Amid MLB Trolling, Biden Steps Up Voting-Rights Pitch
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Amid MLB Trolling, Biden Steps Up Voting-Rights Pitch
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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Baseball’s best players will be squaring off in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in Denver, but a fierce political clash surrounding the contest is stealing the early thunder.

Republicans have rolled out several television ads in Georgia hitting Democrats for their role in spurring Major League Baseball to yank the game from Atlanta and move it to Colorado after Republican state lawmakers this spring passed a bill tightening voting laws.

Democrats quickly cast the GOP statute as bald-faced voter suppression, and President Biden labeled it “Jim Crow 2.0.” One week after it was signed into law, dozens of companies joined the criticism, including Delta Air Lines and the Coca Cola Co., both headquartered in Atlanta. The game’s change of venue cost the Peach State’s economy tens of millions of dollars in direct and related revenue.

Since then, however, public opinion has shifted — at least in Georgia where a local poll found that at least 54% of registered voters oppose MLB’s decision to move the game and 60% oppose companies using their public role to shape political opinion or promote cultural change.

Republicans are now trying to drive the message home and extract a political price. Over the weekend, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel headlined a rally at Murph’s, a popular post-game restaurant near Truist Park, home to the Atlanta Braves and original site of the game. The RNC, National Republican Senatorial Committee, Georgia’s GOP Gov. Brian Kemp and an outside conservative group are all running television ads before and during the game decrying the left-wing “cancel culture” behind the relocation decision.

“Baseball’s mid-summer classic, the All-Star Game: A $100 million boost to Georgia’s economy, until the radical left woke crowd took it all away, forcing the MLB to boycott Georgia,” a voice-over in the NRSC ad states. The ad specifically calls out Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat who narrowly won a run-off early this year, for failing to strongly oppose the league’s decision. In contrast, voting rights activist and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams spoke out against the decision after it was made even though she vehemently opposes the GOP’s new election law.

President Biden isn’t letting the Republican pile-on go unanswered, although he’s clearly avoiding any discussion of the  change of venue.

Biden will deliver a major voting rights address in Philadelphia Tuesday, an attempt to ramp up Democrats’ push for their stalled federal voting rights bill. Frustrated civil rights leaders met with Biden last week and pressed him to use his bully pulpit to amplify the need for the measure and condemn GOP-led election overhauls like the one in Georgia. The same activists also want Biden to work harder to persuade Senate Democrats to back a carve-out to the filibuster rules so they no longer need 10 Republicans to pass the sweeping voting rights bill.

So far this year, lawmakers have enacted laws in 14 states, placing new limits on the voting process after local election officials across the country dramatically expanded ballot access and mail-in voting during the pandemic. The measures include new rules requiring voter identification and more ballot signature checking, as well as limits on mail-in voting, ballot harvesting and drop-off voting boxes.

Republicans flatly reject the Democrats’ characterization of their state-passed bills as discriminatory and restrictive, arguing they are common-sense attempts to prevent fraud and shore up trust in the nation’s election system. A majority of Republicans — 56% — believe Biden won the election because of fraud, and 31% of independents said they’re unsure if the election was fair or not, a recent Hill-HarrisX poll found. 

Biden’s voting rights speech in Philadelphia, Republicans argue, comes after he and other Democrats overplayed their hand by labeling the GOP efforts to tighten voting laws as “Jim Crow on steroids” – a reference to the racist laws used to prevent millions of blacks from voting or even registering before the civil rights era.

The courts also have dealt Democrats some recent setbacks. A federal judge last week denied an injunction on Georgia’s new law that limits the use of ballot drop boxes, shortens the time frame for absentee voters to cast their ballots and makes it illegal for partisans to deliver food and water to voters in line.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that Arizona did not violate the Voting Rights Act  by outlawing “ballot harvesting” and requiring ballots cast in the wrong district to be thrown out.

Why is Biden going to Philadelphia instead of Georgia, the epicenter of the MLB controversy and where Attorney General Merrick Garland recently filed suit against the Republican voting law?

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told RealClearPolitics Biden chose the speech location because it’s “the birthplace of democracy,” home to both the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Psaki also ratcheted up the rhetoric one day ahead of the speech, telling reporters Monday that the new GOP-passed voting laws are an outgrowth of former President Trump’s “discredited conspiracy theory that culminated in the assault on Capitol Hill” by supporters who believe the election was stolen from him.

And she didn’t hold back, labeling the new Republican statutes “the worst challenge to our democracy since the Civil War.” Biden, she told reporters Monday, “will lay out the moral case for why denying the right to vote is a form of suppression, and a form of silencing and how he will redouble his commitment to using every tool at his disposal to continue to fight to protect the fundamental rights of Americans to vote.”

But equating Republican opposition to the For the People Act with support for Trump’s contention that the election was stolen doesn’t square up. All but one Senate Republican, moderate Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are opposed even to a compromise voting rights bill authored by centrist Democrat Joe Manchin. Nearly every Republican in the upper chamber views the Democrats’ voting rights bill as an unconstitutional federal takeover of state election laws.

Choosing Philadelphia as the site of Biden’s speech may have been the only logical counterpunch on the same day Democrats are getting clobbered by negative ads in Georgia.

“Biden lied about the Georgia bill as justification to push to get the All-Star Game canceled, and he ended up hurting minority communities that Democrats claim to support, so I think he doesn’t want to be anywhere near Georgia talking about these issues as the All-Star Game is going on” in another state, said Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group spearheading an effort to build GOP consensus around election laws they believe help prevent fraud.

Biden’s move could also backfire on Democratic election prospects in Pennsylvania, Romeo warned. Tom Wolf, the state’s Democratic governor, in late June vetoed a GOP voting overhaul bill that would tighten election deadlines and expand voter ID requirements, among other changes. He did so even though a recent Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 81% of Pennsylvanians support requiring signature matching for mailed ballots and 74% back laws requiring voter identification.

But Democrats also need to keep their base activated ahead of the traditionally lower turnout midterm elections, and continuing to hit Republicans on voting rights could help. Wolf is up for reelection in 2022, and Democrats are trying to flip the Senate seat that will be left open by GOP Sen. Pat Toomey’s retirement.

“Democrats are looking at Pennsylvania to some degree as one of the most critical election states in 2022,” John Brabender, a longtime GOP campaign consultant and political guru to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, told RCP.

Biden needs to keep urban voters energized before the midterms, he said, while state Republicans and blue-collar Democrats who voted for Trump are already on high alert over distrust of the election process and growing concern over efforts to teach critical race theory in public schools.

“You’re going to see this idea about election validation, fraud and security as a critical campaign issue that’s not going away between now and November 2022,” he said.

On Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris met with local leaders in Detroit and delivered special praise for Democratic state lawmakers in Texas who fled the state Monday in a last-ditch effort to prevent the passage of a new voting law in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Harris lauded the Texas lawmakers’ “extraordinary courage and commitment.” 

During a speech at Howard University last week, Harris argued the Republican election-overhaul campaign is “all designed, I believe, to make it harder for you to vote so that you don’t vote.”

She also announced the Democratic National Committee would commit $25 million to voter registration and turnout efforts in 2022 midterms.

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.

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