Podcast / Start Making Sense / May 22, 2024

The Abortion Pill Underground—Plus, Can Dems Hold the Senate?

On this episode of Start Making Sense, Amy Littlefield on the post-Roe red states, and John Nichols on Senate races in swing states.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

The Abortion Pill Underground, plus Can Dems Hold the Senate? | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

Since Roe was overturned, pregnant people seeking abortions in Red states have found help from providers operating at the edge of the law. Amy Littlefield reports.

Also: Democrats in the Senate are going to lose the seat vacated by Joe Manchin in West Virginia — can they hold all the others in November? John Nichols has our analysis, starting with Maryland, where Democrat Angela Alsobrooks will face Republican ‘moderate’ Larry Hogan, the popular anti-Trump former governor.

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Protesters hold a huge banner reading "We Are Taking Abortion Pills Forever" in front of the Supreme Court Building.

Demonstrators in front of the Supreme Court Building as the justices hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Since Roe was overturned, pregnant people seeking abortions in red states have found help from providers operating at the edge of the law. Amy Littlefield is on the podcast to report.

Also on this episode: Democrats in the Senate are going to lose the seat vacated by Joe Manchin in West Virginia—can they hold all the others in November? John Nichols has our analysis, starting with Maryland, where Democrat Angela Alsobrooks will face Republican “moderate” Larry Hogan, the popular anti-Trump former governor.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

How the Sixties Ended, plus the Endless War in Gaza | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

“1974,” the new memoir by Francine Prose, recalls the year when “the sixties” came to a definitive end, when it became clear that the changes we’d wanted, the changes we’d fought for, were not going to happen. She spent that year in San Francisco, where she got to know Tony Russo of the Pentagon Papers case.

Also: On May 31, Joe Biden declared, “It is time for this war to end.” But the leaders of both Israel and Hamas seem content for the war in Gaza to grind on into the indefinite future. Hussein Ibish explains why.

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Jon Wiener: From The Nation magazine, this is Start Making Sense. I’m Jon Wiener. Later in the show:The abortion pill underground — Amy Littlefield will report on providers who operate at the edge of the law.  But first: Democrats in the Senate are going to lose seat vacated by Joe Manchin in West Virginia–can they hold all the others in November? John Nichols will comment – in a minute.

[BREAK]

The repeal of Roe v. Wade has not stopped pregnant people from getting abortions, often thanks to providers operating at the edge of the law. For a report on the abortion pill underground, we turn to Amy Littlefield. She’s The Nation’s abortion access correspondent and a journalist who focuses on reproductive rights, healthcare, and religion. She’s the author of a forthcoming book, American Crusaders. It’s a history of the anti-abortion movement over the last 50 years to be published in 2026. Amy Littlefield, welcome back.

Amy Littlefield: Thanks so much, John. It’s great to be back with you.

JW: If you Google “abortion pills in the mail,” you get a lot of results. Close to the top is a Planned Parenthood page that says, “In order to have the pills mailed to you, you must have an address where you can receive the pills.” In other words, an address in a state where abortion is legal. But is it true that in order to have the pills mailed to you, you must have an address where you can receive the pills?

AL: The short answer, Jon, is no, absolutely not. There are many different ways to get abortion pills by mail these days, and that is the case even for patients in the reddest of states.

JW: So Planned Parenthood won’t mail abortion pills to states where abortion is banned, but other providers will. You report in your cover story for The Nation on a woman in Texas who needed an abortion, Googled “abortion pills in the mail,” found lots of results, but worried that some of them might take your money and not send anything or might send pills that didn’t work. So what did she do?

AL: So I tried to tell this story of the vast changes in this landscape of abortion access through this patient who I call Kay in the piece. She found out she was pregnant at the end of last year, and she told me she knew three things clearly. I was poor, I had an unwanted pregnancy and knew I couldn’t afford a standard abortion for hundreds of dollars. So she went online to see if it was somehow possible to receive abortion pills through the internet. And guess what? It was not only possible, it was easier and more affordable than she could have ever imagined.

What Kay found is this new set of options that are made possible by shield laws, protective pro-choice laws in states like New York and Massachusetts. She found that she could get abortion pills from a licensed clinician mailed to her doorstep in Texas for $150 or if she couldn’t afford that, for free.

