In This Episode
How can Democrats reach disconnected voters? We talk to Biden voters in Pittsburgh who are fed up with national politics. Jon breaks down their responses with Pennsylvania Representative Malcolm Kenyatta, data expert Dan Wagner, and John Fetterman senior campaign strategist Rebecca Katz.
If you want to learn more about how you can take action in the fight for our democracy, head over to Vote Save America and Pennsylvania United: https://votesaveamerica.com/midterm-madness/
[various voices]: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!
[news clip]: Photos put Senator Doug Mastriano in DC on January 6th—
[news clip]: In fact, he organized a bus trip to go down there—
[news clip]: He’s been asked to hand over documents and information about efforts to—
[news clip]: Undo the certification of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania, which he called “compromised and corrupt.”
[clip of Doug Mastriano]: I pray that… we’ll seize the power that we had given to us by the Constitution, and as well by You, providentially. I pray for the leaders also in the Federal Government, God, on the Sixth of January that they will rise up with boldness…
Jon Favreau: Meet Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of American democracy. Mastriano is a State Senator who tried to help Donald Trump overturn the results of the last election, and he was at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. As governor, he’d have a lot of power over Pennsylvania’s elections, including what happens to the swing state’s 20 electoral votes, electoral votes that could easily determine the next president.
[clip of Doug Mastriano]: I’m Doug Mastriano, and I get to appoint the secretary of state, who’s delegated from me the power to make the corrections to elections, the voting logs, and everything. We’re going to clean it up…I might even have to reset voter registration and start all over again across the state. With the stroke of a pen, I can decertify every single machine in the state.
Jon Favreau: Doesn’t seem great. Also, Mastriano has ties to extremist Christian nationalist groups, opposes same-sex marriage and says he’d sign a law to ban abortion with no exceptions.
[clip of Doug Mastriano]: My body, my choice is ridiculous nonsense here.
Jon Favreau: But wait, there’s more! In 2014, Mastriano posed for a faculty photo at the Army War College, where he taught for a few years. For some weird reason, everyone in the picture was given the choice to dress up as a historical figure. Guess who was the only faculty member to choose confederate soldier? That’s right, Doug Mastriano – the State Senator who represents, Gettysburg! So yeah, that’s the guy running for governor of Pennsylvania. And even though the polls currently show him down by a few points, he could absolutely win. In 2020, Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by a little more than 80,000 votes– even though he turned out more Democratic voters than any presidential candidate in history. That’s because Trump’s MAGA base broke turnout records, too. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but they still seem pretty fired up.
[clip of President Trump]: Hello Pennsylvania, hello. [cheering] I’m thrilled to be back in this incredible Commonwealth with thousands of proud and hardworking…
Jon Favreau: So, once again, Pennsylvania will be one of the country’s biggest battlegrounds in this election. The campaign between Mastriano and Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro is one of the most consequential races in the country. Meanwhile, control of the Senate could come down to the contest between Republican nominee Mehmet Oz, a quack TV doctor from New Jersey, and Democratic nominee John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s 6’8” Lieutenant Governor, a hoodie-wearing, goatee-sporting progressive who was described in the Atlantic as “hacked together from spare parts in an oil-streaked Pittsburgh chopper garage.” So far, it seems to be working for him.
[news clip]: He has been leading in the most recent polls – and some of them by quite a bit.
Jon Favreau: The stakes in Pennsylvania – and for democracy – are huge. The question is, do enough people know that? Are enough people paying attention? Can John Fetterman, Josh Shapiro, and other Democratic candidates motivate enough of the voters who came out to defeat Trump in 2020 – especially when a lot of those voters are feeling disconnected from politics and disappointed with the direction of the country?
Alex Wallach Hanson: Our organization started because we are working-class people, and we come out of real life. And we saw that nobody in Western Pennsylvania from the Democratic party to Republican party to whatever political party you’re coming from, right, was actually talking to people in a day-to-day way about what their life was like.
Jon Favreau: That’s Alex Wallach Hanson – the field director for Pennsylvania United a group of nonprofit organizations who helped flip Pennsylvania to Biden in 2020.
Alex Wallach Hanson: Elections are a choice on one Tuesday in November where you gotta wake up and you go pick between two people, right? And or you pick to not vote. The vast majority of people in our community are not waking up with a preformed and prefigured analysis of politics and connecting it to their lives and how they see the world, because they’re not in organizations, they’re not connected to the political establishment. They’re not connected to any way where they touch power and see it show up in their lives. So when political establishment people, the media, when they tell this story of, oh, voters in Pennsylvania have been persuaded by the Republican party message or have been persuaded by, you know, the politics of fear and hate and division, that may be true for some people. But the vast majority of people who are voting are just showing up and picking between two people on that given day. And there’s so much complexity that goes into that.
Jon Favreau: I went to Pittsburgh earlier this summer to speak to some of the voters that Wallach was talking about. They’re people who aren’t that connected to politics and aren’t following the news that closely, but people who still usually show up on Election Day to pick between two candidates. They’re the kind of people that political scientist Yanna Krupnikov was telling us about in the first episode.
Yanna Krupnikov: In order to understand the divide between the parties, Democrats and Republicans, we have to understand this divide between those who pay a tremendous amount of attention, really focus on politics. And those who pay much less of attention politically.
Jon Favreau: In this focus group, I spoke with 9 disengaged Democrats. All were from the Pittsburgh area, none were daily news consumers, and while all of them are leaning towards voting in the midterms, only 3 said they’ll definitely cast a ballot. All of them voted for Biden in 2020, but two of them voted for Trump in 2016. For context, I talked to these voters a few days before the start of the January 6th hearings. We spoke about the hearings, democracy, abortion, the economy, inflation, guns, and of course, politics – including Pennsylvania’s big midterm races. A few weeks later, I sat down with a group of experts in Pennsylvania politics to help break down what the voters said.
