Sep 26, 2022 - Podcasts

The biggest midterm test for MAGA Republicans

Democrats’ chances of beating the GOP in Arizona, a key swing state in the midterms, are growing. The Cook Political Report last week moved the Arizona senate race from its “toss up” category to "leans Democratic." Arizona Republicans nominated MAGA-aligned candidates in races across the state.

  • Plus, spam text messages have exploded: how the FCC could respond.
  • And, hurricane season picks up.

Guests: Axios' Margaret Talev and Margaret Harding McGill.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi, Alex Sugiura. 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 Monday, September 26th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: spam text messages have exploded…how the FCC could respond. Plus, hurricane season picks up.

But first, the biggest midterm test for MAGA Republicans – that’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: Democrat's chance of beating the GOP in Arizona, a key swing state in this upcoming midterm elections, are growing. The Cook Political Report last week moved the Arizona Senate race from its “tossup” category to “lean's democratic.” Arizona Republicans nominated Maga aligned candidates in races across the state and a recent survey of Arizona voters by AARP found that in the Senate race democratic Senator Mark Kelly is leading Republican nominee Blake Masters, 50% to 42%. Axios' Margaret Talev is here with the big picture. Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET TALEV: Good morning Niala.

NIALA: The Cook Political Report adjusted the ratings of two competitive Arizona House seats also in the Democrats direction. What's going on here?

MARGARET: Well, Arizona is shaping up to be really the biggest test in terms of sort of from the top to the bottom of the ticket of how these MAGA-aligned far right candidates who really have embraced former president Donald Trump's conspiracy theories about the election, how they will fare in a general election, in a swing state. And what these polling numbers that you're referring to are showing is that at least at the congressional level, in the Senate races, Mark Kelly the incumbent, the Democrat against Republican challenger Blake Masters and in two of the House races, this is the Republican challenger running against democratic incumbent Tom O'Halleran and this is the, seat held by Republican David Schweikert, that in these seats, Republicans are actually now at risk of losing, whereas before it should have been a toss up or the Republicans might have had the edge. But I'll say there are two races where this isn't necessarily true and they're really important races. One is the Governor's race and the other is the race for Secretary of State. And in both of those races, what we're seeing right now are statistical ties. This is Republican Kari Lake against the Democrat, Katie Hobbs in the governor's race. And in the Secretary of State's race, Mark Finchem is actually narrowly leading the Democrat Adrian Fontis. And so these are races that are really important because of course they may be decisive in terms of the 2024 election and how to analyze election law.

NIALA: Margaret getting back to the Senate race, a super PAC aligned with Mitch McConnell withdrew more than $9 million worth of ads from the state leaving Blake Masters at a financial disadvantage. His rating is at 54% unfavorable. How unusually negative is that for a first time candidate?

MARGARET: It is and McConnell's withdrawal is a sign of two things. Number one, a lack of confidence in Masters being able to win. But number two, a desire to have no association with him. And so some other Republican groups have kind of stepped into that breach to try to stanch some of the loss of funds but Masters, it has proved to be one of these candidates. And there are few around the country, Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania is another example. There's a handful of these candidates, where, the tide polling suggests, is moving away from them, as they have shown themselves just to be really controversial candidates. And of course, the question for Donald Trump at the end of all of this is if these candidates are the reason why Republicans lose races and why Democrats potentially hold control of the Senate, right, what impact will that have on his 2024 prospects? But the question for Americans, not just for the democratic leadership, but for the political establishment and for American voters, for institutions who depend on rule of law and democracy, the question is when you have nominees who have tethered themselves, not just to Donald Trump, but to conspiracy theories about elections to election deniers, and they end up in office, what implications does that have for governance for American democracy?

NIALA: Margaret Talev is Axios' managing editor for politics. Thanks Margaret.

MARGARET: Thanks Niala.

