Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard have lots of reasons to vent their rage on this week's episode of "The Downballot." First up: Alabama Republicans, who defied a court order to pass a new congressional map with two Black-majority districts—which the state's Republican governor all but admitted they did deliberately. Then there are Ohio Republicans, whose attempt to curtail citizens' rights to pass ballot initiatives is on the verge of going down in flames. Finally, we've got Missouri Republicans, who just got unanimously spanked by the state Supreme Court for trying to thwart an abortion rights amendment.
But it's not all fury from the Davids. There's also some shockingly good polling for Democrats in Kentucky's race for governor—conducted by, believe it or not, a GOP firm. And finally, we have some surprise good news from overseas, where Spain's center-left Socialists appear to have pulled a rabbit out of their hats in a gutsy snap election that had looked like their doom.
Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show—new episodes every Thursday! You'll find a complete transcript of this week's episode just below.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.
David Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. “The Downballot” is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. Please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review.
Beard: I'm back this week and it seems like we have a lot to talk about.
Nir: We have a ton to hit, including the latest Republican B.S. hijinks regarding redistricting in Alabama; a surprising development that might undermine the candidacy of a far-right contender for Montana's Senate race; some polling out of the Kentucky governor's race that does not look good for Republicans at all. Then we have a couple of abortion-related ballot measures in Ohio and Missouri where progressives got good news in both states. And finally, we're going to wrap up with an overseas election in Spain where the center-left Socialists wound up pulling a rabbit out of their hat in an election they were widely predicted to lose. We have a huge jam-packed episode coming up for you right away. We are going to get rolling after the break in just a moment.
Beard: Well, it may be the heat of summer, but there's still a ton of political news going on as we look toward elections this year and of course big elections next year. And so we've got a ton to cover. We're going to do a supersized weekly hits this week, and we're going to start in Alabama where we've been starting so often. So take it away, Nir.
Nir: Oh my God, I am so exercised and angry about what is going on in Alabama. Let me just say it is total fucking bullshit. And what's astonishing is that Republicans are admitting to the bullshit. If you have not followed this story, wow. So what you do know from listening to “The Downballot” is that Republicans were ordered to redraw their congressional map to create a second district where Black voters could elect their preferred candidates and the court told them that means creating two districts with a Black voting majority or “something close to it.”
Alabama Republicans passed a new map last week with one district with a Black majority and the other district with a Black majority of 39.9%. It is so flagrantly in violation of what the court said, but here is the real kicker. Look, Beard, you and I know, and probably frankly anyone paying attention to this story, we know what the intention of Republicans in the legislature was.
We just, if we're going to be responsible commentators, we just can't say it out loud. Except Alabama's Republican governor, Kay Ivey, did say it out loud and I was just so gobsmacked all weekend long. She issued this statement on Friday afternoon, and I just have to read it out loud. So here's her statement in full. She said, "Following the U.S. Supreme Court order, I called the Alabama legislature into a special session to readdress our congressional map. The legislature knows our state, our people, and our districts better than the federal courts or activist groups. And I am pleased that they answered the call, remained focused and produced new districts ahead of the court deadline." The legislature knows our state better than the federal courts that just delivered an order backed up by the Supreme Court to do something else. I mean, Ivey is pretty much straight-up saying, "Yeah, we just decided to ignore the court order." She's saying the quiet part loud. I still can't get over it.
Beard: And all these Republicans have been so upset about Democrats denigrating the Supreme Court in the past couple of years, and here she goes, denigrating the Supreme Court we're supposed to have so high and mighty. It's so inconsistent with what we hear from Republicans nowadays, and of course, it's just because they got a result that they didn't like. For once, the Republicans didn't get the Supreme Court to do exactly what they wanted that was best for them politically. And so instead of just being upset but still doing it, they've decided that they're going to fight to the very last and force the courts to implement a map on them, try to appeal that up and see if they could get Brett Kavanaugh to change his mind because he's unhappy with whatever map the special master put in or something.
It's just really immature in addition to all of the more nefarious aspects to it, to not just do what you've been ordered to do by the courts, and instead sort of throw up your hands and being like, "Well, they don't get it. They're not from Alabama." When it is district court judges, the majority of whom are from Alabama, who made the original ruling that found all the factual parts of this case. And so the idea that the legislature is going to know more, who's politically motivated here, than the judges who actually went through and resolved this case is crazy. And it's all just political bullshit. And the courts are going to implement a fair map as long as the Supreme Court doesn't decide, oh, let's go back to being a Republican arm of the government.