Malcolm Kenyatta: So I’m Malcolm Kenyata. I’m a state representative here in Pennsylvania. And just not too long ago, I finished my bid for the US Senate and the Democratic primary, where I was the first openly LGBTQ person of color to run for us Senate in American history.
Rebecca Katz: My name is Rebecca Katz, I am the founder of new deal strategies and, uh, chief advisor to Senate candidate John Fetterman.
Dan Wagner: Nice to meet you all. My name’s Dan Wagner. I’m the chief executive officer of civics analytics. Uh, we’re a multi-purpose data science technology and analytics firm. And we do a lot of work supporting political campaigns, advocacy groups, et cetera, with their analytics challenges. Before this, I was the chief analytics officer for the 2012 Obama campaign, and that’s it.
Jon Favreau: After the break, we hear from Malcolm, Rebecca, Dan, and nine Pennsylvania voters.
Malcolm Kenyatta: Rebecca, I can’t believe this is the first-time meeting with all these guys! We didn’t even have our own coffee moment. Doing it with the Pod Save— [laughter]
Jon Favreau: Brought the whole crew together.
Rebecca Katz: [laughs] I don’t think I’ve seen you in like 15 years, maybe more.
Jon Favreau: I went to Pittsburgh to talk with voters who Democrats absolutely need if we want to win in November – people who cast their ballot for Joe Biden in 2020 but aren’t totally sure what they’ll do in the 2022 midterms. As you’ll hear, they feel pretty down about politics and the state of the country, and they’re not following the news as closely as you probably are. Afterwards, I got together with Dan, Malcolm, and Rebecca to talk about what we heard. Thank you all for doing this – Dan, I will go out on a limb and say that most Wilderness listeners are very politically engaged voters who follow political news quite closely. How do you think they compare with the broader electorate?
Dan Wagner: They look nothing like them. I mean, part of our job unfortunately, is to be analytical. And part of it is to stereotype. The average Pod Save America listener is probably late thirties, probably 80% are likely white, probably 50, 50 males, female. It’s probably concentrated 50% plus in urban areas, is probably entirely college educated, fill in the gaps. They probably share a similar cultural standard, a same standard of living standard, same feelings of anxiety about recent policy, et cetera. And, the average non-Pod save America person probably has not gone to college or has gone to part of college and is living through debt right now. They consume their news through some combination of cable news, but more likely through Facebook. They are looking at the political process right now through deep anxiety, because they’re going through a historical collapse in their standard of living as a result of inflation and rising home prices. And they’re thinking about how their families are going to get by. And politics is last, not first.
Jon Favreau: Um, Yeah, I think that’s about right.
Malcolm Kenyatta: This guy is good. [laughter]
Jon Favreau: I was gonna say… you pretty much nailed our audience. Malcolm? You just ran in a statewide campaign in Pennsylvania. Um how important is it to reach voters who aren’t frequent Twitter users cable news viewers your opinion, what was that like?
Malcolm Kenyatta: Our challenge was that there were a lot of voters who did not know who we were. who – in a huge state like Pennsylvania, if you are not able to engage folks fall into those buckets, which Dan’s just so accurately described where politics is last, not first. And that’s the type of family I come from you know, I lived in six different places by the time I graduated high school, my mom worked all of the time. And so, you know, she was a good Democrat but she was like not paying attention all the twists and turns of politics, except for the real quality of life concerns that were front and center. You know, the levels of gun in our communities, And frankly, if you, you know, know folks from north Philly violence was a crisis before it became something that national folks wanted to cover, we’re dealing with mass shootings, multiple times in the year. I think we benefited from me being able to just talk honestly and openly about my experience. In some cases, to the chagrin of my staff, I’m not like a fucking talking points person. I just kind of say what I think work or not work. And what I think is that we are not delivering on a government that actually works for those working families. You know, all they got is me. And so it’s why I have a, a big mouth about the needs of working people.
Jon Favreau: Rebecca, how important is it to reach voters who aren’t frequent Twitter users or cable news viewers, how does that factor into your campaign strategy?
Rebecca Katz: It’s very important. You know, we always say campaigns are not won or lost on Twitter. You have to actually go out and talk to the people. They consume news differently. You actually have to talk about things that they care about and you have to make them believe that you will do something for them. Right now, the biggest problem we have is no one thinks anyone’s gonna do anything for them.
Jon Favreau: Alright, let’s get to the first clip. I asked voters how they feel about politics, media, and the way things are going in America. Uh, here’s some of what they said. On a scale of one to 10, how important are politics in your life?
[clip of Voter 1]: I want to say zero. but I’m afraid, so I’ll say 2.
[various voices]: Six?
Jon Favreau: Six—
[clip of Voter 2]: I just, I can’t watch the news. I stay out of it. I have to just not have it as an influence in my life. It’s just very important to me. Um, since this whole pandemic started, my whole thing was just stay in your lane. Be the best you, you can be. You’re not going to fix this political shit show.
[clip of Voter 3]: My husband and I, we aren’t able to watch the news anymore because it’s so negative.
[clip of Voter 4]: A lot of it’s, you know, kind of draw along the party lines, whether it’s abortion. COVID just feels like everything’s kind of split these days. Maybe you’re afraid to talk up to your neighbors, not knowing like what side of the fence they’re on.
Jon Favreau: Is there anyone else I’m afraid to talk politics with people that you know, and your neighbors, friends, family?