JW: And how did she decide which of the many people listed in the Google results were trustworthy and good?

AL: And this is part of the amazing, this sort of organic mutual aid infrastructure that’s developed on Reddit. So she goes online, she goes to Reddit and she finds discussions on how they’ve used these services, how they’ve used organizations like Aid Access, The MAP and Abuzz. These are services that will provide abortion pills by mail, even in restrictive states. And she finds all these testimonies from strangers who are saying, giving great detail about how this is how long it took for my pills to get there. This is how I took them. This is how much cramping I had.

This is how much bleeding. This is what was available to me. I’d recommend this service over that service. I mean, if you want to learn more about it, I highly recommend checking out a group called OARS, Online Abortion Rescue Squad. They make sure that every post on the abortion Reddit thread gets a knowledgeable and accurate response because this is all crowdsourced information. And so Kay goes online and finds all these testimonies and is convinced that these services, which she initially thinks they’re so easy, they’re so cheap, this must be a scam.

There’s no way it’s going to work. In her mind, if she wants an abortion, she’s going to have to drive at least 12 hours from her home in Texas to the nearest clinic, pay hundreds of dollars and it’s going to be multiple days and a lot of travel. That is what we have in all of our minds as sort of the way an abortion works. It seems to her so simple, so straightforward that she can’t believe it’s real until she goes online and reads all of these stories.

JW: You said one of the secrets of why this works is because of the shield laws that several states have now passed that protect the doctors and clinics that mail abortion pills to red states. The states right now are Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, Vermont, New York and California. And among the most prominent and best known is one you report on called Aid Access. Tell us about Aid Access.

AL: They have abortion providers in states like New York that are operating under the shield laws. So that’s distinct from more ad hoc grassroots community support networks. One of the first ones was Las Libres, which is a group based out of Mexico that is now working with activists here in the United States, then they’re not licensed clinicians in most cases. They’re just people who care and don’t think that anyone should be forced to be pregnant if they don’t want to be. When Aid Access started providing abortions domestically under the shield laws, it completely changed the game.
Because what Aid Access had been doing, this is an organization that was founded by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, who’s an abortion rights revolutionary. She’s a European doctor, and she had started this organization with shipping pills internationally, which can take many weeks.

JW: And she’s based where?

AL: When I talked to her, she was in her apartment in Amsterdam. She’s operating totally outside of US laws. She actually started out many years ago with an abortion ship. She would sail her abortion boat off the shores of countries where abortion was banned to provide abortions on board, but really to call attention to the Draconian nature of abortion bans. She had first seen the impact of unsafe abortions around the world when she was working as a doctor on the Greenpeace ship. So that’s her origin story.

So basically she’s now working with providers who are based, like Dr. Linda Prine, based in states like New York who are now providing abortions from those home states. And so because the pills are being shipped domestically, it takes so much less time for them to arrive. And that’s really changed the game for people like Kay, who can now order these pills and get them relatively quickly and not be pushed into later gestations because they have to wait for the pills to come from abroad.

JW: Simple question: How much does Aid Access in these other groups charge for abortion pills in the mail?

AL: $150 or if you can’t afford that, whatever you can pay or if you can’t afford anything, then for free. Total game changer, right? One of the stories that I heard from Dr. Angel Foster, who’s a co-founder of The MAP, is that one person who accessed their service, this is another service that’s providing shield law telemedicine abortions, they charge $250 but also offer a sliding scale. She said about a third of patients pay $5 or less and one paid $9.22 cents for her abortion. And Dr. Foster was like, to me that was heartbreaking because it’s such a specific amount. In her mind, she sees someone counting out their pennies on a kitchen table to get to 22¢.

JW: Big picture, has the repeal of Roe now two years ago, succeeded in reducing the number of abortions in the United States?

AL: It sure has not, Jon, and boy, our anti-abortion folks are big mad about that fact. In fact, and I don’t want to be glib here because this is when you look at the full scope of the landscape now almost two years out from the Dobbs decision, it is just rife with contradictions. So it is simultaneously true that tens of thousands of people have been unable to terminate their pregnancies and have been forced to give birth. And it is also true at the same time, we have to hold these two things at once, that the number of abortions in the United States actually increased last year in large part because of the rising availability of telemedicine abortions.