Nir: And I think it's even worse than that. When I read this statement to my girlfriend, she said, "Was that delivered in front of a schoolhouse door?" I mean, it feels like it's George Wallace time again here that both defy court orders like massive resistance to orders to integrate. But also this line about activist groups is just really, really disgusting and absolutely in my mind is a racist dog whistle. Reminds me of “outside agitators” who the southern segregationists always blamed for any civil unrest or protests. The plaintiffs here are Black citizens of Alabama, and they include members of the legislature, and Ivey is trying to “other” them. To say that they don't count, that they don't matter, that they're just a bunch of activist groups. I think that they are going to get smacked down really hard. This three-judge panel, even though they're all Republican appointees, including two by Donald Trump, has taken this case really, really seriously.
And they know what Republicans are doing here. There's been some speculation, I think you're alluding to this Beard, maybe they're trying to drag out the case as long as possible. But at least the three-judge panel isn't going to allow that. They're moving on a very accelerated timetable. And then there's another theory, that even one Democratic leader said, that maybe Republicans don't want to draw a valid map and would rather have the court impose one on them because this way then they don't have to pick and choose which current Republican incumbent member of Congress has to walk the plank. Who knows what the theory is. Maybe Kavanaugh will screw us in the end, like you say, but I feel like this is bordering on a finding of contempt of court here, and I don't think this is going to end well for Republicans.
Beard: And just to be clear, I don't think Kavanaugh is going to randomly flip on this, but of course with this Supreme Court, you never know. So you always have to have that as a factor. I do think the idea — that the Republicans don't want to make any hard decisions around which Republican in south Alabama is probably going to lose out — does make a lot of sense. We've seen that, I feel like, in some past redistricting issues where when they've been forced to drum up, they just sort of punt it to the courts and a special master to let them make the hard political decisions, which is again, as I said, is just really irresponsible. The other thing I want to say, just more broadly looking at this, is when we saw how both the House and the Senate in Alabama drew these maps that were clearly not sufficient to elect someone of Black Alabamans’ choice in these districts, which is the whole point.
It sort of reminds me how we've seen many people look at redistricting as sort of a video game and how when they've been given this new challenge by the Supreme Court, so the Republicans in Alabama are like, "Okay, we have to draw a district in Alabama that's Black enough that we can get away with it, but Republican enough we can still elect a Republican." And this sort of threading this needle concept that it seems like they're trying to do, particularly in the house which was closer in their map to getting to 50% Black majority, but not, so it was still a Trump district.
And I think that's just an awful way to look at things and also not the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is to make sure that Black Alabamans can elect someone of their choice. If you do some sort of easy twist so that there's a majority, but they don't elect the person of their choice, that doesn't solve the problem. What we need is two, ultimately, Black democratic congressmen or congresswomen from Alabama. That is what solves the problem because that is who they want to elect. And I know that's not happy for Republicans, but it's the truth.
Nir: Well, I am sure we are going to be talking about Alabama again soon. The court says it will hold a hearing on August 14 if necessary. So like I said, things are moving very quickly there.
Another race that we have talked about a bunch and are definitely going to talk about plenty I'm sure right through November of 2024, is the Montana Senate race. And something a little bit surprising to me has happened there and it's probably not great news for Democrats, actually.
Beard: Yeah, Montana Senate is obviously one of the most important Senate races for 2024. You've got Democratic incumbent Jon Tester in a state that Donald Trump won. So that's a big target for the GOP. Now we've been gearing up for a potentially nasty GOP primary between establishment darling Tim Sheehy and far-right darling Representative Matt Rosendale for the right to take on Tester. But all of a sudden one of Rosendale's biggest supporters historically, the Club for Growth—which is really one of those far-right orgs that supports a lot of the worst Republicans out there—they started wavering on their support for his potential Senate run. Now, David McIntosh, the Club for Growth President, said, quote, "Matt's somebody we supported last time around, we think enormously of him, we're proud of what he's doing in the house." End quote. Now that's not exactly a stirring endorsement for a Senate race when you say you love what he's doing in the House, that's sort of “keep doing that.” And he went on to say that the group recently met with Sheehy and said that the club found him to be "an impressive candidate" and cited his background as a CEO and a businessman as something really positive. McIntosh ended saying, "Matt has not yet decided to run. If he does, we're going to take a close look at that race and figure out what the best answer is." That's very different from what he'd said in February when in response to a question about this race, if Rosendale jumped in, McIntosh said he'd be a candidate we'd want to support again. So, that's really different.