Hurricane season picks up

NIALA: Our hurricane season is getting more active. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency over the weekend as Tropical Storm Ian gained strength in the Caribbean. Before it hits the US, it’s expected to dump three to six inches of rain on Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and as much as a foot of rain in Cuba.

Hurricane Fiona, which wreaked havoc in the Caribbean last week, made landfall in Canada before dawn on Saturday sweeping away houses and causing power outages for hundreds of thousands there.

And around half of Puerto Rico’s electrical customers are still without power as of Sunday evening, a week after Fiona hit. At least three people died and two were injured as a result of accidents from the power outage.

After the break, the FCC gets closer to cracking down on spam text messages.


Spam text messages have exploded: how the FCC could respond

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

We were having our editorial meeting yesterday to talk about doing a conversation on spam text messages and I'm not kidding, I literally got one while we were planning this conversation. More than 10 billion spam texts were sent just in the month of August, that's nearly 39 spam texts for every person in the US. But there's some good news, the Federal Communications Commission finally approved a long delayed proposal to crack down on spam texts last Friday. Here with the details as Axios’ Tech Policy Reporter, Margaret Harding McGill. Hi Margaret.

MARGARET HARDING MCGILL: Hi, I'm so sorry about that spam text, but they feel unavoidable.

NIALA: Yeah, they are. Why has there been such a big increase though lately?

MARGARET: Well, I think the scammers are going to the mode of communication that people use the most. People don't answer calls that they don't know who the caller is. People are learning to avoid robocalls, but text messages are so much more, I guess, intimate and you're more likely to click on them. So of course, spammers are using them more and more.

NIALA: And so what would this proposal from the FCC do to help stop this?

MARGARET: This proposal is basically the start of an FCC process. So they want to seek comment on requiring cell phone companies to block texts from numbers that are known to be illegal or fraudulent, such as numbers that aren't actually allocated to a real person or numbers that come from the do not originate list where you're not supposed to be carrying calls from those numbers in the first place. They also will see comment on whether cell phone companies should use third party analytics providers to help them inform blocking efforts and whether the agency should push the wireless companies to authenticate text messages, to make sure they are coming from who they say they are.

NIALA: So how soon would this go into effect?

MARGARET: Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel circulated this proposal for her colleagues for a vote almost a year ago. And I started asking questions about why it had been lingering for nearly a year when Americans are still dealing with this issue. After I asked those questions, the FCC voted on it Friday night, but that's just the start of the process. The FCC is going to review feedback on these proposed rules and then they will final regulations and that process can take months. So I don't think we're gonna see any final action anytime soon.

NIALA: Margaret, can Congress do anything about this, like pass any laws? Would that be faster?

MARGARET: Yeah, I think, a new law might be faster, but a consumer advocate I talked to said that she believes it's unlikely that Congress will pass updated legislation because some of these text messages actually benefit politicians, those ones that say, “Hey, do you wanna donate to so and so,” or “we could really use your vote.” They wanna be able to send those texts without fear of being sued. Congress did pass a law in 2019, on robocalls and it also ordered the FCC to consider rules to protect consumers from receiving unwanted text messages from unauthenticated numbers, but that didn't actually give the FCC any new tools to enforce those rules.

NIALA: So it looks like for the immediate future, we're still gonna be getting a lot of spam texts.

MARGARET: I think we're still gonna be getting a lot of them. Now, in the meantime, the wireless companies like AT&T and Verizon urge customers, when you get a spam text, obviously don't click on the link, don't reply. You're supposed to forward that message to 7726. When you do it, you'll get a little automated message from your carrier saying, thank you for reporting spam, we'll take it from here. And you feel like you've really done something, even though you'll get the same message a week later.

NIALA: Margaret Harding McGill covers tech policy for Axios from DC. Thanks for joining us, Margaret.

MARGARET: Thank you for having me.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! And if you are celebrating Rosh Hashanah, wishing you a very Happy New Year.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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