Sep 16, 2022 - Podcasts

U.S. voter energy in the lead up to the midterms

We’re 53 days from the November election, and some wildcard voters are feeling "meh" about their options. But the bases are fired up. Axios' Josh Kraushaar on what we know, and how the week in Washington could affect the upcoming election.

  • Plus, the Saudi-funded circuit changing the game for men’s golf.

Guests: Axios' Josh Kraushaar and Jeff Tracy.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Robin Linn, Fonda Mwangi, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, September 16.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: the Saudi-funded circuit changing the game for men’s golf.

But first - how this week in Washington could affect the upcoming election.That’s today’s one big thing.

We're 53 days from the November election. This week, we've been asking you what's motivating you to vote, or not.

SUSIE: Hi Niala. My name is Susie. I currently live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I do plan on voting this November just from a harm reduction standpoint, which is the same exact standpoint that I have always voted with because we've got Dr. Oz running in Pennsylvania, and I don't want him to be elected, even though I also am not stoked about John Fetterman. I'm gonna keep participating for now until there's a better option.

NIALA: Thanks Susie from Pennsylvania for sharing that. Axios Senior Political Correspondent, Josh Kraushaar has been traveling to Pennsylvania and in New Hampshire to cover the midterms and is here to talk Friday politics with us. Hey Josh.


NIALA: So Susie clearly was not enthused about her options. What were you hearing as you traveled around Pennsylvania?

JOSH: Well, it sounds pretty common in politics these days, sort of the meh voter – the voters that aren't following the day to day campaigns as closely as we are folks who are dealing with hardships on a regular basis, especially economic hardships and don't like either candidate. So that is the electorate that's up for grabs. And what's really hard when you look at the polling data, when you're trying to assess what's going on in all these big races, how many of these voters actually show up to the polls?

Because the bases right now, we can look at the data, my own experience on the campaign trail demonstrated this, the bases are very fired up. Republicans are gonna show up in big numbers, it's a midterm election they're out of power, that always happens. And Democrats, because of the abortion issue, that they're as fired up as they've been in some time as well, but these independent voters or these low propensity voters, those are the folks that are wild cards.

NIALA: So let's talk about the Republican base. You were also most recently in New Hampshire where MAGA candidates swept that state's Republican congressional primary. What is that saying to you?

JOSH: What's interesting about New Hampshire, Niala, is that Donald Trump did not endorse in any of these primaries, but the MAGA spirit was alive and well. The Republican nominee for the Senate race, a big battleground state in New Hampshire is a retired general named Don Bolduc. And he told me he's never talked to Donald Trump and didn't really even mention Trump that much. But the anti-establishment populist sentiment was alive and well, he said he didn't trust the FBI, didn't trust the IRS, didn't even trust the Pentagon. I talked to a lot of Republican voters who just thought Washington was corrupt that they, there was a divide between the elites and, and, and the average New Hampshire voter. So this guy Bolduc used this grassroots populist energy to win the primary and now he's the nominee against Senator Maggie Hassan.

NIALA: One thing that has been happening this week in Washington is Republican Senator Lindsay Graham introduced a federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Can you tell us about the rollout and response?

JOSH: Uh, not very favorable on both sides. Democrats are now using this standard the 15 week ban that, that Graham proposed with exceptions, for rape incest and life of the mother. And using that as a cudgel against Republicans in many big battleground Senate and, and house races.

NIALA: And then the other big story of the week was president Biden's announcement that his administration had brokered an agreement between the railroad unions and companies avoiding a strike that could have crippled the economy. What are the political implications of this?

JOSH: I think, I know you're hearing a big sigh of relief at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This is a relief that there wasn't a major crisis that took place that could have crippled the economy, not to mention the political prospects of Democrats. When we hear the details of what was agreed to in this big landmark deal, there may be some political hits that Republicans use, but by and large, the voters care about not having a crisis, at a very economically fragile time.

NIALA: Josh Kraushaar is Axios’ Senior Political Correspondent. Thanks Josh.

JOSH: Thanks.

In a moment, how the Saudi government is spending hundreds of millions to lure professional golfers to a rival circuit.

[ad break]

The Saudi-funded circuit changing the game for men’s golf

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today!

There's been a major controversy brewing in the world of golf this season, which got bigger this week with Arizona state college player, David Puig announcing he'll make his start as a professional player, not on the PGA tour, but in the LIV league, the upstart rival circuit funded by the Saudi government is changing how men's professional golf has played. Axios’ Jeff Tracy is here to explain how much change this means for sports and politics. Hey Jeff.

JEFF TRACY: Hey Niala, how's it going?

NIALA: Jeff. So I mentioned, this is funded by the Saudi government. What else do we need to know about the origins of this new league?

JEFF: Yeah. So, it started earlier this year and the first big name to join it was Phil Mickelson. Obviously that's one of the great golfers of all time and that sort of shook the golf world. The Saudi government is paying exorbitant sums of money to players that are sort of defecting from the PGA tour over to this new breakaway league. 25 million dollars every tournament, guaranteed money even for last place, and that has compelled quite a few players after Mickelson to join alongside.

NIALA: And so what has the PGA's response been to all of this?

JEFF: It's created a pretty enormous schism in the professional golf world. It’s actually sort of been a bit of an iron sharpens iron in some way. The PGA tour has actually recently announced some big changes going forward, starting next season, that are pretty much a direct result of trying to make sure that no more golfers do defect over to LIV.

NIALA: So Tiger woods has stayed with the PGA tour. Who's left?

Jeff: There's one of the top 18 players in the world Cameron Smith did go over to LIV. He won the British Open this year. The remaining 17 of those top 18 players are all still in the PGA tour, but there are quite a few top players who have gone over to LIV, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, pretty big names, major winners who are now in this new breakaway Saudi tour.

NIALA: So one term that comes up when people are talking about the LIV league is sports washing. Can you explain what that means and why that matters here?

JEFF: Yeah. So that's pretty much the biggest controversy of this whole thing is where the money is coming from for this league. Everyone knows the numbers. Phil Mickelson was paid 200 million just to join the Saudi Arabian government, which does not have a very good record on human rights. And sports washing is something that they've done in the past, which is essentially distracting from what's going on in the country by hosting these big popular sporting events, trying to tell the world, you know, look, we're hosting this really big league everyone loves sports. How bad can we possibly be? But, everyone who thinks about it for more than a second, obviously sees where this money is coming from and it's definitely one of the biggest issues among those who don't agree with the LIV defectors.

NIALA: Jeff, professional sports, I feel like has increasingly separated into the have and have nots. And if you think about the recently failed European Super League for club soccer, should we expect to see more deep pocketed startups across professional sports?

JEFF: We're actually seeing similar things in college sports right now. The absolute best college football teams are sort of getting themselves into even smaller groupings of just the best teams. There could definitely be a breakaway within the college ranks of only say the 30 or 40 best football teams sometime down the line. So, there is definitely a trend towards the best wanting to get a bigger piece of the pie that they feel they are sort of creating.

NIALA: Axios’ Sports Jeff Tracy. Thanks Jeff.

JEFF: Thank you.

NIALA: Before we go today – the new season of How It Happened: Elon Musk vs. Twitter launches today. The first episode is all about Musk — his meteoric rise, his Twitter use, and his vision for the future — and hosted by a familiar voice to you all -- Axios Business Reporter Erica Pandey! Find How It Happened wherever you get your podcasts.

That’s all for this week. Axios Today is produced by Fonda Mwangi and Robin Lin. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura and Ben O'Brien. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ editor in chief. And special thanks as always to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Stay safe, enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday.

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