The Political Report – 7/24/21

Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Biden is expected to point to the economic recovery at the start of his administration, providing a window into how the president’s team intends to approach the midterm elections.”

“They say passing infrastructure legislation and a companion antipoverty plan would help Democrats hold on to Mr. Biden’s 2020 voting coalition, and he has traveled to congressional districts that are expected to see close races next year to promote the proposals.”

Said aide Jen O’Malley Dillon: “He believes that the most important thing he can do to help Democrats in the midterms is to get this agenda through and go sell that to the American people.”

“I ran against Donald Trump in Virginia and so is Terry. And I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia and so will Terry.” — President Biden, while campaigning for Terry McAuliffe in Virginia.

IOWA U.S. SENATOR — Democrats got a prominent Iowa Senate candidate on Thursday when former Rep. Abby Finkenauer announced that she would take on incumbent Chuck Grassley, a seven-term Republican who has not yet revealed his own 2022 plans. No matter what the senator does, though, Team Blue will have a very challenging task prevailing in a longtime swing state that has swung hard to the right over the last decade and where Donald Trump prevailed 53-45 last year.

Finkenauer was elected to the state legislature in 2014 and decided to seek a promotion four years later by campaigning for the 1st Congressional District, a northeastern Iowa seat that had dramatically shifted in 2016 from 56-43 Obama to 49-45 Trump. The Democrat went up against Rep. Rod Blum, a two-term member whom national Republicans left for dead until late in the campaign, and unseated him by a 51-46 margin during that wave year. Finkenauer was 30 when she was sworn in months later, which made her the second-youngest woman to ever serve in the House (New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who also prevailed that same cycle, is 10 months younger).

Republicans, though, quickly set out to make Finkenauer one of their top 2020 targets, and they successfully recruited state Rep. Ashley Hinson to take her on. Major outside groups on both sides ended up spending $8 million between them, but while Democrats hoped that this part of Iowa would swing back to the left, that’s very much not what happened: Trump’s 51-47 victory in the 1st District was little different from his 2016 performance, and while Finkenauer ran ahead of the ticket, she still lost 51-49.

Finkenauer kicked off her new campaign by focusing on the Jan. 6 attack in the Capitol and arguing that, after so long in office, Grassley has “lost touch” with both Iowa and democracy. She refrained from focusing, however, on the vast generational gap between her and the incumbent, who will be 89 on Election Day.

Grassley has pulled off landslide victories during each of his six re-election campaigns, but there is some evidence that Iowans may be tired of the veteran senator. Last month, a Selzer & Co. survey for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom Iowa pegged his approval rating at 45-39 among adults―his worst showing in this poll since 1982. President Joe Biden, though, was in worse shape with a 43-52 score, which is the type of negative rating that would present a serious obstacle to any Democratic nominee.

Grassley himself recently said that he’d decide between Labor Day and Nov. 1 if he’d run again, and his recent fundraising doesn’t give us a good idea which way he’s leaning: The senator hauled in $415,000 during the second quarter of 2020, and he ended June with $2.5 million on-hand. That was dramatically better than Grassley’s primary foe, far-right state Sen. Jim Carlin, who had a mere $9,000 in the bank.

The only notable Democrat who entered the race before Finkenauer was former Crawford County Supervisor Dave Muhlbauer, who raised $45,000 from donors during his first quarter in the race, self-funded another $20,000, and had $60,000 to spend.

“Former President Donald Trump is set to head to Phoenix for a Saturday event that is ostensibly about election integrity and the 2022 elections for Republicans,” the Arizona Republic reports.

“But looming over his first return to the state that narrowly slipped away from him are the 2020 and 2024 elections.”

“Trump will arrive at the Arizona Federal Theater as the state Senate is still picking over the 2020 ballots from Maricopa County in a review that has dragged on for months. It has provided fresh — and false — fuel for second-guessing results that showed President Joe Biden defeated him.”

NEVADA GOVERNOR — Any notion that Rep. Mark Amodei might not run against Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo in next year’s Republican primary for governor seems quite dead: In new remarks, the congressman says, “Certainly no one has sucked the air out of the room, in a Republican primary sense, which Steve Sisolak must be happy about,” referring both to Lombardo—who announced a campaign in May—and the Democrat currently making his home in Nevada’s governor’s mansion.