And so it’s actually reached the highest number since 2011. Anti-abortion folks are not happy about the fact that their crowning achievement that they worked for 50 years to reach and overturning Roe v. Wade has in fact not diminished the number of abortions.

JW: And what do we know about women in the states where abortion has been banned?

AL: We know that thousands of pregnant people in states where abortion has been banned have been forced to give birth. I looked at a study from the nonprofit Institute of Labor Economics that found the birth rate in states with total abortion bans increased by 2.3% compared to states where abortion was protected, which amounts to an estimated 32,000 more births per year. I mean, it’s interesting.
One thing that really stood out to me from that study is that the increase was especially high among Latinas, among women in their early 20s and among Texans whose average driving distance to a clinic had increased by 453 miles. Undocumented Texans who live in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas are cut off by border patrol checkpoints from any states to the north where abortion remains legal. So again, those folks now would be able to access shield law abortions if they understood that it takes a certain amount of tolerance for risk in this untested environment. But they may not know about that, and they may assume, as Kay did before she started doing her research, that they would have to travel past these border patrol checkpoints in order to get to the nearest clinic.

JW: Another big picture question: What do we know about the proportion of abortions that now are medication abortions rather than in-clinic surgical procedures?

AL: During the Covid pandemic, which I shouldn’t say during the pandemic, of course that’s still ongoing, but early in the pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration eased its in-person dispensing requirement for Mifepristone, which is the first of two medications generally used in a medication abortion. And before that, you had to go to a clinic to actually pick it up in person. So some brick and mortar clinics began to offer telemedicine abortions, new virtual clinics cropped up and now medication abortions account for 63% of all abortions in the formal healthcare system, which is up from 53% in 2020. This is an under count because it doesn’t include abortions that are provided in the states where abortion is banned by this new or smaller subset we’ve been discussing of shield law telemedicine providers that are willing to ship to states where abortion is entirely banned.

JW: Question about the states with shield laws. So there are these six states and they say, for example, even if Texas indicts a doctor in California for prescribing and shipping abortion pills to Texas, California will refuse to extradite that doctor for trial in Texas. So this is really a conflict between states and up at the Supreme Court. And I imagine the anti-abortion movement will want to test these laws, especially given the nature of the Supreme Court these days. If and when this gets to the Supreme Court, there’s no federal law that says you can’t ship abortion medication from, say, California to Texas, or is there?

AL: Jon, I’m going to have to put you in a time machine here and we’re going to have to take a little trip back to 1873 for me to answer that question. In 1873, there’s a federal law passed, the Comstock Act, named for the anti-vice crusader, Anthony Comstock, a man known for his rabid pursuit of all things lewd and obscene, going after everything from pornographic drawings to abortion drugs and paraphernalia. And basically, under this law, which was created to stamp out obscenity and, in an era, where any kind of extramarital sexual behavior was, ooh, that was a real crisis for society. 
The Comstock Act, if you read it in a literal fashion as anti-abortion activists do, it could be read as a de facto nationwide ban on the mailing of abortion drugs and devices, which would in effect shut down not just abortion medication mailing, but in fact the mailing of things like equipment that would be needed to perform a procedural abortion. And so this could in effect shut down brick and mortar clinics if it’s read in a particular way by the federal courts. So that’s one question that we have. Now, the Comstock Act has already been entertained by the Supreme Court.

We know that there are two conservative justices. Anyone have a wild guess about who, right? Thomas and Alito who are just chomping at the bit. It seems to revive the Comstock Act, and let’s just step back and acknowledge here. This is the best shot they have at a nationwide abortion ban in this era of surging popularity of abortion rights. Like no Republicans really want to touch the issue right now, and so we are just not going to see a nationwide ban passed in the traditional democratic sense.

And so a law from 1873 dusting that off and trying to revive the ghost of Anthony Comstock has been really appealing. So that’s the nationwide ban. Other than that, what we have basically is the next frontier of the legal fight over the future of medication abortion because it’s really unclear how the courts are going to view these shield laws. The providers that I spoke to who are operating under these shield laws say they’re really confident that these laws work. They feel protected. They feel like even if Texas tries to extradite them, their states like New York are going to protect them.
However, they do take precautions not traveling to states where there might be a warrant out for their arrest that they don’t know about. I talked to legal experts like Mary Ziegler who said she thinks there’s a very real potential that courts rule that states like Texas can in fact come for shield law providers. And so it’s a question that I think we’re likely to see play out in the coming years in the federal court.