It may not seem like much, he's very praiseworthy of Rosendale, but I think there's a big difference there between we're going to support this person again and we'll figure it out if he runs. Now, Rosendale has really good name recognition. Of course, he's run before statewide. He's one of two current congressmen from Montana, but he is not a very good fundraiser. He really needs the Club for Growth and their money spigot to stay competitive in a primary if he runs. And so, the idea of the Club for Growth backing away and staying neutral, I doubt they'd go in and spend a lot for Sheehy, but backing away, staying neutral would really, really hurt, I think, Rosendale's chances, which in turn may make him more likely to run before this even gets off the ground.
Nir: Now, that said, Rosendale's name recognition really is considerable. There was that PPP poll from earlier in the year, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic pollster of course, and it found Rosendale had 64 to 10. Of course, those early types of polls are based purely on name recognition. No one has spent a penny yet, but even Rosendale himself was touting that poll, which is always amusing to me, and I think that temptation to get in will be really, really strong for him. And so, I remain hopeful that he'll run, and at the very least, still fuck Sheehy's shit up. And of course, as we've talked about in this show, Sheehy himself has a lot of issues. He's this golden boy, who's really a frat boy, and I think that Tester would actually be able to run a really strong campaign against him too, but we always got a root for maximum chaos in a GOP primary.
Beard: And of course, just because Rosendale is a nut job does not mean that Sheehy is moderate in any sort of way.
Beard: He's a modern Republican, which means he's very, very conservative. He is obviously all in with Trump and everything. He just isn't a nut job like Rosendale is.
Nir: Beard, I know that you want to talk about a race that's actually coming up not next year, but this year down in Kentucky.
Beard: Yes, one of the most important races of 2023 is the Kentucky governor's race between incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear and his challenger, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron. A really interesting thing happened in that a poll was sort of accidentally released seemingly by the education group Prichard Committee. They had a poll that they conducted by a Republican group, Public Opinion Strategies, and they asked a lot of education questions, a lot of other things, but they also asked a question on the governor's race, and that ended up getting released, even though they said they didn't intend that for that to happen. Now, the poll showed Beshear up 52-42. This was taken in late June. This is a pretty big margin. I think everyone's seen this as a race that's going to be very, very competitive. So, a 10-point lead for Beshear, the incumbent, would be pretty good news.
And what's more, this is a GOP pollster that conducted this poll, so you can't exactly accuse them of any sort of Democratic bias. What's even funnier is that in response to this leaked Republican poll, the Republican State Leadership Committee recently released a new poll by that same firm that shows Beshear just ahead 49 to 45. Now, it certainly seems like they were not happy with this big 10-point lead being released, and they wanted to counteract sort of their own GOP poll narrative with this other poll, but of course, it still shows Beshear in the lead.
Of course, four points is a lot closer, but it's still a Democratic lead, so it's not that great of news, and another key aspect is that it was of likely voters instead of registered voters like the first poll was. Now, of course, likely voter polls can be more accurate, but it's pretty early to start doing that. Usually, this transition to likely voter polls happens in the fall. As people start to tune in, people start to lock in the fact that they're going to vote and who they're going to vote for. So, the idea that you're going to do a July likely voter poll seems a little early and seems a little bit like you wanted that poll to be tighter than the first poll is what they really wanted, and it seems like making it a likely voter poll was one way to do that.
Nir: The margin is smaller, but 49% is awfully close to 50. In order for Cameron to win based on these numbers, he'd have to hoover up all of the undecided voters, and you almost never see that happen. It does not feel like they are operating from a position of strength here.
Beard: No, absolutely not, and of course it is Kentucky, it's a very red state. A lot of the undecideds may be Republican voters. I could certainly imagine them coming home to Cameron, so we're not by any means writing off the competitiveness of this race, but I think Beshear is in about as good a position as he can be given these two polls from a Republican pollster.
