Midterm Election Primer (with CNN’s John King)

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With the 2022 primaries underway and the midterms in less than six months, CNN’s John King has his iconic magic wall prepped and ready for election coverage. Tracking the races more closely than arguably anyone else, John gives Andy his insider take on Trump’s effect on the primaries so far, whether Democrats will turn out for the midterms with the same force they did in 2018, and the key House and Senate races that’ll decide who controls Congress.

Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt.

Follow John King on Twitter @JohnKingCNN.

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Andy Slavitt, John King

Andy Slavitt  00:18

Welcome to IN THE BUBBLE. This is your host, Andy Slavitt. It is Monday, May 16th. Hope you had a good weekend. I really hope you enjoyed our Friday conversation episode. I loved it, it was pretty inspiring conversation, if you haven’t had a chance to hear it, because you had other things going on over the weekend, I’ll forgive you. But if you want to listen to it, it was an amazing conversation about what it would mean and what it would take to close the gender gap in politics, a renewed item of interest, for a lot of reasons. And one that I took one core message away, which is we have more people in government that look like at experience, the things that we experience, we’re not going to get some of the bad laws and bad judges. And I also learned that you can win, you can win, but you gotta run to win. Very interesting conversation. And speaking of running, winning, one of my really favorite fun people will be on the podcast today, talking about the upcoming election, John King from CNN. John is a really spirited, outgoing, fun guy to interview, we get into it with, you know, all the things going on right now in the world. Some of them make you want to think about who’s elected to office and how these different things are going to impact that. And that’s what John and I are going to get into today. And that includes COVID includes the war in Ukraine, it includes inflation, it includes the overturn its impending of Roe v. Wade, it includes a lot of things on people’s mind. You know, voting is the one actionable thing that all of us can do. And I know it feels at times, like politics is just the last thing you want to spend time and attention on. Because it doesn’t often feel productive. Doesn’t always have the runway, but it’s self-fulfilling, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just say a bad people are winning some of these primaries right now. And, you know, bad in the sense that they’re supporting lives, that they’re not supporters, voting rights, you know, not necessarily they agree or disagree with them on any particular issue. So John King is gonna be great. And then, you know, we have a number of great episodes coming up that we’ll talk about, after the conversation with John. So let’s get into it.

Andy Slavitt  02:54

You became very well known to America as the guy who controls the maps, double clicks on them. Tell us a little bit about you and your career before that, John gets to know you a little better, and maybe how that evolves to become kind of this sort of very named part of our election cycle.

John King 

That’s, that’s an interesting chapter in my life in that I started as an AP wire guy for 12 years. I was a print guy started in Providence, Rhode Island, went on to Boston, Massachusetts, this guy, Michael Dukakis, who was the governor at the time ran for president. I was incredibly lucky and blessed in that I was a kid helping out, I was 24 years old. And the guy who was our top Statehouse guy, he and his wife were trying to have a baby. He didn’t want to travel. And so they said, you want to go to Iowa kid. I was like, Where do I sign up? And off we go. Welcome. Welcome to my introduction to America. But in those days, again, we got this is 1987. Right. So there were no cell phones, nevermind smartphones, and you had a word processor, it wasn’t really a computer, it was the RadioShack trash at the, the TRS 80 that you typed words into, and you had to find a phone line to plug it into or those couplers to do this. And so the one of the fascinating things about my career has been living through this technological evolution and revolution that affects us all as individuals and as citizens, but has really changed journalism dramatically. And so the quote unquote, magic wall, that was 2008, my boss at the time, found it at a military hardware convention, he used to go shopping for cool gizmos, and the CIA used it, you know, and you see, especially I’m sure you’ve seen this to your time, inside the White House, you have these special screens where you know, the guy going after bin Laden or going after somebody has a camera on his head. Now, this is again, the world we live in. And you can sit at the Pentagon or in the situation room and watch these live feeds of dicey things around the world with a map here and plan B here. So he saw this amazing chap chart and he said, wait a minute, I can do some journalism with that. And we turned it into the magic wall and 2008 it changed election coverage. It changed the use of that technology. Turn on a newscast now whether it’s a sports news cast or local news, international news. By the end of the 2008 campaign, we had crews coming in. And sometimes the talent, the anchors and the correspondents, sometimes the technical people from Sweden, from Japan, all over the world, they wanted to come in and see it by the end of the campaign. So I’ve been counting on election nights, primary nights going through, and there’d be this crew over my shoulder over here watching. So that was an explosion in the use of that, that touch technology. And again, that was right when little before smartphones before they you know, they’re all we all held them in our hands. But for me, it was it remains in education.

Andy Slavitt

I don’t know, if you would have described yourself before then as a data driven guy. But the thing that I find interesting about your coverage and about you in general, is how the micro picture informs your macro picture, this sort of pattern recognition of this county in Florida, or this rural county, this kind of spread going this direction, and then your ability to kind of roll it up and kind of take us not just to the narrow finding of what you’re clicking on. But kind of what does it all mean? Do you find that you get a much better macro picture by understanding the micro so well?