JW: And this is clearly something that Planned Parenthood is concerned about. I opened by saying the Planned Parenthood affiliates in the states that do have shield laws nevertheless refuse to mail abortion pills to states where it’s illegal. California Planned Parenthood will only send you pills in California. Why aren’t the state shield laws enough for Planned Parenthood, the biggest, most powerful organization we’ve got?

AL: Yeah. It’s a great question. And one answer, and again, I talked to Dr. Angel Foster, who’s the co-founder of one of three services that is providing these shield law telemedicine abortions. So there’s Abuzz, The MAP and Aid Access that are providing these services in states where abortion is banned or restricted. And she said, look, the medical profession is quite conservative. The legal profession is quite conservative. Those things are not working in the favor of people who are trying to innovate, who are trying to get creative.
Organizations like Planned Parenthood that have boards of directors, attorneys advising them, big endowments that under laws like Texas SB8, where you can sue people for civil damages for aiding or abetting an abortion. There’s a lot to lose and there’s a lot of caution in these groups, and that’s been true for a long time. Julie F. Kay, for example, the attorney who worked with Dr. Linda Prine and Dr. Maggie Carpenter to found the Abortion Coalition for Telemedicine, she told me in the beginning, they just were not getting the support they needed from mainstream pro-choice organizations.

And so that’s why they had to go and found this whole separate entity to pursue these shield law abortions, which now have revolutionized the whole landscape. I mean, it’s not the first time. For example, Dr. Linda Prine, who she’s 72-years-old, she’s an abortion provider. She’s based in New York. I spent a day with her watching her provide abortions through Aid Access and also answer the Miscarriage and Abortion Hotline that she co-founded. This is an information line that anybody can call while they’re in the process of taking abortion medication and ask a doctor questions.
And I watched her answering these calls from someone who wanted to know how far back in the vagina the pills need to go, someone who wanted to know how much I’m feeling lightheaded, what should I do? Text message came in with that. So she’s responding to these, and in the beginning, attorneys within the movement were like, this is a terrible idea. Things could go wrong. And she did it anyway. So I think on some level, you’re seeing differences within the movement about the level of risk people are willing to take.

And it’s often the case that the larger organizations that have more lawyers, more conservative board members in the mix, are going to be the most risk-averse. Part of that is shield laws protect providers. For people who are accessing medication abortion, it’s extremely rare for them to get in legal trouble, but it only takes a couple high-profile cases of somebody getting arrested or someone, as we’ve seen with the anti-abortion attorney, Jonathan Mitchell, going after people who have left the state for abortions on behalf of their ex-partners.

It only takes a few cases like that for people to feel really terrified if they’re in a banned state when they access these abortions. So I do want to point out that there’s this disconnect between logistically, it’s easier than it ever has been for somebody in a state like Texas to get a telemedicine abortion because it takes less time. It’s free if they need it to be free. It’s all through the mail. They have a licensed clinician there if they need one. On the other hand, they might feel terrified. They might feel alone because that help is not right next door.

They might be afraid of what happens if they go to the hospital. And we know that there have been cases of people criminalized even before the Dobbs decision. And so it’s important to sort of hold these two. This is why it’s very hard to define the reality of post-Dobbs abortion access in a single sentence because it’s so dependent, not just on where you live, but on the impression that you have about your level of risk, on things like do you have an abusive partner who might report you to police, on whether you are already subject to surveillance and the different contacts with the carceral state that could make it higher risk.

So there’s a lot going on and a lot changing all at once. And so I hope this piece sort of gives people an overview of those discordant realities.

JW: Amy Littlefield: her article The Abortion Pill Underground is the cover story in the new issue of The Nation Magazine. You can read it online at thenation.com. Amy, thanks for this report, and thanks for talking with us today.

AL: Thank you so much, Jon. Always a pleasure.

[BREAK]

Jon Wiener: It’s not going to be easy for the Democrats to hold onto control of the Senate in the November elections. They now have a 51-49 majority, but they are defending seats in states that Trump won four years ago. For our analysis, we turn to John Nichols. Of course, he’s national affairs correspondent for The Nation, an author of many books, most recently, It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism, co-authored by Bernie Sanders. We reached him today in Barcelona. John, welcome back.

