David Nir

Democrats are on track to win both Georgia runoffs and retake the Senate

In an historic election with consequences that will reverberate for years, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are poised to flip two Republican-held Senate seats in Georgia and hand control of the chamber to Democrats for the first time since 2014.

With most votes tallied, Warnock held a small but insurmountable lead on his Republican opponent, Kelly Loeffler, and declared victory. Ossoff trailed Republican David Perdue by the narrowest of margins but is all but assured of taking the lead when the remaining ballots are counted, since they are almost all in blue counties.

Warnock, a pastor who holds the pulpit at Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, would not only become Georgia's first-ever Black senator but also the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from a state of the old Confederacy. Meanwhile, Ossoff, an investigative journalist who shot to prominence in a 2017 special election for the House, would be the first Jewish senator elected from the Deep South, and, at just 33, the youngest Democrat in the Senate since none other than Joe Biden.

The likely victories cap off a remarkable election cycle that saw Biden become the first Democrat to carry Georgia's electoral votes since Bill Clinton in 1992. They would also see Democrats reverse a long history of desultory turnout in runoff elections, which were originally put in place precisely to prevent Black candidates from winning office, making Warnock's impending win all the more extraordinary.

This unlikely turn of events was powered by major shifts in Georgia's electorate, which has both grown more diverse in recent years and seen many once-loyal Republican voters abandon their party out of disgust with Donald Trump. When Democrats last won a Senate seat in Georgia 20 years ago, the victor was the notoriously conservative Zell Miller, who later went on to serve as a keynote speaker for George W. Bush at the Republican National Convention in 2004.

Warnock and Ossoff, by contrast, ran campaigns that reflected a newer South and affirmed mainstream progressive values, including support for $2,000 COVID relief checks—an issue that became central in the final days of the race and put both Republicans at odds with Trump.

Most consequentially, if Warnock and Ossoff's victories hold up, Democrats will find themselves in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade. While many challenges will await, this alone will remove the biggest obstacle to Democratic priorities—including Biden's cabinet appointments and judicial nominations—by deposing Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader.

The durability of Georgia's political transformation will be tested again soon: Because the Warnock-Loeffler race was a special election for the final two years of former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson's term, Warnock would have to run again for a full six-year term in 2022. Ossoff, by contrast, would not go before voters again until 2026.

P.S. The last time a state's entire Senate delegation changed hands on the same night was in November of 1994, when Republicans won a pair of elections in Tennessee, including a special election for the seat that had previously been held by Al Gore.

Analysts create AI tool that can distinguish between conspiracy theories and real conspiracies

Researchers compared data from a real conspiracy—the "Bridgegate" political payback scheme in which New Jersey political operatives closed down lanes on the George Washington Bridge—with those from "Pizzagate" conspiracy theories to create an artificial intelligence tool.

The eternal problem with conspiracy theories is that we know from both history and current events that there are very real conspiracies at work in the world. How can we distinguish them from the utterly fabricated fantasies that comprise the entirety of the conspiracy-theory universe?

There are some simple ways to distinguish them, but they are also fairly crude and generalized rules, and the distinctions can sometimes be nuanced. So researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have devised an artificial intelligence tool that can help people figure out whether they're tapping into an actual conspiracy or just participating in a cockamamie fantasy.

Cal Berkeley cultural analyst Timothy Tangherlini and his team "developed an automated approach to determining when conversations on social media reflect the telltale signs of conspiracy theorizing," using machine learning tools capable of identifying narratives "based on sets of people, places, and things and their relationships," with the hope of forming "the basis of an early warning system to alert authorities to online narratives that pose a threat in the real world."

Once the layers of the narrative are identified, the model determines how they come together to form the narrative as a whole. It can then map all this data out into charts that show utterly distinct shapes for actual conspiracies and conspiracy theories—indeed, showing that they have little in common.

There are some useful rules of thumb already available for distinguishing between a real conspiracy and a conspiracy theory, beyond recognizing that the former has a reasonable likelihood of being real, while the latter is almost certainly a falsehood intended to scapegoat other people. As I explain in my book Red Pill, Blue Pill: How to Counteract the Conspiracy Theories That Are Killing Us, we're already capable of distinguishing them based on the basic parameters imposed by reality upon conspiracies:

Real conspiracies, by their very nature (including their dependence on secrecy), have three major limitations:
  • Scope. Their purpose is usually to achieve only one or two ends, often narrow in nature.
  • Time. Their actions necessarily occur within a relatively short time frame.
  • Number of participants. All successful conspiracies are the product of only a tiny handful of people.
As the boundaries of all three of these limits increase, however, the likelihood of the conspiracy failing or being exposed rises exponentially. The broader the reach—if it attempts too much—the more likely it is to meet failure simply as a matter of raw odds and the nature of institutional inertia. The longer it takes, the greater the risk of exposure, not to mention for components of the conspiracy to go awry. Similar issues arise when increasing numbers of people are involved in the conspiracy, both the likelihood that they will fail to complete their part of the conspiracy as well as the growing chances of exposure. And exposure is fatal to every conspiracy: once the secret is out, it's no longer a viable plan of action.
Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, almost universally feature qualities that contrast sharply with these limits.
  • They are broad-ranging in nature, and frequently boil down to (or play key roles in) a massive plot to enslave, murder, or politically oppress all of mankind or at least large numbers of people.
  • They are believed to have existed for long periods of time, in some cases for hundreds of years.
  • They involve large numbers of people, notably significant numbers of participants in high positions in government or the bureaucracy.
  • The long-term success of these conspiracies is always credited to willing dupes in the media and elsewhere.

The Cal Berkeley AI model largely reflects these same parameters when it goes to work. The team studied three primary and sometimes overlapping zones of the conspiracy-theory universe: Pizzagate, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the anti-vaccination movement. (It's currently applying to the tool to the QAnon conspiracy cult; the results should be interesting.)

The Pizzagate world (which is closely related to the QAnon phenomenon) was particularly rich with data:

We analyzed 17,498 posts from April 2016 through February 2018 on the Reddit and 4chan forums where Pizzagate was discussed. The model treats each post as a fragment of a hidden story and sets about to uncover the narrative. The software identifies the people, places and things in the posts and determines which are major elements, which are minor elements and how they're all connected.

The analysts then also examined the same kinds of data regarding the so-called "Bridgegate" conspiracy—a very real political payback operation in which New Jersey public officials, mainly members of then-Gov. Chris Christie's staff, deliberately created traffic jams by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge. The results show the unmistakable differences in basic structure of the respective narratives, and how the facile appearance of similarities between conspiracy theories and the real thing falls apart in ways similar to the theories themselves.

Conspiracy theories, the researchers found, are collaboratively constructed and form quickly. "Actual conspiracies are deliberately hidden, real-life actions of people working together for their own malign purposes," Tangherlini explains. "In contrast, conspiracy theories are collaboratively constructed and develop in the open."

Conspiracy theories are deliberately complex and reflect an all-encompassing worldview. Instead of trying to explain one thing, a conspiracy theory tries to explain everything, discovering connections across domains of human interaction that are otherwise hidden — mostly because they do not exist.
While the popular image of the conspiracy theorist is of a lone wolf piecing together puzzling connections with photographs and red string, that image no longer applies in the age of social media. Conspiracy theorizing has moved online and is now the end product of a collective storytelling. The participants work out the parameters of a narrative framework: the people, places and things of a story and their relationships.

By mapping out how these conspiracy theories originate and spread—and particularly the networks through which they are generated—analysts may be able to anticipate when they explode into their inevitable real-world violence. More to the point, it can help researchers identify the wellsprings of misinformation on social media and elsewhere so that those spigots can be shut off.

As I explain in Red Pill, Blue Pill:

Conspiracy theories are a problem for healthy democracies not only because they encourage people to disengage from their communities and abjure their political franchise by discarding it all as useless, but also because they represent serious pollution of the information stream. Democracies rely on robust debate, but that "marketplace of ideas" cannot function if the debate is founded on falsehoods, smears, and the wild speculations that all combine to take the place of established facts in any discourse with conspiracy theorists.

No longer ‘standing by,’ Proud Boys bring politics of intimidation to streets in defense of Trump

The violence following the November 14 'Million MAGA March' in Washington, D.C., helped establish a pattern for Proud Boys violence that's now expanded to other American cities.

It's become apparent that, even as Donald Trump tries to deny reality and continue claiming he won the election, the hate group that he ordered, on national television, to "stand back and stand by" now considers (per leadership's statements that "standby order has been rescinded," as well as other threatening statements on social media) those orders null and void: The Proud Boys are now playing the role of Trump's goon-squad defenders in the streets—and appear unlikely to stop anytime soon.

Following the initial burst of Proud Boy violence in Washington, D.C., during and after the "Million MAGA March" of November 14, the familiar black-and-yellow polos, red MAGA hats and thug tactics have been showing up on the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina; Sacramento, California; and Staten Island, New York. At each event, brawls broke out amid overheated rhetoric, much of it in Trump's defense.