John King  06:11

I do. And again, that was a transition for me, because I’ve resisted indoor, I’m an indoor person, now I anchor a television show. I prefer to be an outdoor person. Because I’m one of the people who sometimes rolled my eyes. When data journalism started to explode on the scene. I rolled my eyes at it sometimes, because I’ve always believed in the people part of politics, and I still believe in the people part of politics, that data can teach you a lot and it can steer you in a certain direction. But you got to eyeball people. Are you going to vote for a Black guy for president for the first time? Are you going to turn on, you know, Trump in the next election, eyeball to eyeball is still the best way in any relationship. But I have come around quite a bit to how much you can get smarter, and have better questions, or maybe have a better, better idea about where should I travel? Where should I go based on data. And so that the technology of the wall, one example would be election night in 2016, where everybody, myself included, you know, I claim no special place here, you know, came into work that day, assuming Hillary Clinton was going to win the presidency. I was believing it was going to be closer than a lot of my colleagues did. But I believed Hillary Clinton on election day was going to win the presidency. And then the first results come in 6:30, you start to get results from Kentucky. Now Kentucky is going to go red. Everybody knows that. But I’m just looking at these counties. And then I’m comparing the Trump vote to the Romney vote to the George W. Bush vote. And I started waving my hand saying, you know, holy, there’s something happening, people are coming out of the woodwork. And so then you start looking at those counties in Northern Kentucky. And guess what? They mirror the counties just across the river in southern Ohio. And so then you start thinking, this is where you know, this is where, okay, well, they’re here in southern Ohio. Where are they in Pennsylvania, another swing state. There are a lot of counties like this in Michigan, there are a lot of counties like this in Wisconsin, so you start taking, you know, okay, this has happened in Kentucky. We all know, we’ve been in a nationalized election climate throughout this campaign. Is this an exception? The rural people in Kentucky are coming out of the woodworks to woodwork to vote at a higher level than they did for the last two Republicans. And you started to track it as they come in. And I remember walking across the room at one point to my colleagues who were having a conversation about the Clinton cabinet, you know, during the commercial break, saying you might want to dial this back. You just might want to dial this back. Because there’s something happening out there.

Andy Slavitt  08:29

I’m laughing through tears still. The Trump phenomenon it’s kind of interesting to explore at this level, maybe we’ll get into it at this level, the guy went from, you know, in the beginning of primary announcing his kind of this oddball kind of extremist sounding candidate, to a guy that took over the mainstream, to a guy now that has led the way has dominated the party, and maybe a good way good place to pick up as 2022 now, right where we’re now into, we’re officially into the midterm primaries across the country. You’re paying better attention to it, I imagine than virtually anybody else in the country right now, because there’s so much other stuff going on, help us understand what are the most striking results that we’ve seen so far?

John King 

Well, the striking results is how successful Trump was in Ohio in the sense that one of the big questions in the early in this primary season looked in the end this will be about Joe Biden, this will be about the Democrats because that’s what midterm elections are the first midterm election is almost always and we can talk about the ways to make it less so. But it is always almost always primarily a referendum on the guy in the white house and his party. But in these early primaries, a lot of the key action or key questions had been on the Republican side, and they do have a vibrant debate in the party still about you know what kind of conservative how Trumpy do you need to be? Sadly, this is more as a citizen that as a journalist, but sadly, even the candidates who do not have Trump’s endorsement on any of them are still trying to be Trumpy and lying about of the election lying about the last election about the fraud and The Big Lie, and all that that’s a cancer in our democracy, that the Republican Party has to take the lead in fixing because it’s in their, you know, it’s happening in their arena right now. But you’d have to say that, you know, if you look at Ohio, Trump got in there for JD Vance, he got in late and Vance took off. And that’s that is, quote unquote, good for Trump. A lot of Democrats, even some Republicans get mad when you even mentioned his name, I have no choice. I cover this. I don’t have a horse. I don’t have a horse on the track. He is the most dominant force in the Republican Party. The question we’re going to answer as we go from now in May, through November is how dominant and as he gets some victories, does that mean people just get out of the way and let him roll the field or two people who oppose him, you know, get more of a spine and challenge him more? I think we’re gonna watch that part play out. By the end of May, we’ll know a lot more when we get through Pennsylvania and we get through North Carolina. Well, we specifically get through especially get through the grudge matches that Trump has in Georgia. We’ll know a little bit more about his sway over grassroots Republican voters, how much do they still say, okay, I’m undecided. But Donald Trump says and go that way? Or how much do they say okay, Trump says that, but I’m going to figure this out on my own. We’re going to know a lot more about that later in the year. And that will inform us a lot, not only about his influence over the party right now. But as we then say, okay, then you’re heading into the 24 cycle? Does he have to work harder to build it back up? If he’s serious about running? You know, is the air coming out of the balloon? Or is the balloon still strong? We’ll know a lot more later. But because of what primaries we’ve had so far, that’s where I’ve spent my attention. I do think the critical question, as we move on a couple of them one, the impact of this potential Supreme Court decision, and to a can Democrats motivate their people to vote midterm election is all about face motivation, or almost always anyway, I must as a surprise, and Democrats have a reason to be a little down right now. Whether it’s just because Joe Biden is in charge, and you have this inflation or Democrats got pretty ambitious and saying what we were going to pass what they were going to pass and they didn’t do it. So there’s a reason to see the Democratic base needing motivation. Can Biden in the party pull that off? That’s the giant question.

Andy Slavitt  12:08

Let’s, let’s pick those apart a little bit. Start with the Republican side. From what we’re learning so far, would you say that the average Republican mainstream voter today is a Trump voter to Trump supporter?