[clip of Voter 5]: Yeah. I would agree with that. It seems like a lot of people have pretty hard stances, but you never know. I feel like it’s uncomfortable now no matter way you think. It used to be I think a lot easier to talk about stuff like that. I always just say that politics divides people. So that’s why with family and stuff like that, I don’t even get into it because you know, there are certain people, man, you can just give them two words and take off. [laughter]
[clip of Voter 6]: I agree with that. It’s exhausting. I tend to go down the middle a lot and you would think that that would make it easier to find common ground but it seems more and more that if you are not 100% in agreement with someone they’re just completely irate and everybody’s always so worked up and angry.
Jon Favreau: So, knowing that these are all registered Democrats who voted for Joe Biden in 2020, did these comments surprise anybody?
Dan Wagner: No.
Rebecca Katz: They’re not surprising. They’re just depressing. Right? I mean, , I think we all know that this is gonna be a tough year. those voters are confirming it. I mean, Jon you know, better than anybody, how important it is for voters to have hope and to look into the future. And they don’t have trust in government. They don’t believe anyone’s fighting for them. It’s it’s bleak.
Jon Favreau: Malcolm you’ve been an elected official but you’ve also been an organizer for, most of your life. Like what strategies have you found helpful in reaching disengaged voters like these?
Malcolm Kenyatta: I always think it’s a – a one, two step. Right. First, we should acknowledge the fact that people have every right to be frustrated. And listening to that, the thing that stuck with me the woman who said, I’m just exhausted. I think people are exhausted in terms of just things in their daily life that government is not helping with. And they’re exhausted by, this constant political conversation. That’s about what’s the next news clip on, whatever your favorite nighttime news show is and so the first thing is, is to really acknowledge that pain. But then you have to talk to people about the possibilities when you have a government that is more reflective, when you have candidates who are gonna do something and they’re gonna do something because they understand what you’re going through. They’re talking to you form a real place. And I always feel like voters can feel that.
Jon Favreau: Dan, why, why do you think that most democratic messaging fails to reach or move these voters?
Dan Wagner: I’ll answer it a little bit backward, but the most interesting statistic that came out of the 2020 election was that when you looked at Democrat’s vote for issues and ballot elections, relative to support for Biden, in many cases, you saw support for democratic ballots positions up by 15% versus democratic candidates, Medicaid, minimum wage, credit, rates on things like payday loans in Nebraska. And this happened all over the country alignment in terms of voting behavior with Democrats. but not supporting presidential candidates or democratic candidates. And so the question you have to ask yourself is why is it that voters are so misaligned between support for an issue, which is the product and then the candidate, which is functionally the brand. And I’d probably be interested more in hearing Rebecca’s feelings about this, but in terms of like the core diagnosis, 10% of these people probably highly represented in that room they’re aligned with democratic positions, but aren’t aligned with Democrats because what has become really a broken brand over the last 20 years.
Jon Favreau: Yeah Rebecca. What do you think about that because one thing that struck me – and we’ll listen to some of this in a bit – is that they don’t like both sides, that both sides are extreme, but then when you get into the issues, they seem a little more solidly democratic than you think from how they describe themselves.
Rebecca Katz: Right. I mean, I think they don’t like a lot of the leadership in Washington, and they don’t think those people are relatable. It’s almost like they think everyone in Washington is like a let them eat cake to the masses. Democrats should be the party of working people, and we cannot connect the way that we used to. I think it’s because honestly that a lot of the folks have been in Washington have been in Washington for many, many, many decades. And it’s like, you know, Roe will get overturned, and a Democrat leader will say, what you may expected that to happen. there’s no passion, there’s no sense of urgency. They’re just watching everything kind of fall apart and normal people are watching it too. And they’re losing their minds and like screaming into the void. And we have to find candidates who give a damn and who can show them that they give a damn.
Jon Favreau: Yeah. So, like we said, you know, it was clear from this group that even though they felt disengaged from politics itself, they had very strong feelings about a lot of political issues that started with the economy and inflation, which was on just about everyone’s mind. Uh, let’s take a listen.
[clip of Voter 2]: A lot of food items seem not only in short supply, but just you just watch your weekly bill go up and up and up. You can’t buy chicken wings anymore. It’s like Filet Mignon.
[clip of Voter 6]: Yeah, I would say feeding my family and two boys- definitely impacted us over the last month with groceries.
[clip of Voter 7]: Yeah, my rent is going up significantly, so.
[clip of Voter 3]: The uncertainty of empty store shelves and gas prices to go get the things. So, yeah, it’s sad for, especially those who. I don’t have the means. And I mean, I’m being a lot more frugal than I was before. That’s for sure.
[clip of Voter 5]: Especially with the cost of gas, it’s very expensive. Now would cost over a hundred dollars to fill up my Jeep. So it’s gone up quite a bit.
Jon Favreau: So gas prices and inflation have come up in every single focus group. Usually unprompted, usually early on in the discussion. Heard a lot about healthcare, housing rent, the baby formula shortage. Malcolm. When you were on the campaign trail, what did you tell voters who were annoyed to say the least that these economic problems haven’t been fixed with democrats in charge of Washington.
Malcolm Kenyatta: The truth. The fact that big oil companies are raking in more money than they’ve ever made, that all of these meat processors are making so much money, forget which union it was. But they tweeted out record profits are stolen wages from workers. And I think that’s exactly right. I do think that people. They want somebody to blame when there’s a big problem. And I don’t think we’ve done enough to tell people the truth about where the blame should lie in corporate greed that is out of control that gets to run unabated. And here’s the challenge for President Biden. Everybody knows President Biden, everybody doesn’t know the CEO of Exxon Mobil.