The violence follows the pattern established over the previous four years—right-wing extremists organizing gangs of out-of-town thugs from rural and exurban areas to invade liberal urban centers on vague political pretexts in order to engage in threatening acts of intimidation and provoke violence that they can then blame on "antifa" and "left." And as with all those events, the Proud Boys' presence has been to act as street enforcers for a variety of far-right causes: Denouncing the election results, protesting about COVID-19 public-health measures, or whatever else might be the right-wing grievance du jour.

Mostly, it's about creating fear and violence on behalf of a white-nationalist agenda. That's what the Proud Boys exist for, and it's why the Southern Poverty Law Center lists them as a "general" hate group.

All during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Proud Boys have been whipping up a sense of public intimidation at the liberal cities where they hold rallies while spreading conspiracist misinformation about the virus, its spread, and the government orders to intended to fight it. These appearances have been part of the Proud Boys' steady drumbeat of bringing the politics of thuggery to American cities throughout 2020, as the Institute for Education and Research on Human Rights has mapped out in detail, for a variety of ostensible causes.

In Raleigh last weekend, Proud Boys came out to protest North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper's pandemic-related business restrictions, particularly those on indoor gatherings. Calling it a "Pilgrims and Patriots Thanksgiving in Raleigh" event, organizers with Reopen Carolina joined arms with the Proud Boys and a Latinos for Trump group at the state Capitol. Then, as usual, they proceeded to provoke brawls with counterprotesters who held an event called "Racists Out Of Raleigh."

There were no fights, since police kept the two sides separated assiduously. So the Proud Boys turned their thug tactics to the press who came to cover the event, including a reporter for the Indy who they harassed. Their report describes it:

A man in a Proud Boys bandana kept the INDY reporter from recording speeches by putting his hand in front of the camera, while others around pretended to sneeze. A woman in a white tank top and MAGA hat also told the reporter to leave. This happened a second time once the group was back at the Jones Street corner; this time, the man who had been blocking the camera told the reporter, "we can ask you to leave, or we can make you leave."

Proud Boys also showed up at another COVID-related protest in Staten Island—this time outside Mac's Public House, a tavern that had recently been busted for offering food and drinks beyond a 10 p.m. cutoff time mandated by New York City officials. A large, entirely maskless crowd gathered outside the pub on Wednesday night to protest the charges.

Inside the pub, there were chants of "Proud Boys in the house." According to the New York Post, a speaker also led a Proud Boys chant: "I am a proud Western Chauvinist." Afterwards, they segued into singing Queen's "We Will Rock You."

According to The Sun, protesters blamed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for the pandemic measures, with signs reading "Dictator Cuomo." One protester shouted at cops through a megaphone: "Where is your backbone? Where is your morality?"

The event in Sacramento had nothing to do with COVID, but instead was entirely a protest of the election results, and an insistence that Trump won the election—and heavily populated by Proud Boys and their militia cohort. One of the Proud Boys told the crowd that the organization's role was to defend "people like you that come out to rallies."

As Capital Radio reporter Scott Rodd observed, those were hollow words:

But the Proud Boys also played the aggressor. CapRadio observed one Proud Boy take a swing at a member of the press for filming him. Other members, after the demonstrators returned to the barricaded area near the Capitol, remained outside the perimeter and instigated counter-protesters and passersby. Several chased after one counter-protester. Some also followed and taunted observers from the National Lawyers Guild.

By day's end, multiple brawls had broken out, and police—who declared an unlawful assembly and issued a dispersal order—reported one arrest on "assault-related charges."

Reporter Gabe Stutman of Jewish Weekly was also present, and watched as, after their rally speeches ended, "they spilled into the streets of downtown Sacramento, chanting 'Whose streets? Our streets!' and 'F*ck antifa!' while butting up against police cordons that blocked their path. The demonstrators exchanged insults and threats with roughly a dozen people identified as part of antifa ..."

Stutman notes that "each protest has followed a similar pattern," one familiar to reporters covering Proud Boys events elsewhere: First, a peaceful demonstration with speeches in a public space, followed by a march into downtown or other urban areas with the intent of brawling with counterprotesters—or, for that matter, anyone who shouts at them or protests them.

The San Francisco-based office of the ADL for the Central Pacific region issued a statement decrying the event: "First, they bring attention and possibly attract new adherents to extremist agendas and groups like the Proud Boys," it read. "Second, their provocative and divisive rhetoric can and does lead to violence, as we saw in Sacramento and elsewhere."

