North Star Blog

How to Talk About the Mueller Investigation

Republican candidates in deeply red states and districts who can win elections with only Republican votes can adopt Donald Trump’s perspective on the Mueller investigation. But Republican candidates who need both Republican and Independent votes to win can appeal to both groups with the following arguments:

• Nobody is above the law, not even the President.

• The Mueller investigation should follow the facts wherever they lead.

• Donald Trump should not shut down the Mueller investigation, because doing so would make him look like he is guilty of wrongdoing and has something to hide.

To read the full memo, please see below.

Mueller Messaging Memo

Whit Ayres, July 31

Whit Ayres’s comments in The Hill regarding strong economic growth and the midterm elections:

GOP strategist Whit Ayres highlighted the most recent, bullish data on employment and economic growth and praised Trump for having sought to make the most of that news.

“It would be helpful if the president continues to pound that message, and it would make it far easier for down-ballot Republicans to win reelection or for candidates for open seats to win election,” Ayres said.

“We have a very good story to tell, but it is difficult to tell that story if it is constantly obscured by the latest controversy,” he continued.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 27

Whit Ayres’s comments to the Associated Press on President Trump, presidential job approval, and the midterm elections:

“Donald Trump is a non-traditional president and he has severed the traditional tie between economic well-being and presidential job approval,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant and pollster.

“People are not evaluating Donald Trump based on the state of the economy,” he added. “They’re evaluating him based on his conduct and behavior in office. It appeals to Republicans and doesn’t appeal to independents and Democrats. And no change in the economy will alter his job approval so long as that relationship changes.”

The president’s approval rating is of significant concern to his party: Largely because of Trump, Republicans face even more threatening political headwinds than is typical for the party in power as they head into November’s midterm elections.
For nearly his entire presidency, Trump’s approval rating hasn’t fluctuated much outside a six-point range between 38 percent and 44 percent. It was 41 percent on Friday, according to the average of polling data by FiveThirtyEight, a web site of statistical analyses, as the president stood on the South Lawn and credited Republicans’ tax cuts and his regulatory rollbacks and tariffs for “an economic turnaround of historic proportions.”

“If he did a lot more of what he did this morning in touting the strong economy, it would make it easier for Republican down-ballot candidates to win re-election or to be elected to open seats,” Ayres said. “There is a very good story to tell. But it’s hard to tell that story if the news is being drowned out by the latest controversy.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 28

Whit Ayres’s comments in The Washington Post regarding the Georgia gubernatorial contest:

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, noted that while the Atlanta suburbs are not as conservative as the rest of the state, they are more conservative than the precincts in Northern Virginia that are becoming Democratic strongholds. A Democrat who was senior in Clinton’s campaign also expressed skepticism that Georgia is as ripe for the Democrats as some others want to believe.

Ayres also pointed to another difference: “Brian Kemp is not Roy Moore. Stacey Abrams is not Ralph Northam.” By that he meant that Kemp carries none of the baggage of Moore, who was accused of molesting a young woman many years ago, and that Abrams is considerably more liberal than Northam.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 27

Whit Ayres’s comments to McClatchy news service on the Trump effect in Republican primaries:

When it comes to moving Republican votes, said veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres, a Trump endorsement is “determinative.”

“At this point,” he said, ticking through a number of primary contest results, “a Trump endorsement can totally change the complexion of a race.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 22

Whit Ayres’s comments to NBC Los Angeles on fallout from the Russia summit:

Yes, each time Trump has weathered the criticism. Will it be any different now?

“The only honest answer to that question is ‘Who knows?’” said Whit Ayres, the president North Star Opinion Research and an adviser to top Republicans. “Past controversies that would have sunk most presidents have had no significant effect on this president’s job approval. So until there is hard evidence to the contrary, the safest bet is that this will have no effect as well.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, July 19

Whit Ayres’s comments to Bloomberg on Republican reaction to President Trump’s remarks on Russia:

Republican strategist and pollster Whit Ayres said he wasn’t sure how the politics of Trump’s remarks would play out. “Based upon the job approval numbers thus far, Trump supporters are predisposed to believe what President Trump says.”

Siding with the president is an “easy call” for Republican candidates in states and districts where Trump enjoys majority approval, he said. But Democrats are making a play for control of the House by defeating Republicans in areas that are more closely divided.