Rebecca Katz: No Democrat should be out there talking about inflation without talking about corporate greed, right. We, we have villains out there and people need to know who they are and we need to be crystal clear about, like, it didn’t have to be this way. These executives are making money on the backs of working people and, nothing is changing. And until we, we have real messaging coming out of DC, people are gonna blame Democrats because Democrats are the ones in control, even though Republicans are the ones making things worse.
Jon Favreau: Here’s my question though, I feel like we get to this point every cycle, like why don’t democratic politicians focus enough on economic issues, because even if you are someone who just wants to win, and you’re just looking at the polls and you’re just listening to focus groups, and you’re listening to your advisors, they’re gonna tell you that economic issues are top priority for most voters, and yet we always have this problem where it seems like democratic politicians do not focus enough on economic issues.
Rebecca Katz: That’s cause they’re not real people. Like, they’re not like they’re not they’re they’re so programmed, and poll tested and they talk like robots, right? I mean, like John Fetterman, the reason that people like him right now is because he’s talking like a normal person. And that seems to be this like crazy, like head exploding thing among folks, like, look that he’s at Costco too. You know, we have programmed so many politicians that you have to have this like rich donor network and come from a law firm and do all these things that they’ve lost touch with regular people. That is the problem. I, I think if we get more candidates out there who understand what folks are going through, I think we’re gonna win more elections. I just hope democracy is still here at the when that finally happens.
Malcolm Kenyatta: I would just underline that, I said this every day on the campaign trail. If we wanna change the Senate, we have to change the senators. And I think that that’s true all of these, positions, like what the hell are we doing? I mean, our candidates should be like working moms. It should be the actual people who we are trying to reach because there is a fluency there that you cannot learn. You have to know that stuff and communicate with people as Rebecca was saying. And just as a, like a person I don’t know why that’s so hard. [laughter] I don’t know why that’s hard.
Jon Favreau: Well, so there’s definitely the normal person problem that democratic politicians have. I think another problem is democratic politicians can sometimes talk about economic issues, but those issues don’t always break through the media filter. The media doesn’t love to cover economic issues, economic debates, at least anymore. But how should campaigns handle that sort of media reluctance to actually cover economic issues?
Rebecca Katz: They should make it part of their message and hammer it every damn day. I mean, this is the problem. Like, we don’t have a message right now. If it’s the only thing they were to be talking about, that would get covered, right? And the problem is that everyone’s just trying to do, you know, whatever Sunday press conference to just get in the news and get a hook and be exciting. And at the end of the day, you gotta connect with people, and you gotta make it in a way that reporters will care about. And it’s just about its packaging, honestly.
Jon Favreau: Yeah. Dan, what do you think?
Dan Wagner: There’s, there’s a few problems. One is I’ll disagree with the premise that Democrats don’t talk about economic issues. I think they do. I think that the delivery is poor, routinely poor. Second. They are often caught in the cultural debate promoted by the media. So they’ll say like, I believe that minimum wage should go up. Well, what do you think about trans people in bathrooms? What do you think about whatever? Because that’s the thing that’s gonna raise the ratings of those different media channels because there’s revenue attached to a cultural battle and you have people on both sides that will engage in that and they’ll raise advertising revenue for their different channels. And so unfortunately like the media capitalist track prevents a lot of the solid delivery from democratic candidates because these cultural things, they have incentives to run against those.
Rebecca Katz: Just to interrupt for a second, but Democrats always take the bait though. That’s the problem. It’s not just that we’re getting hundred cultural issues thrown at us is that they, they are weak about it and they don’t like address the bully head on, I would say.
Dan Wagner: But the majority of news consumption is not done through the news media it’s done online and they’ve done a very good job, creating simple messages that elevate cultural differences between Americans with consistent, overwhelming delivery through their parties, through their packs, et cetera, that do a really good job of reinforcing a brand of super out of touch fancy elites that even though they’re promoting the delivery of their economic argument, get smoked out by the amount of content that they’re putting on the internet that is really, really effective in how it brand sets the democratic party.
Jon Favreau: So here’s a real-world issue that sort of comes into play here like one issue that received a lot of coverage in the media recently is gun violence. Unfortunately, since we’ve had so much of it in 2022.
[news clip]: A deadly shooting at a Fourth of July Parade in Highland Park, Illinois.
[news clip]: Investigators call the shooter a white supremisist who targeted Black people in the last thirty minutes, the police announced.
[news clip]: What is the deadliest school shooting in state history, the 19 children who were killed in the Uvalde community, also mourning the death of…
Jon Favreau: Uh, it also came up in this group. Here’s a clip.
[clip of Voter 3]: Um, I’m Jewish and I had friends who passed in the Tree of Life Massacre. And, um, anytime anything’s on the news, just as triggers, just—
Jon Favreau: I’m sorry. Do you think in general, we should have more gun laws, fewer gun laws, or the same as we have now?
[clip of Voter 2]: Smarter gun laws, I mean, I believe in people having the right to bear arms, but when you have a weapon that is made to mass kill people, nobody needs that.
[clip of Voter 5]: I’d say more strict and statewide government-wide ones with like more strict background checks, waiting periods, application fees or something. I think people should still be able to keep their guns or get them, but it shouldn’t be a lot more complicated.
Jon Favreau: In your opinion. Um, why do you think we don’t have a new gun laws?
[clip of Voter 4]: The gun lobby, the gun lobby and the NRA. They’re very, very powerful. A lot of money thrown around.
