A dry running. A dress rehearsal. A practice shot. As the first anniversary of the Jan.6 uprising on Capitol Hill approaches, warnings abound of the danger of a repeat by Republicans.
But even as Donald Trump loyalists besiege democracy with voting restrictions and attempt to take over the conduct of the election, there are fears that Democrats in Washington have not fully realized the threat.
“At the state level we are talking about it, but Democrats at the national level are talking about Build Back Better, the infrastructure bill, a lot of other things,” said Tony Evers, Democratic Governor of Wisconsin. . “When we think of voting rights and democracy, I hope we will hear a little more of it at the national level. “
Hopes that the attack on Capitol Hill would shatter the Trumpist fever in the Republican Party were quickly dashed. All but a handful of its members in Congress voted against an 11/9 type commission to investigate the riot and many nationwide have played it down, rallying to the defense of the former President.
But it’s a state-by-state, county-by-county, and constituency-by-constituency battle of attrition that could pose the biggest threat to the next election in 2024, a potential revenge between Trump and Joe Biden.
An avalanche of voter suppression laws are being passed in Republican-led states, from Arizona to Florida to Georgia and New Hampshire. Gerrymandered maps are being developed to form districts where demographics favor Republican candidates.
Supporters of Trump’s big lie about a stolen election are running for secretary of state in many places, from which they would serve as chief electoral officer in their state. Trump has endorsed such candidates in Michigan, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada – all crucial pivotal states.
The all-out assault suggests that Trump and his allies have learned lessons from their unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, identifying weaknesses in the system and laying the groundwork for a different outcome next time around.
Dean Phillips, a member of the Democratic Congress from Minnesota, said: “It appears that Plan B is populating elected offices in the state with supporters of the Big Lie and morally corrupt candidates. We should all be concerned about this and, by the way, not just Democrats: everyone. “
Yet despite waves of media coverage – including recently Atlantic magazine and the Guardian and New York Times newspapers – Democrats face the challenge of making their constituents care. Many are faced with inflation, crime, and other priorities and may assume that after defeating Trump last year, they may stop paying attention.
Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said: “It is still very difficult to imagine the gravity and the depth of what Donald Trump has attempted to achieve. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize something when it is new. For the President of the United States, attempting to stage a coup is unprecedented. It’s hard for people to understand. “
Inslee described Trump as “a clear and present danger” who “is trying to remove the obstacles that saved democracy last time.” State governors are not the only ones sounding the alarm bells about the dangers of complacency or assuming normal service has resumed.
Jena Griswold, a Colorado Democrat seeking re-election, is president of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, which focuses on electing Democrats to those positions. She said that while there has been an increase in activist and donor attention for these races, “it’s not enough.”
“I think one of the problems that arises is that because it’s the United States, the idea that our most basic freedom to live in a democracy is threatened, is hard to really grasp,” he said. she declared. “It’s important that we continue to lean because the people on the other side are definitely leaning.”
In Michigan, one of the top candidates in the Republican field is Kristina Kamaro, who spread lies about Jan.6 and the election. She is seeking to oust Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who became one of the most prominent secretaries of state in 2020 when she took steps to facilitate postal voting in her state.
Like Griswold, Benson, who describes himself as “clearly not partisan,” said he noticed increased interest from voters and independent donors, but not from the National Democratic Party.
“We don’t see the same sense of urgency that maybe ‘the other side’ has shown by investing in these offices,” she said. “With the exception of the Vice-President, who has supported me enormously and understands the importance of these functions from a voting rights perspective, I have not seen a significant increase in the support of national party leaders. compared to what we experienced in 2018, which was not insignificant. “
Acolytes of the so-called ‘Stop the Steal’ movement are digging deeper into their research, targeting local election watchdogs that have traditionally been non-partisan and under-noticed, with only a few hundred votes at stake and often unopposed candidates. . However, these too could draw on the threads of the democratic fabric.
In Pennsylvania, for example, there are fears that election deniers will run for a job called an election judge, a little-known position that plays a huge role in determining how things play out on election day.
Scott Seeborg, Pennsylvania state director of All Voting is Local, a voting rights group, said the role is essentially the highest position at the precinct polling station on election day . They could cause huge disruption at polling stations depending on how the office holder interprets the rules regarding the identification and cancellation of mail-in ballots, he added.
Seeborg agreed that not enough attention was paid to these local races. “There is no precedent for this, as far as we know in some sort of modern election history,” he said. “I don’t think people anticipated it, I don’t know how seriously entities like the Democratic Party take this, but they should.”
Similar concerns emerged earlier this week when the grassroots movement Indivisible hosted a focus group with members from Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina and elsewhere.
Ezra Levin, co-founder and co-executive director of the group, said: “They worry about their governors, they worry about their secretaries of state and they worry even on a more local level of matters before. non-partisan or non-controversial. Election administration officials are taken in by a well-funded and highly targeted operation led by people who have embraced the big lie.
“These are not positions, especially at the local level, that are getting so much attention, but it is real. We see Steve Bannon [former White House chief of staff, now a rightwing podcaster] trying to lead the charge, getting people to occupy the lower levels of the electoral administration ecosystem. It is happening before our eyes.
Levin, a former congressman, noted that the Democratic Party is not a monolith, but warned that Biden had devoted his political capital – traveling the country to make speeches, hold meetings on Capitol Hill – to causes such as infrastructure rather than the future of democracy. .
“The big piece of the puzzle missing in this whole fight over the past 11 months has been the president.“
Pressure on the Senate to act intensified this week when 17 governors wrote a joint letter expressing concern over threats to the country’s democracy. Evers from Wisconsin was among them.
In a phone interview, he said Democrats in his crucial battleground state are highlighting “the full-throated attack on voting rights,” but acknowledged voters have many other concerns.
“Everyone talks about it, but when they come back from the capital and visit people, I guess the conversation is about more things like ‘I want my roads fixed’ and ‘Thanks for cutting back. taxes, ”Evers added.