John King 

I think, on average, I would say, you know, depending on your state, a good strong plurality, if not a majority, still believe in him and still take still have respect for him. That doesn’t mean they all want him to run again, I think that’s still a murky question for me. But they listened to him. They respect him. And unfortunately, they believe all or part of what he says about the 2020 election, and the fraud allegations. And so they they’re in a fight with him. The brilliance of Trump, Democrats will get mad that I even spoke those words, and I’m not even sure this is purposeful, is that he keeps the fight going. And in these polarized times, when there’s a fight, everybody just goes to their corner. Right? You know, you just been my best player, we’re all coming out of the dugout, that’s just the way it works. You know, even if you think okay, actually, well, we hit their guy before. You know, there’s just a reaction right now. And Trump has managed to keep the grievances I always called Trump, the Festivus presidency and the Festivus candidate, every day is an airing of grievances, he has been able to use it to keep his people just on edge and leaning forward. So they don’t even take the time to lean back in their chair and maybe think a little bit or read a little bit or study a little bit about 2020 and say, actually, we were sold a bag of goods, there was no widespread fraud.

Andy Slavitt 

Well, that sort of leads to the next place I was going with this, which is does he generate more enthusiasm on the Republican side, then the Democrats are able to sustained with their sort of anti-Trump sentiment, which it feels like, and this is only a gut feel that if they’re both waning a little bit, the Democratic enthusiasm, I don’t know how to measure it, but it feels like it’s not necessarily where the Democrats would want it to be in a consequential..

John King  14:05

I think you’re absolutely right at this point, right. So can you have less than six months now, but who knows? You know, I always say that anybody who tells you they know what’s going to happen in November, just stop listening to them. Because the last 15 years of our lives, we elected a black president than we reelected and then we threw him out for Trump of all people. And then Joe Biden, after losing Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada goes on to be the Democratic nominee and President United States. So anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen is just making it up. But how do you do that? And it’s complicated. I was just having this conversation with a colleague. You know, Washington sometimes devolves into lazy, stupid conversations, saying like, you know, inflation is the only issue or it’s by far the number one issue that you just have to help a president manage a pandemic. Do you think there’s anybody out there in America who woke up at any point during the height of COVID and said, all I’m going to do today is issue number one, get my kid to school or hook up his internet for remote learning? Finding me a vaccine? Do I have to go to the office getting groceries, someone else is gonna do that. For me. It’s not how it works. Everybody out there has to multi process and deal with 100 things over the course of a day. So they can process each individually. Yeah, inflation sucks. But I’m concerned about the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade, by Biden says if the Republicans win, then Trump is coming back. Does Kevin McCarthy have an agenda? What would Mitch McConnell do if they take back the Senate, the American people, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans or Independents, we sometimes just insult them too much in this town, they are smart enough to process all those, everybody will do it in their own way based on their own life and their own needs and their own stresses. But they can do it. And this town sometimes just ignores that and gets lazy.

Andy Slavitt  16:12

You brought up the court case. And I think you make a very good point that political commentators will kind of look to these things and say, Are there singular actions or silver bullets? And you’re trying to point back to other election cycles when things shifted? You know, there was a poll that Politico put out, that reports that 58% of voters said it’s important to vote for a candidate in the midterms, who supports abortion access. And they that included 82% of Democrats, 57% of independents, and interestingly, about 35% of Republicans. I talked about this last week, what does that tell you about? Do you think this really will be a factor in the midterms and generating enthusiasm? And if so will it which side will it generate more enthusiasm for.

John King

This is a classic example at least based on everything we know today, number one, we have to wait and see if we actually get this decision from the court every year, I have every reason to believe we will every reason to believe they are going to wipe Roe v Wade, off the books, which is historic. And so we don’t have anything, we don’t have a campaign to say this same thing happened and fail. Therefore, here’s what’s going to happen. You don’t have that. You do have 1992 Casey versus Planned Parenthood was 1991, where the court upheld roe but did say, you know, states can impose what it said is a reasonable restrictions. And you had the next year, which became known as the or the woman that you had a number of women Democratic candidates who had great success in 1992. And many people rightly so attributed at least a big slice of that. To women saying hey, wait a minute, you know, we care about this issue. Now it was a presidential year. It was also the year Ross Perot ran. And so you know, Bill Clinton won the present. There were a lot of quirky things about that year. Plus it was a long time ago and our politics are very, very different now less civil, more polarized than they were then. But is that at least a bit of an example to say it’s possible. It’s possible that this is motivating for the left in the sense that for my lifetime, judges, courts, abortion have been motivating for the right. This is Pat Robertson, this is Christian, the Christian conservative movement that came up in the 1980s. I spent a lot of time back in my AP days, you know, going around middle America, rural America are tracking the rise of Christian conservatives in politics. This was all their energy. The left was like looking at them like who are these people? Does it work for the leftist side? I don’t know the answer to that doesn’t work everywhere? Of course not. If you look at the Senate map, is this going to affect a Republican senator in a ruby red state? They can vote no on this bill that’s up for up in the United States Senate because they’re safe in their state. The Pennsylvania Senate race to your point about that 30 something percent of Republicans, do they live in the Philadelphia suburbs? Do they live in the Pittsburgh suburbs? Can they change the Pennsylvania Senate race? Yes, they can. If you can motivate them on this issue. I do think anywhere, it becomes huge. And a lot of Democrats believe this will be the key battleground in the end anyway, if Biden can’t turn his numbers around, or these governors races, you’re going to have a lot of Democratic governors who have Republican legislatures, you got a lot of governors who have Republican legislatures sending them bills. Once if and when Roe v. Wade gets wiped off the books, and whether that Governor is a Democrat or Republican is going to make a huge difference in what I think we’re going to have as a new America when it comes to abortion rights.

