AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – As the country prepares for Election Day, we take a look at the hot issues facing the voters at the ballot box. We take a look behind the scenes of Decision Desk HQ and NewsNation and how they will make their early projections on election night. Then we take a look at early voting. Voters have been going out to fulfill their obligations early in record numbers. So who is going to win? Will we see a red wave? A blue? Both? And, how accurate are the numbers in polling, what should we take away from them? Chris Stirewalt, the political editor for NewsNation, will join us for that.

Brad Means: Before Chris gets here and makes his return trip to “The Means Report,” we wanna give you a behind the scenes look at News Desk HQ.

>>The road to election night runs through NewsNation and our partners at Decision Desk HQ who have made a name for themselves by making history.

>>We were the first ones to call for President Donald Trump in 2016, and first ones to call it for President Joe Biden in 2020.

>>Scott Tranter with Decision Desk HQ shedding light on how his team is able to determine accurate election results so much faster than everyone else.

>>We’ve built a pretty cool system that allows us to go to all 5,000 plus counties in America and get the data, whether it be from web scraping, whether it be put somebody on the ground in these county offices.

>>And it’s not just talk. DDHQ calling this year’s Arkansas Governor GOP primary 21 minutes before the AP, the Georgia Governor GOP primary, 40 minutes ahead, and the Texas Attorney General GOP primary runoff, a full 50 minutes before the AP. Tranter says, “It just makes sense to team up with NewsNation.”

>>Straight down the middle on the road on that kind of stuff, and we know that’s where NewsNation is and that’s why we like the partnership.

>>Already this fall, key midterm moments have happened on NewsNation and our network of affiliate stations nationwide.

>>What outlet are you with?

>>NewsNation.

>>NewsNation.

>>Rare access to the candidates.

>>What’s different about this time from before?

>>And independent balanced reporting on major issues, hearing from real people about why they’re motivated to vote this year. NewsNation and Decision Desk HQ, the best political team on television coming together on election night, November 8th. Go to NewsNationNow.com/JoinUs to find the channel in your area. In Chicago, Nichole Berlie, NewsNation.

Brad Means: All right, so now you’ve seen how it all works at News Desk HQ, getting a feel for how coverage is going to unfold on election night. Well, let’s talk about those issues on election night that you, the voters, have to face. We’ll do that with NewsNation political editor Chris Stirewalt, when “The Means Report” continues.

Brad Means: Welcome back to “The Means Report.” So happy to have Chris Stirewalt back with us. Chris is the political editor for NewsNation, the parent network of us here at News Channel 6 in Augusta. He has a wealth of information about politics, not only on the national scene, but right here at home in Georgia, South Carolina, we haven’t forgotten about you, but we want to bring Chris right on as election day quickly approaches. Chris, welcome back to “The Means Report” and thanks for sparing your time with us.

Chris Stirewalt: Well, it’s funny, I was just happened to be doing my Georgia counties today, so I am feeling Peach State energy and it’s very good to be with you.

Brad Means: Listen, it is electric down here as well, what you’re feeling is real. I wanted to ask you about the early voting. It seems that everybody is doing that in Georgia, certainly South Carolina voters, I know y’all are as well. What should we take from the early voting numbers, Chris? Does it favor either party, historically?

Chris Stirewalt: You should take nothing from it, here’s why. In 2016, 40% of all ballots in the United States were cast early or by mail absentee. In 2020, that increased by 50% to go to that 60%. Nearly two thirds of all ballots were cast early or absentee ’cause there was a pandemic on and rules change, but also voter behaviors change. So we have no earthly idea what it really is going to look like now. So I would caution anybody who is feeling ecstatic or despairing because of how many early ballots have been cast. I would not even bother looking because we’re still learning what… Some voter habits will be permanently changed because of more convenient voting during the pandemic. Some will not. We’ll see what happens. So just glide on past.

Brad Means: Okay, I like that. And you probably already answered question number two, but just so I can say I asked it, we’re not talking about voting numbers necessarily. We’re just talking about people are seeing more older people vote early, 60 to 70 year olds, fewer younger people voting early. Should we deduce nothing from that as well?