“The challenge comes in states and districts where the Republican candidate needs all of the Trump voters plus a significant proportion of the people who do not approve of the president’s job performance.” Ayres said. “That becomes very tricky.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 28

Whit Ayres’ comments in USA Today regarding the political impact of Justice Kennedy’s retirement:

Whit Ayres, a veteran GOP pollster, said quickly confirming a new justice before the Nov. 6 midterms could prove crucial to Senate Republicans.

“It will make even more compelling the Republican argument that they have delivered on their promises and future control of the Senate is critical to accomplish conservative goals,” he said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 23

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Washington Post regarding President Trump’s approach on trade and immigration:

That means most of the midterm action is taking place in contested, Republican-held House districts and a couple of swing states, such as Florida and Nevada, where Trump’s rhetoric has wedged members of his party into a most uncomfortable position — between his own high popularity among Republicans on one hand and swing voters opposed to his bellicosity on trade and immigration on the other.

“It probably helps Republicans running against Senate incumbents in the deepest red states but makes life more challenging for Republican incumbents in more-diverse suburban districts,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, June 19

Whit Ayres’ comments on the Trump Administration border detention policy was cited as The New York Times‘ Quote of the Day:

“Somehow I don’t think that putting kids in cages is likely to go over very well with suburban moms,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster uneasy about running on the culture wars. Mr. Ayres said his party should campaign on “the concrete accomplishments of a Republican-held government.”

“A fabulously strong economy, a record stock market, ISIS defeated and a world without any major wars that are killing lots of Americans on a weekly basis,” he said, laying out the case.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, May 10

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Washington Post regarding the public’s focus — or lack thereof — on scandals:

“The proof is in the pudding,” said Republican pollster Whit ­Ayres. But, he added, “we know that most Americans simply do not care about so much of the drama that consumes the Beltway. It’s all a matter of what results are produced.”

To read the full article, please click here.

North Star Wins for Role in AAPC Campaign of the Year

NASHVILLE, TN – APRIL 13: Awards Presentation during the Best of Pollie Contest & Campaign Excellence Awards on April 13, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)

North Star Opinion Research is proud to be honored for its part in the Karen Handel for Congress campaign, recognized as the 2017 American Association of Political Consultants Campaign of the Year.

North Star provided the polling services on a team with general and media consulting from Rob Simms and Mike Shields of Convergence Media, mail consulting from Ron Butler of Creative Media, and campaign management from Micah Yousefi of Winning for Women. It was an honor to work alongside that team on behalf of a candidate who had long before established herself as a servant of the district and state, starting with her chairing the Fulton County Commission and continuing with her service as Secretary of State. We have had the honor of working with Congresswoman Handel throughout her career, starting with her first campaign in 2002.

Whit Ayres and Mike Shields accepted the award on behalf of the team from Art Hackney for the AAPC.

Whit Ayres, April 11

Whit Ayres’ comments for Frontline on the role partisanship in defending a sitting president:

Political scientists said that limited criticism is normal from a president’s own party. Some made parallels to the debate among Republicans over whether to defend President Ronald Reagan following the Iran-Contra scandal. Whit Ayres, a Republican political consultant, noted that Democrats in Congress stood by President Bill Clinton during his own controversies.

“Democrats during the Clinton impeachment rallied around Bill Clinton, defended him resolutely and defended his conduct and behavior or at least minimized his conduct and behavior,” he said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, February 1

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Washington Post on Nancy Pelosi’s dismissal of tax reform benefits:

Even many Democrats cringed privately at her “crumbs” comment, which they worry distracts from their larger argument over the fairness of GOP economic policies. And of course, any metaphor that involves baked goods easily lends itself to the Marie Antoinette caricature that Republicans have drawn of Pelosi.

“It sounds like something a wealthy woman from San Francisco would say,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, January 29

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Daily Caller on Republican electoral prospects in the face of changing demographics:

Republican pollster Whit Ayres points out that President Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, including a majority of Sunbelt Hispanics. “It’s no coincidence that he was the last Republican nominee for president to win a majority of the vote (in 2004),” Ayers says. “The changing demographics of the country demand Republicans do better with Hispanics if they hope to win nationally. The numbers are the numbers.”

Trump won the presidency with 46.2 percent of the vote, less than the 47.2 percent Mitt Romney got in 2012, when he lost the presidency.