Andy Slavitt 

So very, very split. And as you say, you’ve got a few states where you have Michigan in Wisconsin currently where you have Democratic governors and Republican legislatures. And if there is a sentiment which says, Hey, let’s protect the rights of women here who want to have choice, then those Governor races are going to be consequential. By the way Minnesota is not far from that. There may be a few, maybe a few others as well. It’s the question that I think the Democrats have been given everything you did they have the capability of organizing, getting themselves organized, getting grassroots support, do they did it in 2018 or out healthcare. So we’ve seen it. But I don’t know that we’ve seen it when they’ve had went to a party to own the White House, that they’ve that they’ve been able to bring that level of energy. It feels like maybe that’s the uphill battle.

John King  20:12

I agree. I agree. 100%. And you make a key point when you got to 2018. Because this is one of my questions going into 2022. The great irony of Trump is that for all his attacks on democracy, and all his attacks on the institutions of democracy, and all his flat out lies about the fairness of our democracy 2016-2018, the midterm election, and then 2020 all really high turnout elections, right? We should be happy, we should be happy as citizens, regardless of party, when more people vote, we should do handstands, when more people vote, we want everybody to vote. So we’ve had three cycles in a row a very high turnout, what happens in a midterm year, it normally drops? Will it or are we in a high turnout era? Because of the polarization because of the Trump effect on that polarization? Because of the issues? I don’t know the answer to that the primaries will teach us a little bit about that, are Democrats coming out in the primaries? But even that can be misleading sometimes? How big is the fight? So you know, I do think that to me, history tells you, the President’s party gets whacked. Obama lost the house; Trump lost the house. You know, that’s just recent history. Now, Biden lived through that in the Obama White House. So did he learn lessons is are the things he can figure out of the parties. But it is an open question for me after 2016 2018 and 2020. Will we be surprised in this midterm year? And will more people will turn out be higher? And of course, you know, Republicans will turn out, they’re mad, they have a chance to take a shot at Biden, they have a chance to take power back in the house in the Senate and across the states in these governor’s races. They will turn out the question is Will Democrats match them?

Andy Slavitt

Questions that feel like the Democrats have an electoral strategy, and I’m not talking about policies, I’m talking about pure strategy, pick their issues, pick their states? You know, are we hearing it or seeing it from the White House, it feels like you’re Biden. It has been a little bit scrupulously avoiding being too much of a partisan president. I think he thought that would be some of the ticket to getting some of his agenda, agenda paths and uniting the country. And it’s kind of how he saw himself. We could debate whether that’s worked out the way he’s wanted to, clearly hasn’t gotten all scores. And yet, we sit here now, at a time when the Democrats would like to see some fight and like to see some strategy. Is there a strategy that you’re seeing emerge for the Democrats to win either for the DNC or for the White House?

John King  22:34

I would say in talking to Democrats around the country, their answer is not enough of a strategy right now. You do see some very important shifts from the president in the last week or so that I think are worth watching as this plays out. I don’t know if they will work. Again, history tells you. This is normally about the President and his party that goes back to all of my time doing this in politics. One thing I do know, and I just went back the other day to study these numbers, is it gets very hard, especially in these polarizing times that even if things start to get better for the President’s numbers to move, when you’re six months now inside six months to an election, it is you just can’t find it, you find most presidents go down and the President does go up goes up maybe one or two points. Biden needs to go up more than one or two points in his overall approval rating for Democrats to have a prayer. There are many Democrats and you talk to him just as well as I do. There are many Democrats who think the house has already long gone. There are a lot of Democrats who privately mumbled I think the Senate is gone too. And the battleground really will be the governors and these legislative races to try to build a bench for a comeback down the road. I’m just not sure, I keep an open mind about these things. But you do see the president in recent days during the ultra-mega agenda. You have in the West Virginia Republican primary results last night, McKinley, Congressman McKinley, a Republican got beat, the thing they used against him most was his vote for the bipartisan Biden infrastructure bill.

Andy Slavitt 

He got really beat badly, didn’t he? And this is a guy who, for the public who may not know him, long-term serving conservative Republican and I would say, based on my interactions with him, kind of one of the decent people, one of the reasonable people whether you agree or disagree with his views, he is someone who, you know, was sort of a classic, represent your district, have conservative views, but you know, but listen and engage at least that’s how everybody, that’s how I experienced him. And that’s how other people you know, spirits, to see him get beat. Now he was redistricted. A little bit, but that has a factor. But to see him get beat by that much. West Virginia kind of gave me a little bit of a shock.

John King  24:36

And if you’re Joe Biden, and there was one of the 5 or 6 or maybe 10 or 12. Republicans willing to take a meeting at the White House willing to talk about this willing to try to sell the bill to their colleagues, David McKinley tried to tell the other Republicans this is good for you. This is money for your state. This is bridges, this is roads, this is infrastructure. This is broadband internet, do it. This is good for the country. So you got one of 10 or 12 guys still willing to do About the president he got thumped. So if you’re Joe Biden, you just have to understand if Kevin McCarthy is Speaker of the House, he’s not going to be calling, you know, saying let’s, let’s do some stuff. It’s just not the way it’s going to work. So I do think you’re seeing the President get more partisan. Is Joe Biden the guy to do that? Because his, you know, the reason he wanted to be bipartisan as president was because that is more or less his history. He’s not a, you know, he’s a partisan Democrat. He always has been, but he’s not a visceral fight. partisan. Does he have to be in this campaign year? Because his team need to figure that out? I do think that is a giant question going forward, does the country see him as an acceptable messenger? If that more partisan, you’ll thump them? His message now, essentially, is you may be mad at me. But look what they’re gonna do. You know, you may you may be bad at inflation, they will be worse. Can Biden sell that in a credible way to the slice of voters, he needs to get back, which are independents, soft Republicans, and then motivate Democrats?

