The Morning Dispatch: The Georgia Home Stretch

Plus: California's modest tech exodus.

Happy Wednesday! Just because the Senate might be working on New Year’s Day does not mean we will be! Quick reminder that tomorrow’s TMD will be the last of the week.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked an attempt by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to unanimously approve a House-passed bill that would increase the direct payments in the latest coronavirus relief package from $600 per person to $2,000 per person. Instead, McConnell introduced legislation tying the $2,000 provision to a full repeal of Section 230 protections for social media companies and the creation of a bipartisan commission to study the integrity and administration of the 2020 election. The combined legislation—which would satisfy all of President Trump’s recent demands—is all but assured to fail if it is brought up for a vote.

  • A Colorado man in his 20s with no recent travel history was discovered to have the United States’ first confirmed case of the seemingly more contagious coronavirus variant circulating in the United Kingdom, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said yesterday.

  • Luke Letlow, who was elected to Congress in December and was set to be sworn in next month, died yesterday after announcing he was COVID-positive December 18. He was just 41 years old.

  • Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that after reviewing more than 15,000 ballots in an audit of voter signatures in Cobb County, law enforcement officers found “no fraudulent absentee ballots.”

  • Data from 57 different cities compiled by criminologist Jeff Asher show that the number of murders committed in 2020 is up more than 30 percent year over year. Most cities’ data are up to date as of December or November, but a few were last updated at the end of September.

  • The first Boeing 737 Max passenger flight in nearly two years took off in Miami and landed in New York City yesterday, after two fatal crashes resulted in a worldwide grounding of the planes in March 2019. 

  • Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Tuesday received the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine live on television. 

  • The United States confirmed 248,746 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 20.4 percent of the 1,220,879 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 3,714 deaths were attributed to the virus on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 338,544. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 124,686 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 11,445,175 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide, and 2,127,143 have been administered.

Checking in on the Georgia Runoffs

So much of the last two months in Washington has been driven by the two runoff elections in Georgia that will decide which party controls the Senate for the first two years of Joe Biden’s administration. The coronavirus relief package, the Biden transition team’s public commentary, the response to President Trump’s baseless election conspiracies—all of it is being shaped to some degree by how Republican and Democratic leaders believe a few million voters in Georgia will react. With the races now less than a week away, we figured we’d check back in on how things in the Peach State are going. (For a primer on the race, we recommend you check out this TMD newsletter from last month.)

Although public polling in Georgia was relatively accurate heading into November’s general election—FiveThirtyEight’s average on November 3 showed Biden up by 1.2 percentage points, he won by 0.2—very few pollsters have ventured into the state ahead of the runoff, in part due to fear of getting the results wrong. What little public polling we do have basically confirms what we already know: Both races are going to be close and will likely come down to a few thousand votes. FiveThirtyEight’s averages this time around show Republican David Perdue leading his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff by 0.4 percentage points, and Democrat Raphael Warnock leading Republican Kelly Loeffler by 0.5 percentage points.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project, more than 2.3 million Georgians have already voted early, either in-person or by mail—including nearly 80,000 who didn’t vote in the November general election. The race is well on its way to shattering voting records for a runoff election in the state. Voters in Georgia don’t register by party, so we don’t know whether either side has an edge in the turnout game thus far. But as elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich argues, this data isn’t very predictive. Although slightly elevated Black turnout thus far may be a good omen for Democrats, he writes, “none of that will matter if hordes of white voters and north Georgia Republicans turn out to vote on election day, which is very possible.”

Some GOP sources tell The Dispatch they remain confident that Perdue and Loeffler will win out “in a squeaker,” and NBC News reports that even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is “pessimistic” about Ossoff and Warnock’s chances. (A spokesperson for Schumer later denied the report.) 

“I think the overall environment benefits Republicans, because a lot of the air was let out of the balloon with the apparent victory of President-elect Biden,” GOP strategist David Kochel told The Dispatch last month. “Voters make an unconscious choice sometimes to put a check on the White House. … It will have a high turnout, in part because of the attention, and the spending, and what’s at stake. But my guess is you’re going to see these Republican candidates win by a couple of points.”

If that is indeed what ends up happening, it won’t be for a lack of trying on the Democrats’ part. According to recent FEC reports, Ossoff and Warnock combined to raise a whopping $210 million from October 15 to December 16, compared to a total $132 million for Perdue and Loeffler. Republicans, however, had an advantage in outside group spending as of a week ago, $133 million to $63 million. Money, of course, is not everything in politics—Jaime Harrison, Amy McGrath, and Sara Gideon can attest to that—but a half billion dollars in advertising will certainly ensure Georgians are well aware of the election on Tuesday. Georgia-based political analyst Niles Edward Francis noted yesterday that some local Atlanta TV stations are extending the length of their news broadcasts so as to cram in more ads.