Chris Stirewalt: We should deduce nothing from that because those are the people who would have been the most resistant. So early and absentee voting has grown in popularity in the United States over the past 40 years. Texas and California led the way. But a lot of states, especially in the South, caught up quickly. People like to be able to schedule their voting. They like to do it. Who are the latest adopters of any technology or any change? Older voters. But a lot of those folks were compelled to vote absentee in the previous election because of the coronavirus, so some of them are gonna keep that, right? Some of them are going to do that. And I would put it this way, if you saw, and I have not looked closely enough to know, but let’s say you saw that Richmond County was voting at a much higher percentage than a neighboring suburban county, a much more Democratic place. You might try to read those tea leaves, but I would not. I would just say, “Don’t worry about it. We’ve got an election for that. You can watch us on election night. We’ll tell you everything.” You don’t need to stare into the cracked chicken bones in the bottom of the pot to try to figure it out.

Brad Means: Well, I think that is good advice and yeah, we do encourage everybody to watch NewsNation that night, Tuesday night, and certainly to watch us here on News Channel 6 throughout the evening. You have any feel as to whether or not there will be a red wave or blue wave or neither?

Chris Stirewalt: Well, it depends on, you know, a wave, it depends on who’s surfing it, whether or not there’s wave. And I think a good way to think about this is there’s a range of outcomes here. And in the House, for Republicans right now, that looks like a gain of between 15 and 25 seats, I dropped the plum line at 20, which would give them a majority of 233 seats, which is 16 more than they need. That’s not a huge majority of the kind that they had in the teens after the 2010 election and after the 2014 election, when they had numbers that Republicans hadn’t seen since the 1920s. But it’s bigger than the current Democratic majority. And that would be, you’d consider that them meeting expectations. If they hit 20 seats, they will have met expectations. The Senate of course is just, you pick ’em, right? Georgia and Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, Ohio maybe, New Hampshire maybe, there are states that may come in and may go out. But the truth of the matter is that there is a much lower correlation between national climate overall and the result in the Senate. Because as Georgians have learned and Pennsylvanians have learned, candidate qualities matter a lot more in the Senate than they do in the House. In the House, people will vote for, they’ll vote on partisan, strict partisanship is basically enough. In the Senate, it starts to be more about the individual. And of course, for a governorship, it’s most about the individual of all.

Brad Means: Why have things gotten so tight in Georgia, Chris? We have a super tight governor’s race, according to the latest polls. Maybe you’re seeing different numbers. And a super tight race for Senate. This for the past couple of decades, at least before 2020, was a red state. Now it is, I guess, purple. Why have things changed? Is it that more people are moving here from other parts of the country?

Chris Stirewalt: I hate boiled peanuts, but if Stacey Abrams beat Brian Kemp, I will come down to Georgia and I will eat a whole bag of disgusting boiled peanuts. I don’t think that one’s gonna happen. I don’t see that one happening. We know why the Senate race is close, right? We know why the Senate race is close because the Republicans gave in to their desires as opposed to thinking practically. Brian Kemp has demonstrated that Georgia still is a Republican state. Georgia was never as Republican as its neighbors in Alabama or South Carolina. Georgia went for Bill Clinton one time. Georgia did not make the flip in the same way that a lot of other deep South states did. So Georgia is fairly elastic in the sense that it is consistently Republican but it’s not overwhelmingly Republican, right? Georgia and Texas have a lot in common politically, which is, they’re both Republican states. They’re just not very Republican states. But Brian Kemp has demonstrated that Georgia still is a Republican state. What Herschel Walker has to do is convince enough… So I think Herschel Walker passed the test in his debate of saying to committed Republican partisans, “Put me in coach, I’ll follow the playbook, I’ll use the talking points, I can go in and be who I’m supposed to be in a Republican majority in the Senate.” But you still have to bring in some independent voters and some persuadable voters, and that’s what we’re gonna see. Has Herschel Walker convinced enough of these folks that it’s worth having Herschel Walker as your senator in order to have a Republican majority? And that’s the implicit argument that they have to make.