Andy Slavitt 

Well, and there’s, there’s still correct me if I’m wrong here, but it still feels like there’s time in the news cycle. And it looks like about talking about some of the things that are at play that people are paying attention to Ukraine, how that was going in the in the NATO alliance, I’d be interested in where you think that matters at all. Number two, you know, the pandemic, if it feels to people, like we are managing the risks well, and more back to normal inflation, you know, those numbers go down, the stock market does that those numbers go up? And then you know, of course, you’ve got, you know, row, will it fade? And then a slew of kind of tail issues like, what am I kids being taught in school and stuff like that? What? So ad, do you? Are there issues that you think, still have time to evolve to affect the race? And if so, which ones do you feel matter?

John King  26:46

I do think there are issues that have time to evolve. Number one, if the economic numbers get better. That would help the President some if he could say the trend line is in the right direction, you know, we went through a tough period, just like we did with COVID. But look, the trend lines are better if you properly manage these things. Look, things get better. But it has to happen fast. And so Biden needs these numbers to get better soon. I think the January six committees public hearings, maybe open some minds about what happened. They’ve done a they’ve done a remarkable and meticulous job building this evidence, they have outperformed what I thought they would be capable of doing, from what I know privately, can they bring it to the public in a compelling way? I think that could change things. Ukraine is a Ukraine to me, lastly is a lesson in the polarization we are at because I don’t care about your politics. Joe Biden is not perfect. He has done a remarkable job here. He had done just a flat-out remarkable job getting a new German chancellor to take the economic hit that Germany is taking here and to send offensive military weapons into Ukraine, to get the French president in an election year, knowing his far-right opponent is gaining in the polls, to stand up to Putin to do this, to keep this coalition together. It’s just a remarkable job. It flat out is democrat, republican, independent. If Trump had done it, I would say the same exact thing. You know, Biden did a remarkable job here. But he gets no credit, even from the Republican Party, which is built on this anti-communist get them, you know, the Trump effect on that, on what Republicans think about Russia is more significant than I thought it would be. And just the polarization that, you know, Republicans think the economy is horrible. Republicans think Biden is failing in Ukraine, because it’s a Democrat. And that works the other way to the Democrats are polarized, too. And we saw that some of you know, every now and then Trump did something right. Sorry, Democrats, every now and then he did. But they just refuse to they refuse to accept it, that Ukraine polling is just a cement in my brain that this polarization is getting harder and harder, and that makes it really hard to govern.

Andy Slavitt 

So just to close off on 22 for a second, and maybe we could talk a little bit more beyond that. Taking your point that no one knows what’s gonna happen in November. Are you feeling like the smart money? You know, where’s the over under appear to be among the people to talk about think about these things? Is it a meaningful Republican majority in the House? Is it a small Republican majority in the Senate? Is it the Democrats have a chance to pick up a couple gubernatorial seats? Where do you think the kind of over if Vegas were putting their ads that were there over unders be.

John King 

That well, I’ll give you the view of smart Democrats I talked to Republicans are very bullish and they give you a pretty ambitious numbers. A few of them would say, you know, temper that down a little bit based on we still again, Pennsylvania primary next week. Who do they nominate for that Senate race, right, that’s a big deal. Who do they nominate their governor’s race? That’s a big deal. So some of this is, you know, it’s premature bet you can take more you get more money if you better returns if you’ve early, I guess, but because you don’t have the information, but very smart Democrats I talked to who hope they’re wrong, who hope that things get better believe the Republicans will win 20 plus seats, which is not a huge majority, but it’s better. Nancy Pelosi has a majority of you know, four or five right now. They believe the Republicans have majority somewhere in the 10, maybe 15 or 18. Seats range, there are some Democrats who are even more pessimistic. The Senate is really a toss-up right now, most Democrats would say they’re bad given the dynamics today is that it’s, you know, you have Republicans get 52, maybe 53 seats, but they don’t rule out again, candidates still in some key races, and then maybe some performance there.

Andy Slavitt  30:46

And the Senate, before we move on to which are the key ones to watch that are going to make all the differences at Georgia. What are the Senate races that you think will be the determining factors?

John King 

Can the Democrats hold Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona, three relative Nevada, older, if you will, more of a legacy democratic seat, but that state, you know, the Democrats at that state used to be when I started covering politics, it was a light leaning red state, then it became a purple state now. Now it’s a blue state, but it’s still shaky. So the Democrats if they can hold Nevada, Arizona and Georgia, and then the question be, can you pick one up, right, so you have no incumbent in the North Carolina seat and in the Pennsylvania seat, and you have Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, assume the Democrats are going to lose one of those three I just mentioned, I just assumed that’s what happens. And even if you had run into having a good year, somebody’s going to get beat, then you got to pick it to get 5050, then you got to swap or you got to swap every loss to keep your 5050 that’s where a lot of Democrats are like, really, because what normally happens is if there’s a wave, there’s a wave, right, if it breaks late one way, you know, the Republicans are going a few more house seats, and the Democrats will you know, the Republicans will win the closest Senate races, you know, 51.049 or 50.2. That’s what tends to happen in the midterm. Will this be a national midterm, or will this be state by state? I think the Democrats want it to be state by state. And that’s that last point about the governor’s races, Democrats like their candidates for governor in most of these races. So they think at least that if it’s if that race, governor’s races normally don’t get as caught up in the national dynamic, that if they’re fighting on that terrain, at the abortion issue helps them there, because it’s specific to governor’s races, and they have strong candidates. The fear is if the national is the national climate so bad that we just said those who are good candidates get caught in a Republican wave.