So what messages are these ads pushing? Both parties’ candidate duos are acting more or less in tandem. Republicans Loeffler and Perdue recently started running a TV spot in which they received an endorsement from Herschel Walker, the University of Georgia’s star running back in the early 1980’s. “This is about saving America from socialism and protecting the freedoms that make us great,” Loeffler says. Perdue adds that “if the radicals take total control, we’ll never get our country back.” Other Loeffler ads target Warnock for things he’s said in his role as a pastor, and she recently called on her opponent to provide answers after unearthed police body cam footage showed Warnock’s ex-wife Ouleye accusing the pastor of running over her foot in his car. No charges were filed against Warnock, who denies the allegation, and the police report said medical examiners were “not able to locate any swelling, redness, or bruising or broken bones” in Ouleye’s feet.

Ossoff’s ads targeting Perdue, meanwhile, have focused on the Republican’s active stock portfolio while in office. “Perhaps Sen. Perdue would have been able to respond properly to the COVID-19 pandemic if you hadn’t been fending off multiple federal investigations for insider trading,” the 33-year-old Ossoff said in a debate earlier this year. The Perdue campaign has confirmed that the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission did investigate some of Perdue’s transactions earlier this year but is running an ad saying he was “totally exonerated” by those investigations. The Justice Department closed a similar investigation into Loeffler (and Sens. James Inhofe and Dianne Feinstein) earlier this year.

The focus of these races in recent days, however, has turned to the coronavirus relief package—and specifically, the size of the accompanying “stimulus check.” 

“I will vote for you to have a $2000 relief check,” Ossoff tweeted on Saturday. “David Perdue won’t.” 

“Senate Republicans are the only reason Georgians won’t receive a $2000 relief check,” Warnock added. “Trump agreed. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate agreed. But Loeffler and McConnell refused.”

In an apparent sign that the Democrats’ recent line of attack was effective, Perdue and Loeffler both broke from Senate GOP ranks yesterday and—citing President Trump’s stance—said that they were, in fact, in favor of $2,000 checks

“I’ve stood by the president 100% of the time. I’m proud to do that and I’ve said, absolutely, we need to get relief to Americans now and I will support that,” Loeffler told Fox News on Tuesday. Perdue tweeted that “President @realdonaldtrump is right—I support this push for $2,000 in direct relief for the American people.” He ignored multiple questions from reporters, however, asking if he’d call on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the measure up for a vote as a standalone issue.

Hanging over all of this, of course, are President Trump’s increasingly unhinged conspiracies that Republican election officials in Georgia are criminals and/or working with the Chinese to sabotage him. Pro-Trump lawyers Lin Wood and Sidney Powell have spent weeks telling Republican voters to stay home on January 5 because they “do NOT think GA Patriots should participate in a rigged election.” Trump himself has remained very supportive of Perdue and Loeffler—he’s planning on rallying for them in Georgia on January 4—but some GOP officials are concerned his constant drumbeat about election fraud may convince some voters Republicans need that it’s not worth the effort.

It’s unlikely a large number of Georgians will listen to Wood and Powell and boycott the election, particularly with so much riding on the outcome of these races. But Joe Biden won the state by less than 12,000 votes last month; every last ballot will matter.

Some Tech Titans Vacate Silicon Valley

In recent weeks, several top tech companies have announced they will be moving their headquarters from Silicon Valley, which has for decades been America’s leading tech hub. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced on December 1 that its global headquarters will move to Houston, Texas. Oracle made similar news about two weeks later, relocating its headquarters to Austin, Texas after four decades in Silicon Valley. Around the same time, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he was moving to the Lone Star State, adding that his company’s headquarters may soon follow suit.

What’s behind this exodus from the Bay Area? Pandemic induced work-from-home policies may have opened tech CEOs’ eyes to the efficiency of remote work and the higher quality of life their employees can afford in cheaper cities. “If you look at Silicon Valley in the Bay Area, you might be able to buy a $1 million 800-square-foot condo over there,” Luke Lloyd, a wealth advisor at Strategic Wealth Partners, told The Dispatch. “But if you look at Texas, $1 million gets you probably a 40-acre ranch and a huge house.”

HPE CEO Antonio Neri said in a blog post announcing the decision that in response to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has “reevaluated our real estate site strategy to ensure that we are utilizing our workspaces most effectively and positioning our teams and talent in the best interests of our business.” He added that HPE expects to see “long term cost savings” from the move and that it plans to “reinvest in key areas of our business and innovation.”

