Oct 25, 2022 - Podcasts

The 11th-hour midterm shifts

Two weeks out from the midterms, the parties are making last-minute changes to spending and messaging in a final effort to gain as much of an edge as possible before Nov. 8.

  • Plus, the U.K. gets another new prime minister.
  • And, technology that analyzes your voice for signs of depression.

Guests: Axios’ Josh Kraushaar and Jennifer A. Kingson.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Robin Lin, Fonda Mwangi and 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 Tuesday, October 25th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: the UK gets another new prime minister. Plus: technology that analyzes your voice for signs of depression. But first: 11th-hour midterm shifts – that’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: Two weeks out from the midterms, the parties are making last-minute changes to spending and messaging in a final effort to gain as much of an edge as possible before November 8th. Axios’ Senior Political Correspondent Josh Kraushaar is here with a pulse check on the parties. Hey Josh.


NIALA: Josh, you wrote that we saw a late summer boost for Democrats that's now faltering. And last night you even had some new reporting that sheds more light on this.

JOSH: Yeah, so it's always important to figure out where this money is being spent, and when it comes to the House, Republicans are spending over $25 million in some of the bluest parts of the country. We're talking Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, California. You know, I've covered politics for a couple decades now. It’s hard to remember races being close in these parts of the country, and yet that's where Republicans think that they can pick up some seats if there's a big political wave.

Two races I would pay close attention to, one is in New York with the district of the DCCC chair. He's the guy who runs the House Campaign committee for Democrats, Sean Patrick Maloney. Republicans are now investing over $6 million to try to take out the guy who's essentially the king of the Democratic House campaign arm.

And also your listeners may be familiar with Katie Porter, who is one of the iconic progressives grilling CEOs and executives from her perch on the oversight committee. All of a sudden, she's in a much closer than expected contest in Southern California. And Republicans are also spending quite a bit of money to try to have a chance to defeat her in the November election.

NIALA: Josh, so big picture here. What's changed for Democrats?

JOSH: Well, boy, it's the economy. It's the economy, the economy, the economy, and even crime in some of these bluer states where those two factors are both driving Republican engagement and are pushing swing voters. They're voted on their pocketbook and they're having trouble paying the bills and wondering about the state of the economy, and they're breaking against the party in power, the Democratic party.

NIALA: So how have the Democrats reallocated spending or resources for these final two weeks?

JOSH: Well, Democrats are spending as much as they can in all the classic battlegrounds and sometimes they're trying to match the Republican attempts to expand the political map. There's not a huge disconnect between the parties on which races are closest. It's just a matter of spending lots of money in these, in these battlegrounds.

And, you know, Democrats, the one thing Democrats are doing is a little bit of triage. They've tried to look at some of the races where they may not have enough money to spend in less favorable parts of the country, and they're moving it into some of these bluer parts of the country as well.

NIALA: So on balance, do Republicans have much more money to spend than Democrats?

JOSH: Republicans have a much greater financial advantage when it comes to super PACs. Democrats have a greater financial advantage when it comes to their own campaign cash. So what you saw Niala, is that Democrats raised huge, huge sums of money, often from small donors. And yet the super PACs, the outside groups where you can, you know, spend or donate unlimited funds to these outside groups, that's where Republicans are basically closing the gap. Almost all the campaigns in these close races have enough money. It's who has a more compelling message in the final couple weeks for voters.

NIALA: Josh, you've also been reporting on a possible “red tsunami.” Why is this looking like more of a possibility?

JOSH: You know, I like to say that polling can be all over the map, but follow the money. And when we're talking about $25 million or more going into very blue parts of the country, both Democrats and Republicans, acknowledging that these are close races. That, you know, that means that, instead of talking about Florida, which might otherwise be a battleground, the center of gravity's moving a little bit more, you know, maybe towards Colorado, Pennsylvania with Dr. Oz in that Senate race. Just because it's not about the candidates as much as it is about the, the mood shift that's going on in these last few weeks.

NIALA: Axios’ Josh Kraushaar. Thanks Josh.

JOSH: Thanks Niala.

The UK gets another new prime minister

NIALA: And some political news from across the pond: Rishi Sunak is the UK’s newest prime minister – and the country’s third in just seven weeks. He won the contest to replace Liz Truss, who resigned last week under pressure of economic turmoil. She replaced Boris Johnson. Yesterday, Sunak made his first public address as the Conservative party leader.

RISHI SUNAK: There is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge. We now need stability and unity, and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together.

NIALA: He is the country’s first prime minister of color and of South Asian descent, and at 42, the youngest person to take office in more than 200 years. Sunak is the former finance minister and has been in Parliament since 2015.

One final thing: Sunak and his wife are among the richest people in the UK - and the Washington Post notes - this may be the first time there’s more wealth in Downing Street than Buckingham Palace.

Back in a moment with how AI is being used to assess mental health.


Technology that analyzes your voice for signs of depression

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I'm Niala Boodhoo. AI technology is helping us do everything from chatting with our friends to driving our cars, and now there's AI software that's analyzing speech to diagnose mental health problems. The use of voice biomarkers is becoming more popular as a way to detect illnesses that might otherwise go untreated. But this kind of tech also raises privacy concerns. Jennifer Kingson has been reporting on this for Axios. She's the chief correspondent for Axios’ What's next. Hi Jennifer.


NIALA: Jennifer, how does this technology work?

JENNIFER: It's pretty fascinating. Voice biomarkers are a kind of artificial intelligence driven software that can sit anywhere from a call center to a telehealth visit, and it listens to your voice, not in a natural language way, the way Siri or Alexa does, but it listens to the cadence of your voice, the pitch, the intonation, and it compares it to a large database of voices that it's been trained to hear and tries to detect or even diagnose illnesses, most prominently depression, anxiety, and mental health illnesses. But it's also being used to pick up respiratory problems and even cardiopulmonary problems. One company says that it picks up with 80% accuracy whether you are suffering from depression or anxiety based on your voice.

NIALA: What vocal differences is this AI looking for?

JENNIFER: It depends on the illness. What it tries to pick up with depression…we've talked to people who are depressed. It kind of stands to reason that they tend to speak slowly, their pitch is different, a little downcast. But these are very early days. And, while insurance companies and others are eager to deploy this kind of technology in ways that they hope can save money and ideally, get people help early on if they need it, there are also a lot of questions about the accuracy and there aren't a whole lot of large scale studies. In many ways the jury is still out.

NIALA: Besides mental health, you mentioned other places that voice biomarkers can prove?

JENNIFER: Yeah, also, respiratory problems including COPD, asthma,and even Covid 19, in addition to cardiopulmonary problems, heart issues. Your voice may be a clue to whether you are about to have a heart attack.

NIALA: And just to be clear, right now, this isn't happening without someone's consent. So the privacy side of this is very clear right now.

JENNIFER: Exactly. Not a single purveyor of this technology is doing it without people explicitly accepting when offered to them. In fact, this technology has been built into the Amazon Halo, the wearable device that lets you monitor your fitness and so forth. It's called Amazon Tone. It's gotten very mixed reviews, both because of the privacy issues involved and, because of its notorious inaccuracy when it comes to people with different accents or people of color. The AI is notoriously difficult with handling people from different ethnic backgrounds or who speak different languages. It is a pitfall, and it's one that the companies that are selling the tech are very much aware of and are trying their hardest to overcome.

NIALA: Jennifer Kingson is the chief correspondent for Axios’ What's Next. Thanks, Jennifer.

JENNIFER: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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