Andy Slavitt 

And the big Governor races you mentioned some of them already. Wisconsin, would be a Democrat hold Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Georgia, are there any ones that you think are particularly interesting or you think have a storyline where that you could see a change?

John King

The Georgia one is interesting to me, just in the sense that we talked earlier about you know, motivation and turnout are the coin of the realm here for the Democrats. And you have Stacey Abrams a candidate. That’s what she does, right? That is her wheelhouse motivating people to vote. And so do debit. Can Democrats see in her as she running a competitive race? Because if with all her skills, if she’s not running a competitive race that tells you something about the water, right? There’s something in the water and it’s just the climate is just really bad. But if she is running a competitive race, are there things Democrats can learn from how she’s doing it? Can you bottle it in? Will it take it elsewhere? That Ohio race I talked to you about it should not be in play, should not be in play. So can the Democrats put in play? You know, Mike DeWine establishment Republican used to be a senator got bruised in his primary, he’s you know, he got renominated, but he got bruised. So there are some grumpy Republicans out there who don’t like their governor. Can a Democrat take advantage of that? If that’s a state where in the governor’s race, maybe Republican turnout is off a little bit, especially in the real Trump rural areas? Can a Democrat with the abortion issue on the climate? Is it possible, right, that would be a huge surprise. But I look for just a couple of quirky races like okay, look at that one. My home state of Massachusetts has this history of Republican governors even though it’s usually a blue state. Charlie Baker is not running for reelection. Can the Democrats pick that up?

Andy Slavitt  34:10

I shouldn’t have Charlie on it’s a good idea. I should probably also ask you about Texas since Beto is coming on. Do you give Beto a chance on Texas?

John King

I have the same question as Stacey Abrams on paper. Absolutely not. On paper. Democrats have been way overly ambitious about how fast Texas is changing, all of Texas, if you will. But Texas is a really complicated battlefield in the sense that you know Dallas is becoming more democratic and the suburbs surrounded, Houston is the fastest growing city in America is a huge pot of votes for Democrats. Beto has the credibility to get in there and deal with the Democrats Latino issue because you see it there as well. in Harris County in the places around there. He has credibility on the issue. So he’s a candidate who, at least based on past experience, should be able to do it. That is another great challenge, right? When you look at Georgia, you look at Texas, I would also put Florida into the mix states that in the case of Texas and Florida, Texas Democrats say it’s going to come to us eventually, in Florida Democrats are saying how did it get away from us? So can you reverse the trends in the states and spark? So Beto is somebody I would love to get out of Washington and focus on the governor’s races? Because I do think and again, I said earlier to the governor’s get caught up in a national wave, or can these gubernatorial candidates help their national party by putting together an organization by turning out votes to help Beto for Governor. Is there a congressional race in Texas that flips because of that? Is there something that happened to Stacey Abrams help Senator Warnock, you know, that used to be in the old days when I was covering this, you know, I used to go out and cover, you know, Bill Clinton in Arkansas and Tommy Thompson and Wisconsin and John Engler and Michigan Democrats and Republicans who use the state party and use their races for governor to actually help the congressional candidates. It wasn’t so nationalized in those days. So Beto has a chance. It’s a long shot.

Andy Slavitt  36:02

it feels like when you start to hear some of those names, including some of the governor’s she talked about it prior elections, that well, on the one hand, it’s too early to talk about 2024. On the other hand, there’s somebody frickin unpleasant things to talk about that maybe it’s one of the more pleasant things we could actually talk about. I imagined that this is like past years. As soon as the midterms are done, where in fact, we’re effectively in the 2024 cycle, people will spend all of 23 will be as active and important here as 24 hours. If it’s like if it’s like the last cycle around. Give us some thoughts on how you see things shaping up in both parties. Obviously, both parties have an older White dude, who kind of casts a shadow, what he decides to do cast a shadow over everything and everybody else. But there’s a fork in the road there. And one of them is, is there anybody, who if they if Trump and Biden choose to run, could be viable candidates and would take them on? And secondly, if for whatever reason they don’t, anybody look good to you at this early time?

John King 

I don’t know about I don’t know if I’m qualified to say look good, or that’s how that’s how I frame it. But I look, there’s a lot that look interesting. Well, if Trump runs, then you know, DeSantis, Abbott, Rick Scott, they’re not all gonna run. But some of them will. We just have we have to learn this. And again, Barack Obama is a great lesson here, right? We have to learn in the modern times, the old rules don’t apply. You cannot tell these younger, Ambitious politicians, wherever they are, whether they’re state senators in Illinois, or United States senators or governors, wait, just wait your turn. Obama proved you don’t have to wait your turn that you know, David can beat Goliath. And you can go on and do it. And so that genies out of the bottle, some of them will be scared away by the memories of you know, Lyin Ted and Little Jeb and whatever else, you know, I’ll get them wrong. I’ll get all the nicknames wrong from 2016.