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, January 26

Jon McHenry’s comments to The World Weekly on the economy and Republican prospects in the fall:

Republican leaders plan to campaign on economic successes. The US economy has surged in recent months, with GDP up 3.2% in the third quarter of 2017 and unemployment down to 4.1%. Messaging will particularly focus on the Republican tax plan, stressing the tax cuts for the middle class set to start next month – one Republican dubbed it the “Great American Comeback.” “While many Republican accomplishments appeal to the conservative base, more money in people’s pockets appeals to everyone,” says Jon McHenry, Republican pollster, to TWW.

To read the full article, please click here.

The Virginia Election in Six Charts

Democratic nominee Ralph Northam won the 2017 election for Governor of Virginia by the unexpectedly large margin of nine percentage points, 54 to 45 percent. Unlike the Rustbelt states voting for President in 2016, few counties switched from Democrat to Republican since the last Virginia gubernatorial election in 2013. Instead the surprising margin was caused by presidential-level turnout in formerly-Republican suburban counties. Tens of thousands of new gubernatorial voters driven by college-educated women, millennials, and minorities supported the Democratic candidate. Six charts tell the story.

Two rural counties in the Shenandoah Valley are typical of other rural counties throughout Virginia. Augusta County continued its strongly Republican voting pattern, and generated more votes for Republican Ed Gillespie than even for the victorious Republican Bob McDonnell in 2009, or for Gillespie when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

The same pattern holds for Roanoke County farther south in the Valley (the City of Roanoke is not included in these numbers). Gillespie received more votes in 2017 in Roanoke County than any Virginia Republican ever in a non-presidential election.

Gillespie did not lose because of lack of Republican enthusiasm for his candidacy. Despite fears of some critics that Gillespie keeping his distance from Donald Trump would depress Republican turnout, that clearly was not the case. So why did Gillespie lose? The next three charts paint a vivid and, for Republicans, challenging picture.

Fairfax County in northern Virginia is far and away the largest county in the state, home to over one million people. In years past it was a competitive but reliable Republican county. Republican Bob McDonnell won the county in 2009 by 4,466 votes. Fairfax switched to supporting the Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe in the 2013 governor’s race by 68,065 votes. But in 2017 turnout exploded, and Northam swamped Gillespie in Fairfax County by 138,059 votes.

Loudoun County, just west of Fairfax in northern Virginia, has surged in population since 2010, and is now the fastest growing county in the state. Loudoun used to be a reliably Republican county that McDonnell carried comfortably in 2009 by 14,566 votes. Gillespie won the county narrowly in 2014 in his Senate race against Mark Warner. But in 2017 Loudoun followed Fairfax with an explosion of Democratic votes. Gillespie actually won 896 more Loudoun votes in 2017 than he did in 2014, but he was crushed by the surging Democratic turnout, losing Loudoun in 2017 by 23,392 votes.

Because the counties where Democrats surged are so much larger than those that continued to vote Republican, the statewide trends reflect those of Fairfax and Loudoun. In only eight years Republicans have gone from winning the Virginia governor’s office in 2009 by 344,614 votes to losing it in 2017 by 233,444 votes. Ed Gillespie won more votes than any Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia history, including 12,208 more than the victorious McDonnell in 2009. Yet he was swamped by the historic Democratic turnout.

Who are these voters who surged to the Virginia polls in 2017? It’s hard to imagine the bland candidacy of Ralph Northam generating this level of enthusiasm. Exit polls indicate that the surge came from voters who were trying to send a message to Donald Trump.

Gillespie won overwhelmingly–56 to 41 percent–among the 47 percent of Virginia voters who said Trump was not a factor in their vote. In other words, Gillespie won by double digits among voters who were choosing between the two candidates for governor.

The remaining voters used their gubernatorial ballot to send a message to Donald Trump. Twice as many–34 to 17 percent–sent a message of opposition rather than support. And among those opposing Trump, Northam won 97 percent of their votes. Ed Gillespie lost the governor’s race not because of his campaign, but because one-third of Virginia voters were trying to send a message of opposition to Donald Trump.

What does this mean for Republican candidates in 2018?

It means that every Republican candidate in 2018 will be viewed through a Trump filter. That will not be a problem in districts where Trump enjoys majority job approval. The strategy in these districts writes itself–the Republican is running to support the President, and the Democrat is running to oppose him.

But viewing Republicans through a Trump filter creates a real challenge for Republicans in states and districts where a majority disapprove of the President’s job performance. In those districts, Republicans will need a relentless focus on localizing the race. Republican candidates in districts opposing Trump need to increase the proportion of the electorate that makes a decision between the two candidates on the ballot, not use their ballot to send a message to the President.