John Nichols: It’s a great pleasure to be with you, Jon.

JW: The Democrats are expecting to lose that Joe Manchin seat in West Virginia. It’s the most pro-Trump state in the country. That takes us down to a 50/50 split in the Senate. And now Republicans are hoping to take a second Democratic seat in the blue state of Maryland where they are running the popular former Republican Governor Larry Hogan. But let’s start with the Democratic candidate in Maryland who won what we thought was going to be a close primary, Angela Alsobrooks. Tell us about Angela Alsobrooks and her victory.

JN: Well, she’s a remarkable candidate. She’s somebody who has come up the political ladder by hard work. She’s been an aide to political figures and then was elected as effectively a county executive in one of the major counties in Maryland. What happened with this Senate seat was that when it opened up, you saw a lot of very powerful, very nationally known figures consider running for the seat. And then they all backed off because there was a super rich guy, an owner of Total Wines, who was running. The feeling was that he was going to buy the seat, basically. That he was going to spend so much money in the race that everybody else decided it’s not worth making a try.

Alsobrooks decided that she would make the try, and she built a real grassroots campaign. She got outspent almost 10 to one. I want to emphasize that, almost 10 to one. And so what she had was her personality, which is very strong. She’s just a very effective politician. And then she had a lot of support because she’s well-liked in Maryland politics. People like Jamie Raskin and others backed her. But at the start of the race, I don’t think a lot of people thought she was going to come through. And her opponent stumbled at a number of turns. He proved to be not as effective a candidate as should be is often the case when you have a lot of money. End result is that she won kind of a landslide, very big victory in the primary, and now she is headed into that general election with Hogan.

JW: Maryland hasn’t elected a Republican senator since 1980. That’s 44 years ago. How with Trump at the top of the ticket could they hope to win that seat in a blue state this year? Please explain who Larry Hogan is and why he’s a serious threat in a reliably blue state.

JN: Larry Hogan is a multi-generational Maryland political figure. His dad was in politics. He got in as a relatively kind of a middle-aged guy, ran for governor, and got elected as a moderate Republican. The Maryland Democrats have had a lot of problems over the years, a lot of internal fights and squabbles. He took advantage of that. He got himself elected governor and he served a couple terms.  By most accounts, he was a popular governor. He not only won but then got himself reelected. That doesn’t mean he’s any kind of liberal; he wasn’t. Actually, some issues, some social issues, he’s rather conservative. But at the end of the day, he came away with a pretty good impression.

He left the governorship a couple of years ago, and he was a very anti-Trump Republican. So he made noises about running against Trump in the Republican primaries or perhaps about running as an independent candidate for president. So he really presented himself as sort of an anti-Trump kind of figure.

But then here’s the interesting twist on it, Jon. When the National Republican Party, this is Mitch McConnell and his crowd, when they came knocking, Larry Hogan suddenly became a Republican loyalist again. He said, “Yeah, I’ll be your candidate for the U.S. Senate for Maryland.” They said, “Well, great. You do get good poll numbers. We’re going to pour money into you. We’re going to make you a top tier candidate.” And so that’s what’s happened here. They have set Hogan up as supposedly somebody who is more of an independent minded guy. And it is true; as governor, he served as a somewhat more independent minded figure.

But the thing to understand about Larry Hogan and why this is going to be a complicated race, two big issues. Number one, if he is elected, his first vote will be to give Republicans control of the U.S. Senate. And so it doesn’t matter where he may stand on a particular issue. At the end of the day, he gives Republicans, and if by some chance Trump was elected president, Trump effective control of the Senate. So that’s a scary thing right off the bat. And the second thing is his record on abortion rights, which is such a critical issue this year, is actually quite weak.

JW: So in the Maryland Senate race, we have a popular Republican “moderate,” given the present Republican landscape.

JN: Yeah, let’s put some quotes around that word.

JW: In quotes. A white man who’s already been elected governor and reelected, running against a Black woman who has not held statewide office. That has to be a challenge for the Democrats. What is Angela Alsobrooks’s strategy? How can she win?