Andy Slavitt

Can any of them raise serious money like Trump can?

John King  38:00

DeSantis can, Abbott can that go back to the George W. Bush, Texas Republicans can raise money, Texas, Republicans can raise money. Does he want to do it? Does he want to wait? That’s an interesting question. But one or two of them will run. They just you know, their consultants will talk them into it, or their ambition will say this won’t hurt me, I’ll get a head start next time, or Trump needs a vice president because he’s not picking Pence. You know, so let’s go. Let’s do this. And then you’ll have either Liz Cheney or Larry Hogan or both running for the old Republican Party. So that will be fascinating. I think that will be fascinating. I think if you did pay per view on a Liz Cheney, Donald Trump debate, you could pay down the deficit to the Democratic side, Andy, I think the biggest question is, does Joe Biden really run? I know, he says he wants to, and I believe he wants to. And I know he says he’s up to it. And I believe he believes he’s up to it. I just think that’s a decision that does not have to be made for more than a year from now. You’re going to have the midterm experience at that point. And he’s going to have to have conversations with himself and with his wife. You know, David Gergen, one of the people I respect most said on our air last night, you know, I don’t think Joe Biden should run again, I don’t, and he’s against David’s against, David who’s not a young man himself. He’d be happy to admit that says he shouldn’t run for president to be working at a White House right now. And he doesn’t want you know, 80-year-old Trump and 80-year-old Biden, he thinks it’s bad for the country. So that’s the threshold decision. And then if Biden does run, will there be one or two people? Maybe? That’s just the nature of the business. If Biden doesn’t run, I think you’re going to have a very interesting Democratic primary, that Democrats are not going to say, oh, well, you know, Vice President Harris. It’s all yours. It’s just not going to work that way. There are a number of Democrats who are quietly working hard to be in position. Should there be an opening to run, and they’re interesting people. They include the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, for example, who has great respect for the President. Don’t get me wrong, has great respect for the President is not going to run if Joe Biden runs but if Joe Biden doesn’t run, there are a lot of people like Phil Murphy who are looking around talking to people saying, you know, if the party needs a Plan B, keep an open mind, answer my call.

Andy Slavitt  40:08

Phil’s interesting. Others that come to mind. Any of them currently in Washington or most of them in the States?

John King

There are some in Washington. I mean, the Sanders people have said publicly that he might run again, I don’t know that Bernie would want to do that at that point for his own legacy. But they’ve said that but you know, there’s a rivalry still between Warren and Bernie, that’s just a fact of life. Yes, they get along. But it was like a lot of people get along in politics. I give you Barack Obama and Joe Biden. There can be people get along who still have rivalries in the relationship. There are a number of people in the United States Senate who if the President of the United States were not to run again, you have Gavin Newsom out in California, it’s a big state can raise some money has ambition. Are there a couple other Democratic governors out there, who would, you know, give it a look. I think without a doubt, Governor Whitmer might want to give it a look, if she gets reelected this year. I think there are a number of people out there, I think it would that would just that would just throw the whole thing out the window you could have you could have somebody like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez decide she’s going to run from the house.

Andy Slavitt

Eventually, that’s going to happen, just pick the year. I really appreciate all the I think the lecture, you gave us something you weren’t lecturing us, but the kinds of treaties you just gave us on the emulation was fascinating. And maybe just close that we talk about news and the future news and in some of these things, and when you and I were growing up, you know, your choices were pretty much to flick on CBS, NBC or ABC, when there was a news event, cut to, you know, the 80s and CNN launched and, and then subsequently MSNBC and Fox. And, you know, we entered an era where cable news was the kind of ubiquitous factor and force anything happens anywhere in the world, whether it’s an election or a war, you pick, you’re turning on your favorite one of those three, more likely putting aside print journalism for a second, feels like that there’s this sense that there may be a new era, there’s a new era of kind of streaming or online. Does it further bifurcate us? Is that what’s going on? Is the internet changing how all that stuff works?

John King  42:19

Yes, yes, and dramatically. So at a pace that I think a lot of us even people in the business, sometimes find hard to understand or hard to comprehend or hard to master. Look, we are all living this, every worker in the world has had their life turned upside down to 468 10 times by technology by globalization, by the pace of change, our business is no different. So there are a number of pieces I could talk for a month about this are a number of pieces of it. Number one, I’m really proud to work where I work, we are far from perfect, we make mistakes. The Ukraine war reminds me every day of why I do this for a living. And that is to help people understand what’s happening in their country and in their world. And then you make your own decisions. We are not trying to tell you what to do. We are trying to show you things and inform you again, we’re not perfect, but I’m incredibly proud to work here. There’s a huge appetite for that, Andy, whether you look at documentary viewing, whether you look at podcast listening, whether you look at you know, people, you know, individual newspapers might be down, although most of the big ones are now heading back up after a tough decade or so. The thirst for information is enormous. I have a 28-year-old son and a 25-year-old daughter, who consume information. They’re just A and Z on the personal spectrum and how they live their lives, how they’re wired. But they’re both information consumers in wild ways, different ways. They don’t want watch their dad on television a lot. That’s not what they do. They don’t watch cable news, but they get information. So the challenge is how do we find new ways or different ways to get the information to people. And so every brand is rethinking that. That’s what CNN plus was part of that. And they’ll say the first time it didn’t work, the next time we’ll trust me, we will figure it out. We’ll work through it all. I do think experimentation is a good thing for everybody in the business. And then there’s what I call the other end, the responsibility on the other end of the people listening in that there are a lot of things that call themselves news that are not news. They have every right to exist. They have every right to the First Amendment, they have every right to the internet, but their entertainment or their advocacy, or their flat-out opinion. Some of them are not anywhere near the truth also.