Now, the other factor that we wanted to flag for Kentucky is that in part Beshear's strength comes from his advantage in advertising spending. The Democratic side has spent a combined $5.5 million, while the Republican side has spent a total of $4 million. But as we've often seen, who is spending that money is making a big difference. On the Democratic side, $3.4 million of that 5.5 is coming from Beshear, while on the Republican side, only $800,000 of that $4 million is coming from Cameron. And as we've talked about before, candidates get the lowest ad rate spending while outside groups have to pay more competitive rates, so higher rates to get that advertising. So as a result, even though the spending is pretty narrow, $5.5 million to $4 million, Democrats have aired 64% of all ads while Republicans have run just 36%. So, it's nearly a two-to-one advantage for Beshear and the Democrats.
Nir: We saw this phenomenon play out over and over in 2022. Most Democratic candidates in the major races outraised their Republican counterparts, and so these Republican outside groups had to come in with huge amounts of dollars to try to make up the shortfall, but it was really, really hard for them because of those bad ad rates that they were paying. And the other thing to remember here is that Beshear is really quite popular. Beard, I don't know if you saw that Morning Consult set of polls of every governor's popularity ratings throughout the country, Beshear was fifth. This was just the other day. Morning Consult gave him a 64% job approval rating versus just 32% who disapproved. This dude is a Democrat representing a dark-red state. He's also been the subject of a lot of attack ads, like we were just talking about a second ago, and it doesn't seem to have wounded him yet. So obviously, like you say, Kentucky, my God, you could never ever take that state for granted, but Republicans should be kicking ass here and they're not, and that seems to me a major problem for them.
Beard: Now, I know you had a couple of ballot initiatives that you wanted to talk about that are moving along in a couple of states.
Nir: Oh, yes, I certainly do. So, let's start with the really good news. Abortion rights will be on the ballot in Ohio in November. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, no doubt through gritted teeth, announced this week that abortion rights advocates had submitted a sufficient number of valid signatures to put an amendment before Ohio voters this fall that would enshrine reproductive rights, including the right to an abortion into the state constitution, and there's more good news. USA Today commissioned a poll recently from Suffolk University that shows a wide majority of Ohio voters support this amendment. In fact, 58% say they're in favor of the amendment and just 32% are opposed, and on top of that, a third of Republican voters, a full third, say they'll back the amendment. And that just shows you how screwed Republican politicians are when it comes to this issue when a third of their ostensible voters don't even agree with them.
Beard: And we've seen this really across the Midwest, there's very, very strong support for reproductive rights. We've really seen there's a separation even among Republicans between sort of the Deep South where there really is that strong anti-abortion sentiment within the Republican Party pretty widespread, but really outside of the South, you see in the Northeast, out West and in the Midwest, there's a healthy number of Republicans who are going to vote to protect reproductive rights.
Nir: And it turns out there's even more good news. So, that same Suffolk poll found that the GOP amendment that's designed to screw over the abortion amendment is failing badly. It's losing by a lopsided 59 to 26 margin. Now this, of course, is the amendment known as Issue 1. We've talked about it a lot before on “The Downballot,” it's going before voters in a special election less than two weeks from now. It would raise the threshold for all future amendments to pass from a simple majority to 60%. It seems notable to me that the abortion amendment right now is sitting at 58% support. That's just below the 60% mark. Now, of course, that's just one poll, but it suggests to me that Ohio Republicans did their own polling about the level of support an abortion amendment might be expected to get and picked this 60% number in response to that.
It would be so awesome if 58% was actually the floor, not the ceiling, and that the abortion amendment passes in November with more than 60% of the vote, just to spite the GOP and also especially LaRose, but I will caution that campaigning has not really begun in earnest on the abortion amendment yet, and it's going to be an expensive race. The anti-choice side is going to spend a ton of money, of course, as will supporters. And so, I suspect that support is more likely to drop than to increase, but I think the numbers are bad for Republicans no matter what. And it's not like they have responded with contrary poll numbers of their own that show the amendment losing.
Beard: Now to start with Issue 1, as you said with this poll, it seems to be down big. I don't really know why the Republicans thought that they could do this. Obviously, they expected putting it in August would make for this really sleepy race where all the Democrats would just stay home or go on vacation or something, while a core of Republican voters somehow pass this. But first of all, that's not happening. Turnout is really good. Only a few days ago we had more than 116,000 Ohioans cast early votes already. That is approaching the total number of early votes cast in the 2022 May primary election. So obviously we're not talking general election numbers, nothing is going to reach that. But approaching regular primary elections is a very good turnout rate for this random August election.