[clip of Voter 7]: I think it’s a voting issue too for people. I have a lot of friends that are very passionate about, no more gun laws or no change in gun laws. And so I think it’s a platform that they would vote on, for representatives that would, either to refuse or block legislation that would increase regulations around the sale guns.
[clip of Voter 6]: I had a lot of friends and family members that fall into that category as well, but if I ask them directly, do you think that there should be universal background checks? They would probably all say yes. So I think that it gets lumped in with like these more extreme things and people get afraid, then that it’s going to kind of tumble and spiral from there instead of taking it piece by piece and really looking at what might be effective without actually like infringing on people’s rights.
[clip of Voter 5]: I don’t think they should ban AR 15, but I think it should be a lot more difficult to get one.
Jon Favreau: Dan, how do you think this group of disengaged democratic voters matches up to the broader electorate on gun control?
Dan Wagner: High – yeah, I would say that their opinions match up with around 60% of American voters.
Jon Favreau: I was actually surprised maybe in, in, in a good direction that most of these voters and that last guy – talking about don’t ban AR-15s would make them tougher. That was the Trump voter. Were actually a little bit more forward on gun control than I thought there might be.
Rebecca Katz: The voters are there. The Senate is not right. Like the people are out front of where the politicians are here.
Jon Favreau: Malcolm, how central should gun violence be to democrat’s midterm message. And, and how far can candidates go in a state like Pennsylvania?
Malcolm Kenyatta: I think the same was true when you’re having a conversation about, unquote “culture wars”. I think we have to believe in something, and we have to fight for it. You know, I remember a conversation, you and I, John had a long time ago and it sits with me forever. When you’re talking about another voter who said, you know, Trump’s a liar, but he’s the most honest liar I know. I think there is something to be said people that you believe something. And so I think whether it’s guns, whether it’s standing up for trans folks, our response to that can’t be well, like let’s just not talk about it. Of course, Republicans have won on that issue. I don’t think that they have, but I think that we are really, clunky, in terms of how we engage on those issues sometimes. I do think that sometimes we are afraid of championing ideas and things that are, A, common sense and that are, B, supported by broad majorities of the American people. Like, why are we afraid? Right?
Rebecca Katz: Just to echo those points, I think voters are dying for Democrats to go on offense. Right. We we’re just, we’re so scared. And if you give voters a choice, they will pick strong and wrong over week and right every single day of the week. Right?
Jon Favreau: Yeah.
Rebecca Katz: And what we have to do is have strong and right.
Jon Favreau: Yeah, I guess my question is from like a message prioritization standpoint, like you guys have a message calendar and we just talked about how important it is to have the candidate talking about economic. Talking about economic issues like every single day. And then, the Supreme court overturns Roe v. Wade, and then there’s another mass shooting somewhere. And obviously you don’t want to be afraid of that. You don’t wanna shirk from that. You wanna say what you believe and you wanna be strong about that, but like, how do you navigate an environment where all these different issues pop up, even as you know people keep talking about the economy you need to talk about all the time, how do you balance that?
Rebecca Katz: Listen, the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania wants to go after doctors who are helping women get abortions in other states. Like it is a different kind of landscape out there. And I think Democrats need to show exactly what, what the Republican candidates are for and what they there for.
Malcolm Kenyatta: These are economic issues. If you are forced to have a child that you cannot have right now because of the situation in your, life, or because it’s gonna put at risk, the life of your partner, right? Who’s, who’s birthing that child in the first place. These are economic issues. When people in communities like mine, there is a shooting and folks are traumatized and it’s like tough to get to work. Or you can’t get to work because your block is fricking blocked off from yet more police tape. I don’t think these things are like separate things.
Jon Favreau: Dan, what do you think?
Dan Wagner: I think there’s a few troubling patterns when you see it in the data. One is that communication and process, as opposed to consequences never works. And number two is a lot of the language and by language. I mean the actual words that we use to talk about things, have calcified in people’s minds so much that they’re no longer effective in how you talk about them. In the case of Roe or guns, etcetera. A lot of what we found is that talking with words like Supreme court or judges or whatever, either people they ignore it or rather in a testing environment has no effect. What does have an effect? What always has an effect is speaking to the consequences of a policy or the consequences of a candidate. So what does that mean in the case of Roe? What that means in the case of Roe is that a woman who is sexually assaulted has a very real possibility of being incarcerated for up to two years in the state of South Carolina. but making it very real, that it’s not about SCOTUS. It’s not about this. It’s not about that. What is very real is that women are no longer free. And freedom is a very powerful word in the United States. And this is no longer about choice. Roe is about freedom. In the case of guns, guns are no longer about guns. Guns are about the safety of our children. And unfortunately, a lot of Democrats are of the age where they no longer have to experience the anxiety of being a parent today. Which is kind of a sad thing, right? The people on this call, like we, we know the anxiety of that situation given our age. The challenge of that session is it seems like it’s a lot of process and they’re not talking about the consequences on what these decisions mean for American freedom using that word explicitly and American safety and the safety of our children to grow up in a society where they’re safe and free. There’s a different sort of words that we should start using in a word world where a woman can be incarcerated for treating her own body and a world where a kid going to Highland Park can be murdered in front of their parents. Freedom, safety. These are words that Karl Rove would’ve used in the 1990s. These are now words that Democrats should be owning because they are core to our own culture. And they are core to what Americans are thinking about every day, especially parents who are very, very scared.
Jon Favreau: After the break, a reality check on the impact of the January 6th hearings AND our panelists dig into what rights are on the ballot for Pennsylvanians this fall.
Jon Favreau: Welcome back. So, we left off from our panel talking about what to make of voter’s fears and jumping right back in, I asked Malcolm, Rebecca, and Dan to dig into what’s really at stake for folks in Pennsylvania this upcoming midterm.