Mid-year elections are almost always difficult for the party in power. The 2017 results in Virginia indicate that Republican candidates need to run particularly strong and well-funded races to withstand the headwinds they will face in many states and districts in 2018.

Whit Ayres, January 18

Whit Ayres’ quote in The New York Times regarding the state of play in the 2018 Senate map:

“The Democrats running in the 10 states that Donald Trump carried have all demonstrated an ability to get elected in Republican states, so they obviously have something going for them,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist. “But having the Democratic Party veer further and further to the left makes their lives substantially more difficult.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 22, NPR

Whit Ayres appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered to discuss President Trump’s job approval:

To read the transcript, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 21

Whit Ayres’ comments in Bloomberg Businessweek regarding the competitive Senate environment in 2018:

Whit Ayres, a GOP strategist advising Senate and House candidates next year, admits Republicans are going to have “the wind in their face,” but he points out that, given the 26 seats Senate Democrats will have to keep, the GOP has been “blessed with an extraordinarily favorable map in 2018.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 16

Whit Ayres’ comments to the Associated Press on the effect of tax reform on Republicans’ electoral prospects in 2018:

“Passing the tax bill is necessary but not sufficient for Republicans to retain control of Congress in 2018,” said GOP consultant Whit Ayres. “It does give the party a concrete accomplishment that they can take to the voters, and that’s critical.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 15

Whit Ayres’ comments in The New York Times regarding Senator Rubio’s efforts to expand the Child Tax Credit in the Republican tax reform bill:

“He is not ‘all of a sudden, at the last minute’ grandstanding,” said Whit Ayres, Mr. Rubio’s pollster. “This is a consistent cause of his, going back to the presidential campaign and before.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 14

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Wall Street Journal regarding the Alabama special election and what it means for next year’s midterm elections:

“Obviously, the primary responsibility lies with a deeply flawed Republican candidate,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

But he said results in Alabama—and in Virginia’s race for governor, which Democrats won—also showed that some voters were turning against the GOP under President Donald Trump’s leadership, ”particularly college-educated, suburban women.”

That trend carries “troubling implications” for the GOP in next year’s elections, he said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 12

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Christian Science Monitor on Alabama’s unique political views and senate race:

“Alabama’s always had a fiercely independent streak,” explains GOP pollster and consultant Whit Ayres. “George Wallace came from Alabama, and stood in the schoolhouse door to tell the federal government to get lost,” says Mr. Ayres, referring to the Democratic governor of Alabama who opposed integration in the turbulent 1960s, when the state was ground zero for the civil rights movement.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 12

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Hill regarding the Republican tax bill:

“It makes a lot of sense in a tax-reform bill to provide some relief to those on the lower end of the income scale as well as the upper end,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who does work for Rubio.

Ayres said Rubio is right that “it will help the overall perception of this bill if it’s perceived of helping everyone who’s working, not just those at the upper end of the income scale.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 8

Whit Ayres’ comments in USA Today about sexual harassment and party politics:

“It’s a huge problem with women and particularly college-educated white women if Republicans come to be perceived as the party that accepts and defends men credibly accused of assault and being sexual predators,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, November 21

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Chicago Tribune about the Republican desire to pass tax reform:

“There’s enormous desire within the entire center-right coalition to pass a pro-growth tax reform bill,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, November 9

Whit Ayres’ comments to Reuters regarding Republican support and geography:

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster based in Virginia, said the party was on a risky track. ”Republicans have traded fast-growing upscale suburban counties for slow-growing or declining rural areas. That is not a formula for long-term success.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, November 9

Whit Ayres’ comments in the Los Angeles Times regarding the political environment:

“Our politics has become so tribal that people filter new information through a lens that tends to reinforce their preexisting point of view rather than change their point of view,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, October 25

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Wall Street Journal regarding factions in the Republican party:

“Both Sens. Corker and Flake have played important roles in the governing-conservative part of the Republican Party,” said Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster. “Losing them is a major problem for those of us who want a center-right coalition to function effectively.”

For now, Mr. Ayres said, the two camps in the party—the Trump forces and the party establishment—need each other and need to find a way to work together. “Neither faction,” he said, “is large enough either to win elections alone or to govern alone.”

To read the full article, please click here.