Nir: When nothing else is on the ballot.
Beard: Yes, it is just for Issue 1. So turnout is going well. The polling for the no side is great, which is what we want. Americans broadly don't like the idea of having to have this supermajority requirement to pass ballots. It doesn't seem fair. America was founded on the idea of a democracy, and in a democracy, the majority governs while protecting minority rights. So the idea that suddenly you have to get 60% to pass constitutional amendments for Ohio, it doesn't make any sense, I think, to regular people. And so it seems like it's going to go down in flames. I would be pretty shocked if it was even super close on election night.
Nir: I was thinking about something you said a little while back, actually in regard to scumbag Joe Morrissey in Virginia, that there are certain types of politicians who thrive in the darkness. And once you shine a spotlight on them, whatever crap they've been pulling over the years suddenly no longer smells quite as good, and they get exposed and then they lose. I kind of feel like this is what's happening with Issue 1, that people are really attuned to this stuff now, that so many voters are paying attention to abortion rights. They know, they understand the connection here between Issue 1 and the abortion amendment. I frankly think that with the rise of just greater access to information thanks to social media and the internet in general, it's just easier to be aware and be informed about things.
The idea of sneaking something through, the very act of sneaking it through, calls attention to the thing you're trying to sneak through. I think that's what's happened here. And the person I am absolutely happiest for is Frank LaRose, because that SOB just launched a campaign for Senate, and right now he's staring down a double-barrelled loss on Issue 1 and the abortion amendment. I cannot wait to see what it looks like when his rivals for the GOP nomination to take on Sherrod Brown start blaming him for what looks like a total mess that's about to unfold.
Beard: Yeah, it seems like a huge miscalculation by him to hitch his ride so closely to these two things when it never seemed terribly likely that they were going to succeed for him. I always thought it was a little tough even putting it in August. We've seen now how badly that Issue 1 is polling. It's likely to go down to defeat. And of course, we've seen how popular and how many referendums on abortion rights have passed across the country, including in states close to Ohio like Michigan and Kentucky where the reproductive rights sides won. So to then be like, "But in Ohio we're going to make it work and then I'm going to run for Senate based off of these victories from my side," when you probably weren't going to win, is just the height of stupidity. But good luck to him.
Nir: Kansas Republicans pretty much tried to do the same thing last year. You'll remember with their measure that would have helped them clamp down on abortion rights. They scheduled it for an August vote, again, hoping it would slip right through. And the exact opposite happened. That vote generated tons of new voters who came out to vote specifically for that amendment. And you know, you had those voters, then they were accustomed to voting all of a sudden. We know at least some of them showed up again in November. So it really feels like this whole effort to rig things at the ballot box is, you know what, it's paying big dividends for the good guys.
Beard: Yeah. I think what the Republicans are finding out is that there are a lot of issues where not enough people prioritize it highly enough to force the issue, and so they can get away with a lot of things on different other issues. But there is a critical mass for reproductive rights. There are enough voters who care enough that they're not able to use their various little dark arts tricks to keep things banned when people want access to reproductive rights. It's going to keep failing for them until they realize that they can't fight the American people on this.
Nir: Well, we have to talk about another state where something very similar in nature is playing out. We actually got some more really good news in Missouri. The State Supreme Court unanimously ordered Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey to certify an abortion rights amendment for the ballot that he had tried to block using the powers of his office. Bailey had demanded that another Republican, State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick, estimate that the amendment would cost the state as much as $51 billion, billion with a B dollars. To put that in perspective, Bailey was trying to claim that allowing abortion in the state of Missouri would cost the state as much as the government's entire annual budget this year. Completely, completely bonkers.
Beard: How did they survive all those Roe years when all of their budget went to abortions? The entire state budget went to abortions for 40 years in Missouri, and somehow they're still standing.