Jon Favreau: So I think we’ll definitely have a language issue like in this next issue. I asked and people said things like the economy and healthcare and education. Then I asked which issues are getting too much media attention and here’s what I heard.
[clip of Voter 5]: I was going to say like old stuff. Like I saw on the news tonight when I was eating dinner, before I came here, they talking about the Capitol Riot last year. Like, I feel like it’s time to move on. And like, there’s a lot of issues right now, like inflation and gas prices and everything else. Like, I wish the politicians would focus on things now, instead of stuff that happened almost two years ago.
Jon Favreau: Andrew mentioned the January 6th attacks. I mean, investigation January 6th. How much are all of you paying attention to the investigation into the January 6th attacks?
[various voices]: Not at all. Not at all. Didn’t occur to me.
Jon Favreau: So did any of you plan to watch the prime-time hearings this week?
[various voices]: If I didn’t watch Johnny Depp and Amber Heard / I didn’t know there were hearings honestly.
[clip of Voter 7]: My biggest concern with it is more about the like the background of why it happened or why seemingly normal people can get caught up in.
Jon Favreau: Now few stipulations. This was of course, right before the hearing started most of the groups said they were concerned. Something like January, this could happen again. And just about everyone also later said that Trump is, at least partially to blame, most people said fully to blame. But clearly, it’s, not the top issue on voters’ minds. So, my question to all of you is. How do democrats get voters to care about the ongoing existential threat to democracy without talking about it a lot? Dan, what do you think?
Dan Wagner: I think it’s another time when we democrats, whoever you wanna call it, mistakenly believe that people care about process over consequences, hearings, that sausage making all that stuff. Et cetera. The reality is that these people murdered police officers. That’s all that matters. They murdered cops. You don’t, you don’t need like all this other kind of things around it. And I don’t think January 6th is the point, but you want to use it as an element of the brand narrative that you’re trying to build. And we have this incredible moment now because we both have a SCOTUS decision. I think the exercise that everybody should be doing right now, every campaign party committee, whatever is to look at the electorate and say 45% of the electorate is Republican. 60% of Americans find this decision deeply and popular, but more importantly, among that 45% of Republicans, nearly 20 to 25% of them actually disagree with the policy. But you really need to fixate on this part of the electorate. These Republicans, 20% of their electorate is now sitting in a position being like, what the fuck just happened, dude. This is, this is messed up. And how do we think about capturing that 20% of their population, which we added up. You’re talking about like 20 million Americans who are in the Republican camp have always voted Republican and now deeply disagree with this decision 20 million Americans. This is a huge, critical mass. And exactly digging into who those 20 million people are, is gonna be the difference between whether we win and whether we lose and it’s an opportunity, but the framing and how we do it is really, really important because it’s a lot of folks and they could go either way.
Jon Favreau: So I thought democracy was a particularly because of the governor’s race where a victory by Republican Doug Mastriano would be important swing states in 2024. but in this group, uh, which had plenty to say about both senate candidates that will hear in a bit, there were only two people who had opinions about Mastriano. Even though those two people said he was one said he was dangerous, one said he was radical. And only one person had an opinion on Josh Shapiro. Though, that woman said she loved him. do you guys think that Shapiro can make Mastriano’s extremism and democracy a central issue in this campaign? Should he?
Rebecca Katz: I mean, I think Shapiro will probably go in on democracy, but even harder, I would say on abortion, because that is, I think where the voters are. Because if Doug Mastriano is elected governor, abortion is done in Pennsylvania, there’s no exceptions. I think that Mastriano has just a terrible record that Shapiro can just kind of poke at and expose him a little bit.
Jon Favreau: Malcolm, what do you think?
Malcolm Kenyatta: You know, I think on the Republican side, we have two folks who are touch, out of their damn minds. And so I that those things are gonna really matter. And I hope that, I almost called him Governor Shapiro, a good Freudian slip there, but I, but I hope that that the team plays every day when he said that his number one issue, if he were governor back to what Rebecca said, and Doug Mastriano said this, his number one issue is banning all of abortion. I mean, you don’t have to get creative with this. You don’t need to do anything. You just play that.
Jon Favreau: So, I wanna get to the subject near and dear to Malcolm and Rebecca’s heart, the Pennsylvania Senate race towards the end of the session. I asked the group if they were planning to vote in the midterms and if they had settled on a specific Senate candidate, uh, here’s what they said. For those of you are planning to vote, how many of you have made up your minds about who you’re voting for?
[clip of Voter 8]: I did I, did I voted the primary for all Fetterman.
Jon Favreau: You made up your mind?
[clip of Voter 8]: Yes. Yes. I’ve read, I’ve researched he might look strange, but I think he had some things that I thought might be good for the country.
[clip of Voter 1]: Maybe it’s um, he seems down to earth more, maybe crazy. I don’t know. But I just thought that he might be something new that we need.
[clip of Voter 5]: I don’t particularly like him, but I respected the fact that like, he didn’t go to like the Lieutenant governor’s mansion, or he turns down a lot of that. Like, he’s not impressed by people’s money. He’s not going to be bought off. Like, I don’t like him, but I respect that about him and think that like, that’s a nice stance. He stands up for what he believes in.
[clip of Voter 2]: He took him a town like [?] and really put a lot of work into it.
[clip of Voter 3]: A hundred percent for him because he wanted the people when you asked him a question he will answer. And if he doesn’t know if he’s kind of searched for it and does he have some flaws? Heck you have it. At least he’s honest about his flaws compared to the other ones, try and sweep them underneath the carpet.
