direction for Republicans up and down the ballot. What tells you that there are a lot of people who changed their vote and even more, we saw in some early predictions, that Glenn Youngkin was overperforming a number of people he brought off the sidelines, so people who had just planned to stay home, who were then motivated to go out and vote.
So Democrats should learn a lesson from that. But Washington, D.C. is a pretty stubborn town, so remains to be seen, but I think it will be, again, their own political peril if they don’t make any changes.
And so let’s look ahead to some of the big contests to watch in the midterms. Of course, this was an off-year. I think it’s still important to look at races, people call it a Bell Weather, to see what can we take from these elections to determine what’s going to happen in the midterm. So from the midterm, so a year from now, it’s never too early to talk about it. Obviously, one of the biggest things to watch is going to be what happens in the House and the Senate with the balance of power. So what are going to be some of the most important states to watch when it comes to the House race and the Senate races?
Certainly, well, I think starting with Senate first, which is a little smaller pool to talk about, some of the races that people are really going to see as opportunities for flip: Nevada is one of the big ones that comes to mind; Arizona, still very much a purple state. We know Mark Kelly has a huge war chest already, but if you take the results that we see in Virginia, and certainly the president’s very unpopular approval ratings, and just that recent poll, I think it was NBC that showed the American people have no confidence in the Democrats’ ability to get things done.
So even looking at the Democrats being upside down on all the kitchen table issues, there doesn’t seem to be any confidence that there’s anything they can do to turn this tide around and accomplish anything that would change people’s minds.
So I’m particularly interested there, and I think that’s a good pickup opportunity. And then whatever we might see happen in New Hampshire; the governor up there is always flirting with getting in the race. He’s incredibly popular. Maggie Hassan, incredibly unpopular, and in a head-to-head, it looks like Chris Sununu would fare well. So I think that’s a great pickup opportunity to keep an eye on and certainly New Hampshire’s always a fun state in election year anyway.
So I think, should polls continue to trend as they are, should people continue to believe by an overwhelming majority that our country is on the wrong track with Democrats in control of all the levers of the legislative and executive branch, that’s really going to spell trouble for Democrats down the road. And then combine that with Republican candidates who take the lessons in stride from this week to run a race on the issues that matter most to their communities.
I think, transitioning to the House, one thing that went a little bit under the radar after 2020, but the Republican party — and hats off to the NRCC for their recruitment — they did a really wonderful job of making sure that we had good candidates on the ballot, candidates that were representative of their districts, candidates that had good stories to tell.
And that’s something that Republicans have long been… That’s been a problem for us. People have been able to paint us and say, “No, you just are a monolith,” and that certainly was not based in 2020. Not only did they protect every Republican incumbent but added to their ranks a really awesome class of diverse candidates, diverse in thought, diverse in background, diverse in geography. And I think that that will continue to help them as they fight for the issues that matter most to their specific districts.
So that’s where I’m looking and interested to see kind of the candidate class that emerges, in the House in particular, as we build on that trend and those successes of more women, more veterans, more multifaceted, multicultural candidates.
And in addition to the issue of education, which of course is a leading issue on people’s minds all across the country, regardless of what state they’re in, there’s also the issue of the border. What are you finding, as far as the interest that people have in this who aren’t part of the border state? Border states obviously always have a great interest in what’s going on on the border for the obvious reason, but are you seeing that what’s taking place on the border does matter to people, even if the type of news programs they watch don’t cover it very much? Are they still getting the information, still concerned? What are you seeing on that issue?
Yes. To your point earlier about this isn’t about forecasting but what people are seeing in their lives in real-time, for so many, the border issue is a backyard issue to them. And it has to do certainly with safety in our communities, but also, you know, while the COVID-19 pandemic was all the conversation, the opioid pandemic continued to rage, and we know that a huge opening for opioids in our country comes through our southern border.
And people feel that personally, people have felt the tragedy of it very personally, if not under their own roof, in their own neighborhoods, in their own communities, in their own schools. And to see the complete dereliction of duty by the Biden administration and, by extension, Democrats in Congress, not only have they ignored the border issue, they’ve perpetuated it. They’re now trying to sneak in amnesty into their multitrillion-dollar socialist spending proposal, and people are catching it because it is personal.
The Democrats once again are taking for granted that this is something that only a few care about, and not having those conversations and paying close attention to their constituents who are telling them, “This is a problem for us, and we have to get this under control.” So I think you’re very right to note that that will play a role, if not in the sense of build a wall, maybe the traditional cheer that you might hear on border security, but in the sense of community safety and community health, and families who are tired of watching their families and their communities being ravaged by this epidemic.