Nir: I mean, it's some cockamamie fury about lost tax revenue because of having fewer citizens because of abortions. I don't even want to get into it. It was absolute nonsense. So much so that the auditor, Scott Fitzpatrick, completely, completely disagreed with it. And it was his job to come up with the estimate in the first place. Fitzpatrick is extremely conservative, totally anti-choice, but he concluded that the measure would cost the state $51,000. So $51 billion, $51,000, what's a few zeros? And Fitzpatrick said that Bailey couldn't reject his estimate. The good news here is that the Supreme Court agreed. They said that Bailey's duty was purely "ministerial" and that he had "no discretion in the matter" and said, "You got to certify this measure for the ballot."
But there is still another hurdle to overcome because yet another Republican statewide official is also trying to use the powers of his office to screw over this ballot measure. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who is the son of John Ashcroft, I'm sure you all remember him, has proposed a totally garbage summary of the amendment for the ballot. His language says that the measure would "allow for dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions from conception to live birth without requiring a medical license or potentially being subject to medical malpractice." Obviously, that is total insanity, and the ACLU, which is a main backer of this effort, thinks so. They have sued because they want that language changed, naturally enough.
It feels to me like what Bailey, the Attorney General, and Ashcroft, the Secretary of State are doing is very similar to the crap that LaRose is pulling in Ohio; using their offices to try to prevent citizens from exercising their constitutional rights. But as we're seeing in Ohio, most Americans really don't like it when you try to restrict their rights. We are reared on a reverence for these rights. And when Republicans try to take them away, just like the Supreme Court did with the right to an abortion in the Dobbs ruling, people get fucking pissed, as well they should be, as I am right now. I think Missouri Republicans are about to learn the same lesson that Ohio Republicans are going to learn really soon.
Beard: Yeah. And don't take this in any way as a compliment to LaRose, but I think what's happening in Missouri is worse. At the very least in Ohio, they tried to get people to vote to make it harder to pass this amendment, even with the chicanery around putting it in August and all of that. Still bad. But this is just some near-fascist stuff where they're just like, "Oh, we're just not going to let you do this thing that's clearly allowed in the law." Clearly, the voters of Missouri have the right to put these amendments on the ballot, and the statewide officers are supposed to facilitate that when that occurs. The Attorney General Bailey just was like, "I'm just not going to let them. I'm just going to make up a false statement and use that to block an amendment that should be on the ballot from getting on the ballot."
Thankfully, the Missouri Supreme Court is upholding the rule of law in Missouri and making sure that these statewide officers do their duty and facilitate this vote. And so the fact that the Republicans of Missouri, they're like, "You shouldn't get to vote on these issues, despite what the law of the state of Missouri says," is absolute bullshit. It's dangerous, and that's the sort of stuff that leads to the downfall of democracies. I'm serious. When elected officials are like, "Oh, I'm just going to make something up so that you can't vote," that is a huge problem, and I think arguably worse than what's going on in Ohio, as bad as that is as well.
Nir: No, I got to agree with you. We're lucky that it was a unanimous decision by the Missouri Supreme Court, which has justices who were appointed both by Republican governors and Democratic governors. But I'm really worried that one day some super shitty ultra-partisan Republican state Supreme Court is going to uphold actions like this and deprive people of their rights with really no recourse. I agree with you, Beard. I don't think it's overly dramatic at all that this is how democracies fail and Republicans want that to happen. I mean, Bailey is the Attorney General of the state of Missouri. He's in theory the state's chief law enforcement officer, and he wanted to absolutely make shit up to try to screw over this amendment and aggrandize powers to himself that don't exist, and he wanted the Supreme Court to agree with him. And one day I really fear that some Supreme Court will.
Beard: Yes. And what you will see if that happens is that amendments that Republicans want people to vote on will get through and amendments that Democrats want people to vote on will not. They will just get blocked by some stupid made-up reason and all of a sudden the one avenue for voters to express their will will be eliminated, unless of course, Republicans want to let you do it.
Nir: Enough about democracy in America. Beard, it's been a little while since we've talked about an overseas election, but we had a really interesting and unexpected one in Spain. What went down?
Beard: Yes. Well, we always love to talk about unexpected good news. So I think even when it's not in America, we can still bring in some unexpected good electoral news from Spain.
Beard: Now Spain had a recent snap election, which means that it was called sooner than the normal general election was going to take place. What happened was the current Socialist Prime Minister — the Socialists are the center-left party in Spain — but Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called snap elections for July after a poor showing in regional and local elections that took place in May. So he brought forward the election from this December to this July.