Stutman also described getting the intimidation treatment from a right-wing protester, who shouted insults and blocked his cell-phone-camera lens. When Stutman asked if he was a Proud Boy, the man responded: "I'm a white boy, motherf*cker."

Veterans swung heavily toward Joe Biden this year. Democrats must keep that forward momentum

While the 2020 exit polls have not yet been finalized, we can already say with certainty that Americans who have served in the military shifted their political preferences dramatically over the last four years. In 2016, voters who served in the armed forces supported Donald Trump by a wide 60-34 margin, but preliminary data from this year shows that this same group gave Trump a much narrower 54-44 edge. In all, that's a 16-point swing—far wider than the national shift in the popular vote over the same timespan.

The reasons for this surge are many. One preelection poll found, for instance, that active-duty service members took dim views of Trump's dismissive approach to reports that the Russian government placed bounties on the heads of American troops in Afghanistan. These same respondents disagreed even more sharply with Trump's desire to send the military into American cities during protests against police violence targeting Black people this summer.

Trump's animosity toward those who've served in uniform, of course, is longstanding. From obtaining a bogus draft deferment for alleged "bone spurs" to calling his effort to avoid sexually transmitted diseases "my personal Vietnam" to smearing the late Sen. John McCain by saying "I like people who weren't captured," he has never tried to hide his disgust for those who would sacrifice for this country. That he's engendered a hostile response is no surprise.

But it's not only about Trump. Our military is more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before—more diverse, in fact, than the country as a whole—and the share of women serving has soared. Service members are all too often stereotyped and misunderstood as uniformly hawkish and conservative, but this election should shatter those preconceptions.

What matters most now is that the Democratic Party capitalize on this success. Organizations like VoteVets and National Security Leaders for Biden have played a crucial role in this transformation, but Democrats can't declare "mission accomplished" and move on. Veterans, according to the exit polling, made up 15% of the electorate this year. They're a group too large and too important to only court every four years.

Politically, Democrats will benefit if more and more members of the armed forces and their families trust the party. But the country would benefit, too, if our military also reflected our nation's political diversity, which is why this work must continue.

Mitch McConnell should be very worried about the Senate. Here's why

It's almost hard to believe: Joe Biden is on the verge of turning Georgia blue, making him the first Democratic candidate for president to do so since 1992. It caps a remarkable transformation for a fast-diversifying state that had long seemed on the brink of flipping but had never quite gotten there—until now.

It also has enormous implications for the future of our country. Biden's impending Peach State victory is icing on his electoral cake, of course, since he's already locked down the 270 electoral votes that have made him president-elect. (And how was your Saturday? Mine was pretty swell!) The most important thing it signals, rather, is that Democrats can win the two all-important runoffs for the Senate that are slated for Jan. 5.

The math is simple: Republicans currently hold or lead in races for 50 Senate seats while Democrats have secured 48 seats. If Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win their respective contests in January, that'll make for a 50-50 split, with ties broken by (say it with me now!) Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

These will both be very difficult races, no doubt about it. But Biden has just shown us that there is indeed a path for Democrats to prevail in Georgia. And while Donald Trump demoralizes his supporters by essentially telling them that elections are pointless, Democrats are fired up and energized by Biden's success like never before.

The vision of a blue Georgia has long been a dream. Joe Biden just helped turn it into a reality. Now it's up to us to continue the progress we've already made.

We need to smash the GOP pipeline that produces sycophantic senators. Here's how to do it

Thom Tillis is one of the worst of the worst. The Republican senator from North Carolina has always been a mindless zealot for the conservative cause, but while he's now fighting for his political life as he seeks reelection in a race that could decide control of the Senate, it's critical we remember that craven cowards like him don't just spring forth from nowhere.

Rather, they're cultivated and groomed by the dark architects of the GOP agenda—and the favorite petri dish for the Kochs and their ilk are our state legislatures. That's exactly where Tillis was incubated: For many years before he joined the Senate in 2015, he was a member of the North Carolina state House and was ultimately rewarded for his fealty by getting elevated to speaker.

While he ruled the roost, Tillis did every awful thing imaginable: He blocked Medicaid expansion. He endorsed "personhood" legislation, passed a law requiring women seeking abortions to undergo invasive ultrasounds, and argued states had the right to ban certain types of birth control. He pushed to open up North Carolina's coasts to offshore drilling, said climate change isn't real, and passed a law preventing the state from considering climate science on sea-level rise when making policy. And most notoriously, he enacted a massive voter suppression package that a federal court later struck down, saying it had sought to "target African Americans with almost surgical precision."