And something that is different this year, is going to be different in this upcoming election, is we’re seeing a lot of redistricting around the country. How is redistricting going to play a role in both state and federal elections?
Well, first things first, we got to get these maps finalized. They’ve been really delayed in so many states, which has been frustrating to actually figure out who’s going to run, who’s your candidate, which candidates are going to run in which seat. In America Rising, we have state chapters in several of the states, and so some of those key states, Illinois, Michigan, where they’re still trying to figure this out, which is going to be interesting in terms of certain primaries.
A lot of members, frankly, Democrats and Republicans, are going to have to make decisions about whether or not to run against the fellow incumbent or try a different district or a different office altogether or retire. But also it means that many of them are going to declare their candidacy later than usual. So I think that will be interesting to see, whether it be the polling and the landscape in the countries and in their districts, if that factors into their decision over whether to run or not and where to run, but also in how they focus their time and energy because, potentially, it could be a truncated campaign season.
Now, one footnote I will make to that: some states like Illinois, obviously, are going to be heavily favored to the Democrats because of their control there, but that is where the downballot races are so important. And the state legislature gains that we’ve continued to make as Republicans, cycle over cycle — and we just made some in Virginia this week, potentially flipping the House of Delegates there — it’s so important because these are the moments when you talk about redistricting and those local issues about who’s going to represent you. That’s where the work in those races really makes a difference. So hats off to those who have been working on that and the intervening 10 years between the census so that we can be well-positioned as Republicans in so many of these states.
And speaking of the downballot, I was just thinking — as you were talking through that, with so many people caring about education, maybe people getting involved in politics or elections like they never have before, maybe going out to vote when they don’t really take the time to do so — do you find that what is happening with school boards and education is not only bringing out people to vote against somebody on the school board or for somebody that they want to replace the current school board members, but it’s also then giving them this opening to vote up ballot? So we’re seeing these local issues really driving…
Also, when you think about your congressman, your senator, your governor, all these important races that are coming up, I feel like we’re in a moment in time that we haven’t seen ever in this country, just because of a global pandemic and also the liberal response to the COVID pandemic.
What a great point in perspective, and as conservatives, what a fun thing to see, is say, that’s how it should be. We always say, it should start in working your way out. So much emphasis put on the statewide races or national races, and then maybe the guys down the ballot catch the tailwinds of those folks. But we have also heard… This week, I was just talking to a friend earlier this week who said, “I know my school board members by name. I could pick them out in a crowd. A year ago, I couldn’t have done that.” And how many people are saying that or how many people put their name on a ballot?
Three friends who won school board races in the last year who said, “This is my opportunity to step up. I can’t just be a complainer from my kitchen table. I can do something about this.” And so it’s bringing out people who have never before been so involved in their local politics, who are understanding the impact that it has, even more so in many cases than their representative in Congress. So I think it’s a wonderful point, and wouldn’t it be great if that became the usual way of things, that we learn locally and then work our way up the ballot? I think that’s how it should be, and that would be a wonderful trend if that stuck.
And final question before you leave is, just thinking about the key demographics to watch, do you think it will again be or come down to suburban women? The female vote is going to matter. I think it mattered in this week’s elections, and my gut is telling me it’s going to matter a lot in midterms.
I think you’re absolutely right. Again, talking with a lot of mom friends, they were not only excited to vote, but excited for the issues that were propelling them to vote. And it feels really good as, yes as conservatives but as caring parents, that the issues that we care about the most are the ones driving these elections.
It’s wonderful, certainly, as conservatives, as a Republican, that it’s Republicans championing those issues and fighting for us on those issues, but I’ve heard from a lot of people who say, “I’m not only excited to vote, I’m excited to put the yard sign in my yard again. I’m excited to talk to my friends about it. I’m excited to share things from social media. It feels very positive. It feels like I’m part of a positive movement and a positive campaign.”
And I think after so much, and I would say it’s very media-driven, but vitriol that we’ve experienced just over the last, I’m not even talking just from 2020, the last decade plus, it just feels like politics is a place reserved for the gutter. And it’s now been lifted up out of that. And people can feel like they can have very… That’s a patriotic duty again, and they can have kind conversations with their neighbors and friends. Those seem to be the folks who are prevailing, despite that there’s still, of course, a big effort out there to divide and make it, again, like a gutter place. But these moms who have long wished for a more cordial conversation on politics, I think, are getting their wish because they’re driving the conversation.
Well, we so appreciate women like you who are willing to work within the gutter of politics and try to help us all rise above it. So, Cassie Smedile, executive director of America Rising PAC, thank you so much for your insight and also for joining us on She Thinks.
Wonderful to be with you. Thanks so much for having me.
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