Now this was seen as quite the risk and potentially catastrophically bad decision. His party at the time was trailing the polls, so the snap election very well could have just brought forth the election of the center-right and far-right party to power, which is what the polls were showing.
Now the center-right party in Spain is called the People's Party. The far-right party is called Vox, and they're the ones who are the big troublemakers here. What I think we saw happen was in the wake of those poor local and regional results in May, the People's Party and Vox went into government in a number of regions. And this was sort of one of the first times, they've been in government in different places, but we saw a number of places where Vox was entering government, and I think that very potentially worried a lot of regular Spanish voters who were maybe unhappy with the Socialists but were scared of the idea of the far-right Vox party entering into a national coalition government with the People's party.
So despite the Socialists trailing in the polls and looking like the center-right/far-right coalition would win a majority, when election night came, the People's Party did win the most votes and seats, but they and Vox together did not win a majority of the 350 seats that they would've needed to form a government. That's what people thought was going to happen, but they fell short. They ended up with 169 seats, so pretty close. They were only seven seats away from being able to implement this center-right/far-right alliance, but they did fall short, which is very, very important.
Now, the Socialists and their allies, the left-wing Sumar alliance, didn't win as many seats as the right-wing alliance. They only got 153 to 169, but that means there's a balance of power outside of those four big parties, and that balance of power is with the smaller regional and separatist parties in Spain. And they're the ones who now can decide what happens going forward.
The good news for Sánchez, the incumbent Prime Minister, and the left in general is that these parties are very wary of Vox, this far-right party. Obviously, Spain has a history with fascist governments. They have not had any far-right parties in power since the fall of Franco. And so a lot of these smaller parties, even if they might otherwise be willing to work with the People's Party, the center-right party, they're almost universally not willing to work with Vox. And so that leaves the People's Party in sort of an impossible situation, because they can't get a majority without the far-right Vox party, but they can't get anybody to work with them if they ally with the far-right Vox party.
So they have one fellow small party that's a conservative party, so they can get to 170 seats. But it's expected that Sánchez, by allying with the left-wing and the centrist regional and separatist parties, can get to 172 or 173 votes in favor of his government. And in fact, that's what he did with a couple of these regionalist parties last time. Because he didn't quite have a majority in the previous election, he did similar deals with these regionalist parties, so it's expected that he can do so again.
But there's still one more twist, as always with European governments. That group of 172 or 173 is still not quite the 176 majority that you need. But you don't always need 176 seats. In the first vote to appoint a prime minister, you need 176. But if that fails, in the second vote you only need a majority of those voting.
Nir: Kevin McCarthy so badly wishes that that were the rule in the U.S. House.
Beard: If only. If only for Kevin McCarthy.
Now what that means is that groups can abstain and lower the threshold that you would need. For example, if seven members of parliament were to abstain, that would lower the needed number of votes for Sánchez to stay as Prime Minister from 176 to 172.
And conveniently, there is a party that we haven't talked about yet that has seven parliamentarians, and that is the Catalan independence party called Junts, and this party is led by Carles Puigdemont who has quite the backstory here, and this is going to become very important. He led the Catalan government a few years ago when it attempted to hold an independence referendum and secede from Spain without permission from the national government. He has since fled Spain because authorities in Spain want him arrested; he's been indicted. And he lives in Brussels, he's currently a member of the European Parliament, which arguably gives him immunity. That's also currently being fought out in the courts, so it's possible he could be extradited to Spain at some point, but this is the party that Sánchez needs to convince to abstain in order to stay as Prime Minister and not go to new elections.
So I think the two possible outcomes here is Sánchez makes some sort of deal that isn't too upsetting to the broader folks who aren't happy with this party to get Junts to abstain and he gets to stay as prime minister, but in a pretty unstable government. Or if that fails, no one will probably be able to get a majority and then we would go to a new round of elections probably in very early 2024. So sort of wild twists and turns there at the end, so it remains to be seen how this actually works out.
Nir: That is an absolutely wild story. Sometimes in the United States, I wish we could call snap elections, but when you have totally crazy situations like this, I'm actually kind of glad that we don't have that here.
Beard: That's all from us this week. “The Downballot” comes out every Thursday, everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you haven't already, please subscribe to The Downballot on Apple Podcast and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our producer, Walter Einenkel, and editor, Trevor Jones. We'll be back next week with a new episode.