John King  44:18

So it requires I think just like every worker has had to learn to deal with globalization and technology to go to work. Every citizen is going to have to deal with this to go about their life who do I trust, but we fact check or taste test things in our lives all the time. You don’t buy a car from the same dealer if their last one died three days after you drove it off the lot. And so I’m asking I think people are going to have to do that when it comes to where they get their information. Be entertained if that stuff entertains you, whether it’s Fox prime or MSNBC prime, or anywhere else, you can get that if that entertains you or get you riled up great. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to I need information, and I hope I trust in the common sense of the American people, whatever their politics will eventually fade Hear it out that I might find that entertaining. But when I need to learn something, that’s not what I’m going to watch, I’m going to go to the, I’m going to, I’m going to have my, I’m going to have my three or four. And then have a competition among those three or four credible news sources that are never perfect. But time after time, after time, try to do their job, right, try to inform people and when they are wrong, look them in the eye and say, we made a mistake on that story. Let us tell you how it happened. We’re going to try to make sure it never happens again. That’s the business I’m in and I’ll take any. I love that competition. I’ve been doing it for almost 40 years now. And I love it. The other stuff, I just try to block out. You’re right, though it can impact our politics day to day, it could impact the here and now. I can’t do anything about it. I can’t cut Tucker’s mic; I can hope that people out there eventually realize this guy’s not selling us a product that is sustainable. How come nobody else says this? How come I can’t find that anywhere else? Eventually people will figure it out. People have common sense.

Andy Slavitt 

Yep. Well, I hope. And I think there’s some evidence that’s that the appetite for real news and real depth and real long form conversation with real experts stay strong. And I like your rubric too, because to a large degree, what you said, as you know, if you want to scratch an itch of getting mad about an issue, you could turn on one of those networks that will make you mad. But as long as our attention span stays focused on wanting to be informed, and if nothing else of Ukraine, Roe v Wade, the pandemic, inflation, if all those things don’t make us want to be better informed, and make us help to think through complex issues, then that would be very, very worrying. And it would feel like the erosion of just the similar erosion of respect we have for institutions, our attention span, their focus on bad news, our sense that the people in power or in communicating with us don’t get it or don’t understand us. That’s the stuff that worries me. Which, again, is you’re absolutely right, there’s little you can do. If that’s where the public’s moving, I really just hope they’re not.

John King 

I just I would say this, you know, our kids got to meet each other a couple of months back. That’s where I find my optimism. There’s a generation behind us, that is not as jaded. There’s a generation behind us that will take power. I do think there are too many people in their 70s and 80s. Across both political parties are still in power, who have not grown up, you know, who use these now, but awkwardly, are still trying to figure them out. You know, just kids, our kids, our kids are just much more fluent in technology. They’re not afraid of it. They deal with these hard issues like abortion and gay rights and tolerance. They just deal with them in a much different way. They don’t deal with them in a political way. They can disagree. They can have different opinions, they can have debates, but it just sounds different. When I’m around them listening to these things, that’s where I find my optimism that there’s a generation out there and again, they are thirsty for information. They may be getting it in different ways. But that’s my faith. Maybe I’m not but these tornadoes are turmoil, the boiling pots in our history, they pass, sometimes they take 15-20 years to do so. There will be somebody or a group of somebodies and they may be Democrats or Republicans or cranky independents or whatever, who will lead us through this to a better place that we just have to make sure we don’t collapse in the meantime.

Andy Slavitt  48:23

Well, look, I really do like your optimism because I do think it’s grounded on us getting through times like this. And as we get into this election cycle, guessing we’re going to learn a whole lot more and see a whole lot more. I really appreciate you coming in the bubble, John. It’s been a lot of fun.

John King 

It’s absolutely my pleasure, Andy, I love to be in the bubble and I appreciate the compliment I just ask anybody who watches or listens you know whatever your politics, this is your chance, right? So these idiots in Washington say all year they’re gonna vote where they care about what it is just vote just felt shocked us, kick us, make me do a lot of math on election night. The more people vote, the more math I got to do.

Andy Slavitt 

Make it go holy crap. Look at the midterm turnout.

John King 

I like it, make me work. I’m all for it. Those are the best nights. Midterm nights are complicated, but I’m looking forward to it.

Andy Slavitt 

We’ve got some great shows coming up. Let me tell you about them briefly. Two more shows this week on Wednesday. We’re gonna be talking about our kids and what they went through during the pandemic, some of the Mental Health figures that are starting to come out some of the things that people are dealing with, with just absolutely unbelievable guests. Unbelievable. You gotta listen to her name is Xenia Harrison. She’s a psychiatrist. I think a really, really helpful conversation. And I’m also going to play in that episode, the commencement address that again I gave last week, which I hope you enjoy. We’ve got Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for governor in Texas. We’ve got Larry Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury, Michael Mena and Patrice Harris, both of whom are going to talk about testing, and […] and many more good topics. So, I will talk to you Wednesday, at that conversation will come to you from New York, the Webby Awards.


Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.

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