Brad Means: Do you think there are any persuadable voters left at this late date or everybody’s pretty much made up their minds?

Chris Stirewalt: So there are voters who are persuadable, certainly, at this late date in the sense that first of all, there are some people who aren’t gonna go vote, right? Who thought that they were likely voters and they’re either, they can’t bring themselves to do it or for whatever reason, they become discouraged and they’re not gonna go vote. So that’s a form of persuasion, right? Who are the people that make the final decision to vote or not vote? And yes, there are plenty, and when I say plenty, we’re talking two, three, four percent of true late deciders, right? People who say, “I know I have to vote, I’m putting this mentally aside for now and I’m gonna come back to it at the end,” and may decide on their way to the polls or may be about to pull out, today, their absentee voting form and say, “Okay, here it is. This is where I’m gonna be,” because they’re not intently partisan and then they have to make a decision. Do I want a Republican senate? Because I would imagine that most of these persuadables are Republican leaning this year. It’s a good year for Republicans. Do I want a Republican senate enough to vote for Herschel Walker? Who has really struggled and has this sort of tragic, he and his family have this tragic story. So that’s what they have to decide. And then they have to say, okay, if not, maybe I’m just gonna under vote. So one of the things I’m gonna be looking for in Georgia very intently is how many under votes? How many people vote for governor and skip over Senate and go on with the rest of their ballot? ‘Cause they just don’t wanna make a choice. And I think a lot of folks in Georgia and in Pennsylvania will be making those choices.

Brad Means: You know, I want to kind of break out the crystal ball here, if you will. But really historically, you’ll be able to answer this ’cause you’ve seen it happen. If one party does convincingly win and get a majority in Congress, in both houses of Congress and can carry on and set the agenda, if you will. Do we start to see their agenda items sailing through for the foreseeable future? Or if the Republicans win, President Biden just vetoes everything? What will actual legislation look like after the election?

Chris Stirewalt: Oh, so right after the legislation, or right after the election, there will be a flurry of legislation in the late session. If the expected outcomes occur, which is a very narrowly Republican senate, like 51 seats, and a fairly narrow Republican majority in the house, Democrats will pass a bunch, a bunch, a bunch of stuff that they have left over that is unpopular or they couldn’t get to before and pass that up to the president for his signature. Then the question will become, what kind of deal can Republicans get on a spending bill and debt ceiling increase? Because what they will want to do is park it back here in this Congress and not have their Congress, if they’re gonna be in the majority after January, they’d like to get that done now so that their team doesn’t have to be the ones who take responsibility for it before the 2024 elections. So that will kick off a round of negotiation to see if they can do that. ‘Cause if they won’t, if they don’t, guess what happens? We start the government shutdown clock as soon as the new Congress takes over and we’re talking about a debt ceiling breach and we’re talking about a partial government shutdown. And some members of the Republican party have already talked about using a government shutdown as leverage to try to get changes in social security and Medicare or to limit funding for Ukraine, all kind of stuff. So there won’t be legislation in divided government. What there will be will be a series of crises punctuated probably by the impeachment of President Biden and lots and lots and lots of investigations of him and his family.

Brad Means: Chris, let’s talk to the viewers about what things might look like on election night. So many election nights, we see projections made right when the polls close. Kind of pull back the curtain and let us know how y’all are able to do that and whether we should trust all of the projections that we hear right after everything shuts down.

Chris Stirewalt: Well, I could, if we wanted to, we could probably call some races right now, right? I don’t think the Democrats are gonna sweep through Alabama and I don’t think the Republicans are going to ride herd across California, right? We know some things, like Gavin Newsom probably is not going to have to sweat the election returns in California. So some stuff is easy, right? Now, we’re gonna be very careful, cautious, and earnest when it comes to making projections in contested races. Georgia, the only way you could get an early projection in Georgia would be if all the polls to this point have been wrong. Every poll to this point has been wrong and somebody has a massive advantage. The only way that we’re gonna make an early call in that senate race is that if all the polls to this point have been wrong. Now, I don’t know how long it’s gonna take to call that governor’s race, but certainly you can expect that Senate race to hang on at least late into the night. And there’s a pretty decent chance that you know what we’ll be projecting the Georgia Senate race as, check, runoff. That’s a very strong possibility and I want to just say that I send my condolences to the good people of the peach state because if you all have to do another runoff for control of the United States Senate two years after the last time, you all deserve special honors. Everybody ought to get a free Chick-fil-A milkshake.