JN: Well, her strategy is to do exactly what she did in the primary, and that is to run as herself; smart, able, manager, good stands on the issues who’s willing to campaign really hard, go to the grassroots, knock on doors, do everything she has to do. So that’s the kind of campaign strategy side. She’s a very hard worker and a very effective campaigner. But then she’s got an issue, and her issue is going to be abortion rights. And the fact of the matter is that as governor, Hogan blocked funding for education programs about reproductive rights. And then when that funding was passed over his veto, he then refused to allocate the money. And so they’ve got some good fodder for a campaign that distinguishes Alsobrooks who is a very strong supporter of abortion rights with Hogan, who claims to be a supporter of abortion rights, but actually has a very shaky record.

JW: So let’s talk about some of the other states where democratic senators are running for re-election in toss-up states. The New York Times last week published a poll that shows Democrats ahead in four key swing states. Nevada, Jacky Rosen, incumbent Democrat, 40%; Sam Brown, 38%. And in Nevada, they’re going to have an abortion rights referendum on the ballot. It seems almost certain. Though twice as many signatures as required were submitted, I think last week. That will definitely help that Democratic turnout in Nevada.
Arizona, Ruben Gallego polls at 45%, Kari Lake 41%. This is that Kyrsten Sinema seat. Democrats won it six years ago. And two years ago, Kari Lake lost the governor’s race. Remind us who Kari Lake is.

JN: She is somebody who, if she wasn’t running for the Senate seat, would be a front-runner to be Donald Trump’s vice-presidential running mate. She is an incredibly right wing figure, former TV personality. She’s a very good campaigner, very effective on the stump. But the thing to understand her is that she takes stands that makes Trump look mainstream. She is extremely combative, and she still has not accepted the results of the gubernatorial election she lost two years ago, but now she’s running for US Senate. She is probably one of the most MAGA figures in the MAGA Republican Party.

JW: In short, Kari Lake is good news for the Democrats and Ruben Gallego in Arizona. Arizona also has an abortion rights referendum that has qualified for the ballot that will boost Democratic turnout there.
The other two states that The New York Times polled were Pennsylvania:Bob Casey, incumbent Democrat, 46%; David McCormick, his challenger, 41%.
And in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin is way ahead, 49%. Who’s the guy who’s running against her?

JN: A guy named Hovde, H-O-V-D-E. Mr. Hovde is a very interesting character. He was born and raised in Wisconsin, so give him that. But he has spent most of his adult life outside of Wisconsin living in Washington, and now for many, many years living in California where he’s a very prominent banker. He does TV ads in California wearing a cowboy hat as a kind of likable banker. I know that’s a hard thing to imagine, but he suddenly decided to come back to Wisconsin. And I got to tell you, you know, Jon, I live in Wisconsin. And I can just sum this up. He is running a really weird campaign. One of his first campaign moments, if you will, was a point where he broke some ice and then sat down in the ice in the frozen water and said that people should vote for him because he was doing a real Wisconsin thing sitting in a frozen lake. And basically every Wisconsinite I know said, “I never did that.” So he’s kind of a weird character to say the least.

JW: So in Wisconsin, we’re not too worried about Tammy Baldwin being reelected.

JN: Well, she would tell you to worry – because Tammy Baldwin’s never lost an election campaign. And the reason she’s never lost is she takes everyone very, very seriously.

JW: Probably the toughest state for Democrats, if not Maryland, is Montana where the incumbent Democrat Jon Tester, he’s been reelected twice, is being challenged by Tim Sheehy, endorsed by Trump. Tester describes him as an out-of-state multimillionaire from the Minneapolis suburbs. Doesn’t sound that bad to me, but I guess in Montana, this is a black mark against you. The latest polls show them nearly even. Sheehy has this interesting problem. He got shot in the arm. He originally said it was fighting in Afghanistan, but it has come to light that he also has said he accidentally shot himself in the arm in a parking lot in Glacier National Park. This is a story that’s hard to forget.