[clip of Voter 7]: It seems like he’s very aggressive at what he does in a good way. And he’s not like your typical politician that I respect.
Jon Favreau: What do you think about the Republican nominee for Senate Dr. Oz?
[clip of Voter 7]: It’s scary. Yes. He’s not in Pennsylvania. Let’s see
[clip of Voter 6]: What’s he doing here?
[clip of Voter 3]: Like, how was that even about like someone who’s not from the state able to run for one of our Senate seats, which is so important.
[clip of Voter 8]: And then win, that’s what it’s really scary. Yeah.
[clip of Voter 3]: Like what does he really care about Pennsylvania? You can’t even live here, then you have no idea.
[clip of Voter 7]: And he’s a bit of a fraud. But he’s a doctor, right? He has a show that has one influence and he has been episodes where he’s pushed alternative medicine that might be dangerous for people. So that just shows a compromise of integrity, whether or not he actually believes what he’s saying. I mean, that’s, that definitely puts them in a bad light in that sense.
Jon Favreau: So Rebecca, the only somewhat negative comment about Fetterman was from that guy who said he didn’t like him, but still respected him. That happens to be the only person in the entire group who said he’d consider voting for trump in 2024 again. it’s maybe the best focus group review. I’ve heard of any candidate, in three years of doing the Wilderness. So as someone who’s working with him, my question is how much of the appeal do you think is unique to your guy and how much can be replicated by other democratic candidates?
Rebecca Katz: I mean, you don’t wanna get to a situation where like hopefully we win and then everybody’s going around wearing like Dickies and Carhartt you know, [laugh] and like, trying to be like, it works because it’s not fake. Right. Like he is, this is who he is. And I think people respect that. What I will say is yes, John will say he doesn’t look like a typical politician because he doesn’t even look like a typical person. Right. they think they know that he understands what they’re going through and that, that personal connection it, doesn’t have to have the look of John Fetterman for a candidate to connect with a voter. And I think we’ve spent way too long with cookie cutter candidates that get the whole machine behind them. I think voters are hungry for somebody, somebody different, who can speak to what they’re going through. And, to the point we were saying earlier, like, it’s not just about process. It’s about like, speaking to these consequences of people’s lives.
Jon Favreau: Malcolm, you ran against Fetterman in the primary. [laughter]
Malcolm Kenyatta: I remember that.
Jon Favreau: That, just in case just to, just, to catch people up. Obviously, he had name recognition and, and money, but what qualities do you think helped him win and what do you think he has to watch out for in the general?
Malcolm Kenyatta: So I think to Rebecca’s point, not about somebody being John cause John is John.
[clip of John Fetterman]: I suspect I’m the only mayor in America that can say that can say that he lives directly across the street of a steel mill. My family and I live in an old car dealership.
Malcolm Kenyatta: And so we’re not we’re not gonna be able to have a candidate who can replicate him. We’re not gonna have a candidate who can be a black gay kid from North Philly. You’re not gonna be able to replicate that exactly. And I think that that really matters that you can have candidates who are themselves. And I think that that is something that, that John absolutely has.
Rebecca Katz: You never get candidates like this who can get through a primary. There must be other candidates like this, but usually there’s an establishment candidate who Washington likes, and they think is more electable and that person can just go in and win the primaries. And then that becomes the candidate.
Jon Favreau: Dan, is Oz the perfect foil for Fetterman? And do you think that there are, lessons for other democratic candidates either from how Fetterman campaigns for himself or how he campaigns against Oz? Because I know as I’m following this whole thing on, on, Twitter, every time I see Rebecca having a good time with Oz and the houses – like, God Democrats used to run campaigns like this all the time. This is a fun campaign. Why, why, don’t democrats do that anymore?
[news clip]: That’s twenty dollars for crudité; that’s outrageous! And we’ve got Joe Biden to thank for this.
Dan Wagner: I’ll disagree with the premise that candidates who are themselves do better. Because Dr. Oz, I think, is being himself but, he’s just, [laughter] he’s just a sociopath. So by virtue of him showing that he’s a sociopath, I’m, I’m not sure that’s gonna, that’s gonna help him win. But I think like from a, like a campaign tactical point of view what I think they’re doing successfully is framing the brand of their opponent very early on. It’s something that we did in 2012 and we committed resources around it. And so I think a lot of these democratic candidates, the challenge with like a conventional messaging schedule is okay, I do this and I make my dumb contrast ads and I do this is, it takes away from the creativity of like really solid campaigning is I need to create a narrative about my opponent to make people believe X, Y, Z, about them. And this case that he’s a rich sociopath. And do that very early and often. So, you’re kind of like setting the bio of your opponent. That takes a lot of creativity. It requires a really solid digital team, which a lot of people don’t have, and it’s not entirely formulaic. So just watching the race from the outside, it seems like it mimics a lot of the successful campaigns especially the creativity.
Malcolm Kenyatta: And Jon, I didn’t get to answer your other point about, not that they need my advice, they beat me, but still I’m gonna give my advice nevertheless – two words, well, three words. Philadelphia and black voters. And obviously I’m gonna work my tail off to help in that regard. But I think, you know, the more time, that John can be in, in Philly and I know Rebecca’s listening to me. The better, because these are voters who are not voting for Dr. Oz. I’m gonna be very clear. They’re not fucking voting for Dr. Oz, but the question is, are they going to stay home just because they’re frustrated. I hear that frustration every, single day. And cracking that nut of getting that turnout in Philadelphia, you know, as high as we possibly can, that’s gonna be a big part of making sure John wins, Josh wins. Every, everybody else wins. So I’m always pro having statewide candidates come to Philadelphia. [laughter]
Jon Favreau: On that note, um, you’ve all been very generous with your time. Malcolm Kenyatta, Rebecca Katz, Dan Wagner. Thank you so much for, uh, joining The Wilderness.