Brad Means: Listen, we appreciate it and you’re right, fatigue has long since set in in these parts. What about a GOP victory? Let’s just pretend that happens, that there is some sort of a red wave, even a small one. Is that a validation of former President Donald Trump or does it just indicate that people wanted a change period?

Chris Stirewalt: Well, remember, in politics, it doesn’t matter what happens, it matters what people think happened. And if Donald Trump put all these wacky candidates on the ballot around the country, which was expensive and time consuming, painful for Republicans, and probably limited the size of the map. If you think about it another way, if the Republicans had conventional candidates in Pennsylvania, in Georgia, in Ohio, in Arizona, it would make it easier for them to push in on longer reaches, right? Then you can really target some more Democratic incumbents. You can put money and resources and personnel in different places. So no matter what, Donald Trump’s desire to have unusual candidates like Herschel Walker has been expensive and limiting for Republicans. But if Walker wins in Georgia, and I think Georgia is the big test. Just as Georgia’s primary was a huge test for Donald Trump when Brian Kemp was able to hold serve against Trump and his chosen gubernatorial candidate in Purdue, I think this general election will take the measure of Trump and what Republicans think happened. Because even if these candidates, if the Republicans take the Senate, they will conclude, I suspect, that Trump was right and that Trump’s candidates didn’t cost them the Senate and that actually it’s okay and this will increase his chances inside the GOP for 2024. Now conversely, if Republicans come up short, even if Trump people say, “Well. it wasn’t our fault, it was really Mitch McConnell’s fault,” I think rank and file Republican voters will conclude that Trump is an expensive habit that they can’t maintain. So Donald Trump’s 2024 ambitions have a lot riding on the Senate races in general, but in Georgia very much specifically.

Brad Means: I probably have time, Chris, for two more quick questions. The first is just to get your opinion on the attack on Paul Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi’s husband, recently allegedly attacked in the Pelosi home by a person with a hammer. Anything political to that that you see at this point or that it was just a very tragic, sad incident?

Chris Stirewalt: Well, it, of course, depends on what party you’re in. Democrats see this as Republican hate speech about Nancy Pelosi reaching its natural conclusion. And of course, Republicans say, “This doesn’t have anything to do with that, this person was unwell.” And you know, they’re both right. The sad truth is, in America, until we can start to see ourselves and not just the failures of others, we’re not gonna make this better, right? It’s not gonna be possible for us to make things better until we can start seeing our own sides for what they are, words and all. And both sides have a political rhetoric problem. Excuse me. Both sides have a political rhetoric problem. Both sides are engaged in the kind of apocalyptic language and just way over the top rhetoric that creates this atmosphere in our country where political violence becomes normal, right? You would’ve thought that after a crazy person went and shot up the Republican practice for the congressional baseball game and almost killed Steve Scalise, that people would’ve said, “Well, we gotta step back from this.” And then you’d have thought, certainly January 6th, that should be enough. But many Republicans wouldn’t even allow that January 6th was real. They wouldn’t even say that it was true. And this is a bipartisan sickness that we have. And until we can see our own sides and say, “Yep, that’s how it is, political violence is real, and the loose talk and the very dangerous rhetoric that everybody’s engaging in is raising the temperature to an unhealthy level. And we’ve all gotta step back.” Until we can get there, this won’t stop.

Brad Means: Yeah, here’s to a lot more civility in politics and in our world, in general. “Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back” is Chris Stirewalt’s book. He’s a political editor for NewsNation and you need to watch him on election night and always. Chris, thank you so much for being back with us. We appreciate you.

Chris Stirewalt: Thanks for having me. Have a great day and happy election day.

Brad Means: Happy election day to you too.