The move will save HPE and its employees money, as San Francisco’s cost of living routinely ranks among the highest in the country. California’s 13.3 percent state income tax rate for top earners—of which there are many at tech companies—is also No. 1 in the U.S. Combined with increasingly strict environmental and other regulatory policies, it’s easy to see why CEOs may eye Texas—and its lack of a state income tax—with fondness.

Silicon Valley rose to prominence decades ago partly due to its proximity to research hubs like Stanford University. “The unlikely location of the electronics industry in a charming, semi-rural area of northern California can be traced back to the establishment in 1951 of Stanford Industrial Park by Stanford University’s visionary Dean of Engineering and Provost, Frederick Terman,” Manuel Castells writes in his bookThe Rise of the Network Society. “He had personally supported two of his graduate students, William Hewlett and David Packard, in creating an electronics company in 1938. The Second World War was a bonanza for Hewlett Packard and other start-up electronics companies. … As soon as knowledge was available in Silicon Valley, the dynamism of its industrial structure and the continuous creation of start-up firms anchored Silicon Valley as the world’s micro-electronics center by the early 1970s.”

Thanks in large part to the countless companies founded in the Bay Area, we live in a more interconnected world than at any point in human history—and physical proximity is no longer the draw that it once was. Announcing his move to Texas, Musk compared California to a sports team accustomed to winning. “They do tend to get a little complacent, a little entitled,” he said. “[California] has been winning for a long time. And I think they’re taking [tech companies] for granted a little bit.”

When Musk floated the idea of abandoning the Golden State last spring, Gov. Gavin Newsom told CNBC he was “not worried about Elon leaving any time soon,” adding that “we may not be the cheapest place to do business but we are the best place to do business.”

Despite the high-profile relocations in recent months, many tech companies obviously agree with Newsom that the benefits of San Francisco living continue to outweigh the drawbacks. Apple just opened its $5 billion “Apple Park” campus in Cupertino, California in 2017. Airbnb, which is valued at more than $100 billion after wrapping the biggest U.S. initial public offering of 2020, is based in San Francisco. Google and Facebook have offices around the country (and world), but both still call Silicon Valley home.

“Silicon Valley’s obituary has been written prematurely before; boom-and-bust cycles have defined the region’s economy for decades” Margaret O’Mara, a historian of the region, argued recently. “Housing prices propelled some tech companies to relocate to smaller cities, including Austin, in the early 1980s. Business leaders have been complaining about California’s high taxes—and threatening to leave—for even longer.”

Texas and Florida have certainly received the most buzz in the post-Silicon Valley discourse, but LinkedIn data provided to Alex Kantrowitz’ Big Technology newsletter show that the cities adding tech workers at the highest rate year-over-year are actually Madison, Cleveland, Sacramento, and Minneapolis. In 2020, the San Francisco Bay Area saw the steepest decline in tech worker inflow-outflow ratio, nearly double the runner-up.

Worth Your Time

  • In early October, a video showing an unarmed boy being shot by a member of Nigeria’s notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad plunged the country into a series of demonstrations against police brutality. As the movement spread to major cities, the Nigerian government’s crackdown escalated, culminating in the Lekki toll gate massacre, wherein the armed forces opened fire and killed 12 civilians. Buzzfeed News recruited photographers across Nigeria—in Warri, Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Jos—to capture the fallout for a gripping photo series.

  • In a piece for The Atlantic, McKay Coppins talked to several journalists who became stars during the Trump era. “Once-obscure correspondents were recast in the popular imagination as resistance heroes fighting for truth, justice, and the American way,” he writes. “They were showered with book deals, speaking gigs, and hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers.” Coppins adds that, rightly or wrongly, “Trump’s endless media-bashing has also desensitized many news outlets to Republican accusations of bias. What comes next, once their foil exits the stage? “It didn’t really require any special bravery to report honestly and critically on Donald Trump,” New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi said. “On a purely social level, I don’t know that reporting critically on Joe Biden will feel as safe for reporters.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In his Tuesday French Press (🔒), David writes about a teenage cheerleader who faced repercussions for venting grievances about her public school on a social media platform, and how her case might end up before the Supreme Court. “The Supreme Court can’t calm down Twitter. It can’t restore grace to American life,” he argues. “But it can restrain the government from becoming the online mob’s mighty club, the weapon that can punish its targets even if they have the fortitude to delete Twitter, plug their online ears, and weather the vicious social storm.”

Let Us Know

If you could live and work anywhere in the country, where would it be? What would you prioritize the most: Cost of living, the people you’d be surrounded with, schools, or the climate and environmental landscape?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).