Rebecca Katz: Thank you. Good to see you.
Malcolm Kenyatta: See you…Happy to do it.
Dan Wagner: Thanks, so much, Jon.
Jon Favreau: We started this episode talking about the threat to democracy from MAGA candidates like Doug Mastriano. It’s a threat that all of us who follow politics closely understand well, since it’s rightly received a lot of media coverage. We’re familiar with the headlines from the January 6th hearings, the investigations into Donald Trump, and the assault on voting rights and democratic norms that’s coming from right-wing courts and state legislatures. We feel a sense of urgency around these issues because we consume news about them every day. The voters I talked to in Pittsburgh were either too busy to follow politics, too confused by all the details, or too disgusted by the spectacle. They felt a sense of urgency around a set of issues that have also received lots of coverage, but tend to have more personal and immediate impacts: the cost of food and gas and rent, mass shootings and abortion bans. And they don’t have much confidence that politicians can fix those problems – at least not the same kind of politicians that haven’t fixed them in the past. Which helps explain why they seem to like John Fetterman. It’s not like he’s new to politics – the guy’s been in elected office since 2006, first as a mayor now as Lieutenant Governor. But he doesn’t look like a typical politician, and he doesn’t talk like a typical politician. He talks like a normal human being would talk to their friends. He’s not scared of saying something a little weird or off. He generally says what he thinks – a quality that even a former Trump supporter in our focus group appreciated.
[clip of Voter 5]: He’s not impressed by people’s money. He’s not going to be bought off. Like, I don’t like him, but I respect that about him and think that like, that’s a nice stance. He stands up for what he believes in.
Jon Favreau: For the vast majority of voters who think that the country is headed in the wrong direction, a candidate who doesn’t seem like a typical politician can be appealing. It’s a sentiment we also heard from the swing voters I spoke to in Virginia.
[clip of Swing Voter 1]: I just, you know, it comes down to why can’t we bring a better candidate forward.
[clip of Swing Voter 2]: I think we need new energy, new blood.
Jon Favreau: In a normal midterm year, you might listen to these voters and think that while an outsider like Fetterman has a decent chance, most long-time Democratic incumbents don’t. If people think that Washington is broken, they tend to punish the party that’s running the place. And it’s possible that happens in a lot of these toss-up races, especially in the House. But it’s also possible that 2022 is different, and that’s because the alternative to voting for Democratic governance, however imperfect it may seem, is voting for candidates like Doug Mastriano and Dr. Oz – MAGA loyalists who are out-of-touch whackos at best and dangerous threats to democracy at worst. The key for Democrats, though, is to make that case to voters in a way that connects with the fears and anxieties that are on the minds of people who don’t pay that much attention to politics. If Democrats want disengaged voters to care about saving democracy, they have to campaign like democracy is worth saving – a true, grassroots democracy where you listen and learn from the people you want to represent; where you show that you actually give a shit about their problems and are willing to fight like hell to fix them.
Alex Wallach Hanson: When people choose to not vote, it is because they don’t see something to fight for and somebody who wants to fight for them. And so we can’t settle for somebody who’s gonna do the bare minimum at this moment in our country, we have to be putting people forward who are fighting for what real people actually need.
Jon Favreau: This is Alex from Pennsylvania United, the organization we heard from at the beginning of the episode – the ones who are trying to reach disconnected voters one door at a time. That’s how we can start to rebuild people’s faith in democracy, and as PA United organizer LaShawn McBride tells us, that’s how we can start to enlist the next generation in the fight to save it.
LaShawn McBride: I’m a mother of eight children, and 30 grandchildren. And when I go canvas it meant the world to have my 18-year-old granddaughter and her saying, “Ya-ya okay now, what do I do now? What you know,” and I’m showing her on her phone, so I have now just put something in her that I know I’m going to see her fight again for something that’s important to her. I’m not scared of a conversation that might not be so positive. That’s okay. Cause that’s real. We are real people talking to real people on the other side of the door. So, expect anything, don’t settle for nothing, and just keep knocking, keep talking, and keep rocking.
Jon Favreau: Keep knocking, keep talking, and keep rocking. I like it. And speaking of getting future generations involved, next week we’re headed to Orange County, California – a former Republican stronghold where I’ll talk to a group of 20-somethings who helped turn the area blue by casting their very first ballot for Joe Biden. The question is, will they show up again? How many of you planned on voting in the midterm elections? This November?
Serena: What is that?
Jon Favreau: Yeah, so we got some work to do. See you next time, on The Wilderness.
Jon Favreau: The Wilderness is an original podcast from Crooked Media. Season 3 is produced by Dustlight Productions. I’m your host, Jon Favreau. From Crooked Media, our executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Katie Long and me. Special thanks to Alison Falzetta and Andie Taft for production support, and to Mike Kulisheck from Benenson Strategy Group who helped us with our focus groups. From Dustlight, our executive producer is Misha Euceph. Arwen Nicks is our executive editor. Stephanie Cohn is the senior producer. Tamika Adams is the producer and Franchesca Diaz is the Assistant Producer. This episode was sound designed by Stephanie Cohn. Valentino Rivera is our senior engineer. Martin Fowler is the composer. Thanks to our development and operations coordinator at Dustlight, Rachael Garcia and to Chrissy Maron for archival legal review. If you want to learn more about how you can take action in the fight for our democracy, head over to votesaveamerica.com/midterms.