With a record like this, it's no wonder he was perfect fodder when Republicans were looking for a Senate candidate six years ago, and it's likewise no surprise that he's performed his duties as a willing Trump sycophant so ably.

But here's the worst part: Thom Tillis never faced a single Democratic opponent in each of his four elections to the legislature. He was unopposed in the general election every single time. And this isn't an isolated story. Far, far too many Republican lawmakers get off with little or no opposition year in and year out. It's why the GOP has been so successful in developing its farm system, producing an endless string of zealots eager to wreck democracy and bow down before Trump.

It's also precisely why we have to crush this pipeline—half of all members of the Senate got their start in state legislatures. The good news is that North Carolina Democrats have put up a fantastic array of candidates for both the state House and Senate this year, and it offers us a three-fer: We can stop the next generation of Thom Tillises, we can develop our own bench, and we can flip both legislative chambers in this crucial swing state right before redistricting starts.

New polling shows Democrats poised to flip the Texas state House — yes, Texas

Reform Austin, a local news site, has released a giant batch of polls testing 22 different races for the Texas state House, and the numbers are eye-popping: Democrats need to flip nine GOP seats to take a majority next month … and they have the lead in 11 Republican-held seats. What's more, five potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbents are also comfortably ahead of their opponents.

That means Democrats are on track to generate the biggest political earthquake in the Lone Star State in a generation. Take a look at the poll results from those 11 Republican districts:

And several more seats are also very close. This really is possible, folks: We could break the GOP's iron lock on the largest red state in the country and bring their entire agenda to a crashing halt.

But it's also extremely possible that it won't happen. Republicans still have a cash advantage over Democrats, and their dark money allies are spending heavily to protect this all-important bastion of far-right conservatism. It's up to us to make sure our team has the resources it needs to fight back over the final weeks of the campaign.

Turning Texas blue has long been a progressive dream. We stand at the threshold of making that dream a reality. Let's do it.

This race could have a major impact on climate change — and give Texas Democrats a statewide win

As Lone Star Democrats seek their first statewide victory in more than a quarter century, their best hope may be Chrysta Castañeda, who's running for a spot on an agency many people haven't heard of: the Texas Railroad Commission.

Despite the name, the commission doesn't actually oversee trains, but it does have jurisdiction over something even more important in Texas: the state's energy industry (oversight of the rails was handed to the state's Department of Transportation in 2005). The panel, often known as the "RRC," is made up of three members, each elected statewide for six-year terms.

The last time a Democrat won a seat on the board was in 1990, when former Rep. Bob Krueger beat a Republican opponent by 56-40 margin. Krueger wound up resigning to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate when Lloyd Bentsen became Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary, and Republicans comfortably beat his appointed successor in 1994.

Ever since, the GOP has held all three seats, but Republicans were already preparing for a serious battle this year—which, ironically, might have made their situation even worse. Republican Ryan Sitton, who first won a slot on the RRC in 2014, had stockpiled $2 million in his war chest for the general election, but in March, he lost his primary in an absolute shocker to an unknown named Jim Wright, the owner of an oilfield waste disposal company who had raised less than $13,000.

The 55-45 loss was so inexplicable that some political observers wondered if Wright benefited from sharing a name with the one-time speaker of the House who hailed from Fort Worth, the late Democrat Jim Wright, who died in 2015. It's not such a crazy theory: Perennial candidate Gene Kelly won multiple Texas primaries in the previous decade because voters had him confused with the beloved dancer.

Whatever the explanation, though, Wright's victory has left Republicans with a suddenly open seat and a badly flawed candidate. The RRC—the very body that Wright wants to join—fined him $182,000 for improper storage of hazardous waste in 2017, and he's been sued by his former business partners for fraud stemming from the mess.

Castañeda, an oil and gas attorney, took aim at Wright for his record in her first ad of the race, which went up last month, but the main topic she's focusing on is the issue of "flaring." That refers to the practice of oil producers burning off unwanted natural gas from their wells rather than capturing it for later use, a process that is both environmentally harmful and economically wasteful.

It's also against the law—unless a driller is granted a special permit, of which 7,000 were handed out last year. As Castañeda notes, such permits can only be granted if all three members of the commission agree, meaning she could single-handedly put an end to flaring even if Republicans still hold a nominal 2-1 majority on the board next year.