JN: Look, you know how we mentioned just about Hovde that he had spent an awful lot of time in California? Sheehy has spent a lot of time in places other than Montana, including Minnesota. Which I know in your mind makes him very, very qualified, but a lot of Montanan listeners should know that Jon’s got roots in Minnesota. But a lot of Montanans don’t really see that as an argument for electing someone.
Here’s the challenge in Montana, and it’s a big challenge. Montana is a state that will probably give Trump a twenty-point advantage this year. And so as a result, Tester has to make up a lot of ground. He’s got to get a lot of people who voted for Trump to vote for him. And that’s not very easy, because Tester has actually been a pretty mainstream Democratic senator. A little bit more conservative on guns and some things like that, but generally pretty much voting with the party.
The thing that Tester’s got going for him is he’s deeply rooted in Montana. He’s very, very closely related to Montana values. He’s a farmer, a working farmer. And so he’s got a good argument for himself. He has also beaten the odds again and again and again. And so as a result, I think he’s competitive. But this is one the Democrats are going to be watching right up through election day. This one, and also Ohio with Sherrod Brown.

JW: Yeah, let’s talk about Ohio. That’s probably the race that we care about the most. Sherrod Brown, hero of the working class. Again, reelected twice in a state that voted for Trump twice. The guy challenging him this time is Bernie Moreno, a self-financing candidate who’s basically a car dealer. One poll in March had Sherrod Brown comfortably ahead. Bernie Moreno is a wealthy immigrant from Columbia endorsed by Trump.

JN: Look, here’s the bottom line. Moreno, he’s running as a very conservative candidate. He in the past wasn’t as conservative. This is part of the function of what’s happened within the Republican Party, more Trump than Trump, and that’s what he’s trying to be. He’s got Trump’s backing. And in Ohio, that’s going to count for a lot. Where I was saying in Montana that Tester has to make up about a 20-point difference. He’s got to get a lot of those Trump voters to vote for him. In Ohio, it’s probably an eight to 10 point difference, still looking like a pretty good state for Trump.
The main thing that Brown is going to have to do is reach across those lines of partisanship to some of those folks who may be inclined to vote for Trump, but to say to him, “Look, one of the reasons you may be inclined to vote for Trump,” and remember, Brown is somebody who’s opposed Trump on just about every term, “is because you’re concerned about your jobs. You’re concerned about economics.” Well, there’s nobody in Ohio politics who has worked harder to defend Ohio jobs, particularly manufacturing jobs, than Sherrod Brown. And so he’s got a pretty good argument for people to stick with him. These are candidates who’ve beaten the odds in the past. They have won in years where their party sometimes struggles.
My sense with Brown is that he could pull this off. There’s no one in the Senate, no one, who has been more devoted to what he refers to as “the dignity of work” — this concept that people who work 40 hours a week ought to get a good salary, ought to have good benefits, ought to be cared for, be treated decently. He’s passionately pro-union, very parallel in many senses to Bernie Sanders on a host of issues.

JW: One last thing. Any chance for a Democratic pickup? Is there one Republican Democrats might be able to win? How about Texas? Ted Cruz?

JN: Yes.

JW: He’s being challenged by Representative Colin Allred, who is quite a substantial candidate. Tell us about that race.

JN: There’s no question that Allred is competitive. Because remember, nobody likes Ted Cruz.

JW: Nobody likes Ted Cruz.

JN: Right? Nobody likes him. In fact, literally, there are Republicans who have said, “I think I’m probably Ted Cruz’s best friend in the Senate, and I hate him.” It’s just like the guy has as a real problem. However, Texas is an incredibly Republican state still. It’s moving more toward the Democrats, but it isn’t there yet. And so that’s going to be a tough race. There’s no question. So Texas is a competitive state.
I would also say keep an eye on Florida. Florida has an abortion rights referendum on the ballot. They’ve got a Senate race. Rick Scott’s up. He’s got a credible Democratic opponent. There’s a possibility there.
And then also keep an eye on Missouri. Missouri also looks like it’s going to have an abortion rights referendum. And Lucas Kunce is the Democratic candidate there. He is a really impressive candidate going up against Josh Hawley.
And so when I look across the map, I think there are a number of places where Democrats have the potential for a pickup. But the thing is, this is a problem because Democrats are going to be spending so much of their time and energy to defending incumbents. It’s a question of, can they get the energy out there, can they get the resources to go after a pickup? The Democrats have been dealt the toughest hand you could as regards Senate races, so they got to be looking for any place that they could pick something up.

JW: John Nichols: read him at thenation.com. John, thanks for talking with us today.

JN: It’s a great honor to be with you, Jon.

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