With this backdrop, The New Republic recently called this race "this year's most important election for American climate policy." It could also finally put an end to the longest statewide losing streak for Democrats anywhere in the nation.

Trump campaign is plotting to steal Pennsylvania's electoral votes — here's how we can stop him cold

It was one of the most chilling stories in a campaign that's already been one of the most disturbing of all time: Just last week, The Atlantic reported that Donald Trump's campaign is preparing to ask Republican lawmakers in swing states they control to ignore the popular vote and appoint members to the Electoral College who will vote for Trump—a power explicitly reserved to state legislatures under the Constitution.

Making this nascent effort to slaughter democracy even more alarming, the chair of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania—one of the most critical states up for grabs in the 2020 elections—openly admitted that he'd talked to the Trump campaign about this very possibility. "I hope they're thinking about it," Lawrence Tabas said. "It is one of the available legal options set forth in the Constitution." And state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, one of the men who'd be responsible for implementing such a scheme, refused to rule the idea out.

But we can stop this despicable plot dead in its tracks by flipping just one chamber of the Pennsylvania legislature, making it impossible for the GOP to defy the will of the people. That's because new legislators in the Keystone State assume office on Dec. 1 every even-numbered year under the state constitution—a much earlier date than in most other states, which typically defer the changing of the guard until January.

Crucially, election results in Pennsylvania typically are not certified until later in December: In 2016, for instance, the Department of State finalized that year's results—and with them the state's slate of electors—on Dec. 12. No matter how dastardly they're feeling, Republicans will have a hell of a time if they try to put forth their own set of electors before election officials even have a chance to finish counting the votes.

That, relatively speaking, is the simple part. The hard part is actually beating Republicans, because they've gerrymandered the district lines to within an inch of their lives. But despite the rigged maps, Democrats made big gains in Pennsylvania two years ago, and they're fielding a fantastic slate of candidates this fall. To capitalize on this energy, Daily Kos has endorsed 11 fierce progressives running for the state House, where we need to win nine GOP-held seats in order to take the chamber:

Emily Skopov
Marlene Katz
Lissa Shulman
Michele Knoll

Brittney Rodas
Lindsay Drew
Nancy Guenst

Anton Andrew
Deb Ciamacca
Claudette Williams
Ann Marie Mitchell

Pennsylvania Republicans know that for Trump to cling to power, they have to cling to power, too, and they'll use every nasty trick they can come up with—and then some. But together, we can make sure our candidates have the resources they need to fight back against the GOP dirty money machine by countering corporate cash with people power. Nothing less than the fate of our democracy depends on it.

How a mask mandate might hurt the re-election chances of Indiana's Republican governor

The Associated Press recently reported that Indiana conservatives who are furious with Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb over his statewide mask mandate are cottoning to Libertarian Donald Rainwater as an alternative, which could make this fall's otherwise snoozy race for governor unexpectedly competitive.

Normally, we'd be skeptical of a largely anecdotal report like this one, but a few pieces of evidence are tugging us the other way. One is a poll earlier this month from Change Research on behalf of the local news site Indy Politics that found Holcomb leading Democrat Woody Myers just 36-30, with Rainwater taking 24%. That's an almost impossibly high figure for a third-party candidate, so the numbers should be viewed with great caution, but it does suggest that there could be a real outflow of support to Rainwater.

More concretely, the AP says that Rainwater has enjoyed unexpectedly strong fundraising and will start advertising on cable and radio this week—something Indiana Libertarians haven't done in "many years," according to his campaign manager. Rainwater had just $6,000 in hand as of Aug. 5, but he's reported some major donations in the last few days, capped off by a $100,000 check from hedge fund manager and poker player Bill Perkins. (Perkins' father, also named Bill, was a Democratic assemblyman in New Jersey in the 1970s, though the younger Perkins has mostly given to Libertarian causes.)

Holcomb also seems to be reacting to this rebellion on his right flank, in the worst possible way: Even though coronavirus case counts in the state remain near record highs, the governor just announced the suspension of nearly all restrictions aimed at stemming the pandemic, including allowing restaurants, bars, and gyms to operate at full capacity. Public health experts, unsurprisingly, expressed deep concern over the move.

Holcomb did, however, renew his mask order, which is likely to perpetuate right-wing furor. As Paul Krugman recently put it, opposition to masks has become "a declaration of political allegiance" to Donald Trump, and if there's one thing we know hardcore Republican voters won't tolerate, it's disloyalty to Trump. We'll still want to see further polling from other outfits before concluding there's real movement in the Hoosier State, but this race bears watching.

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