Earlier this year, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Rory Appleton reported that unnamed Republican operatives believed Lombardo and Amodei would “come to an agreement” to avoid fighting one another for the GOP nod, and it’s certainly possible Amodei won’t wind up running (he now says he’s “committed to making a call in October”).

For what it’s worth, Amodei raised only $89,000 in the second quarter of the year, and under Nevada law, he’s allowed to transfer federal funds to a state campaign, so he’s not sending a strong signal that he’s actually interested. But if he does wind up staying out, it doesn’t look as though intra-Republican comity will be the reason why.

RHODE ISLAND GOVERNOR — Fundraising reports for the second quarter of the year aren’t due until Aug. 2 in Rhode Island, but all of the notable Democratic candidates for governor—both actual and potential—have already shared estimates of their hauls:

  • Gov. Dan McKee: $320,000 raised, $716,000 cash-on-hand
  • State Treasurer Seth Magaziner: $250,000 raised, $1.5 million cash-on-hand
  • Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza: $210,000 raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand
  • Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea: $200,000 raised, $670,000 cash-on-hand
  • Physician Luis Daniel Muñoz: $2,000 raised, $1,500 cash-on-hand

Elorza and Magaziner still have yet to announce their campaigns, though given the sums their raising, there’s little doubt they will. Elorza indicated in the middle of June that he wouldn’t decide for another three to five months, while Magaziner said in mid-May that he would decide “shortly.” (It’s fair to say we are well past any reasonable definition of “shortly” at this point.)

NEW YORK 21ST CD — Former speedskater Bridie Farrell, who was a member of the U.S. national team, announced on Wednesday that she would join the field of Democrats hoping to take on Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik next year. The area is known as a major hub for speedskating, and the village of Lake Placid in the northern part of New York’s 21st Congressional District hosted the Winter Olympics in both 1980 and 1932.

Toward the end of her athletic career, Farrell became an advocate for sexual assault victims after accusing Olympic speedskating medalist Andy Gabel of abusing her beginning when he was 33 and she was 15. After Farrell went public in 2013, Gabel admitted he’d had an “inappropriate relationship with a female teammate”; he’s now being sued by Farrell thanks to a 2019 law she helped champion that relaxed New York’s strict statute of limitations barring child sex abuse claims.

TEXAS 10TH CD — Manor Mayor Larry Wallace has announced a challenge to Republican Rep. Mike McCaul, making him the first notable Democrat to join the race for Texas’ 10th Congressional District. Manor is a small but very fast growing suburb in the Austin area, though it may or may not remain within the confines of the badly gerrymandered 10th District after Republicans pass new maps. Under the current lines, Donald Trump carried the district by a small 50-48 margin in 2020, though McCaul won reelection by a wider 52-45 spread.

OHIO 15TH CD — Protect Freedom PAC, an outfit run by allies of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, has thrown down another $245,000 worth of ads on behalf of former state Rep. Ron Hood ahead of the Aug. 3 Republican primary for the special election in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District. That brings the group’s total outlay to $626,000, making it by far the biggest spender in the race. The Club for Growth is the runnerup, putting about $150,000 into mailers attacking a trio of candidates: state Sens. Bob Peterson and Stephanie Kunze, and state Rep. Jeff LaRe.

NEW HAMPSHIRE U.S. SENATOR A new University of New Hampshire poll pitting three Republican challengers—two hypothetical and one actual—against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan finds little change from the school’s last survey in February. The new numbers are below, with trendlines in parentheses:

  • Gov. Chris Sununu: 49, Hassan: 48 (48-46 Sununu)
  • Hassan: 49, former Sen. Kelly Ayotte: 45 (48-43 Hassan)
  • Hassan: 51, retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc: 41 (52-39 Hassan)

The good news for Hassan is that Bolduc is the only candidate actually in the race right now, even more so considering he raised just $47,000 in the second quarter of the year (Hassan raised $3.1 million and had $6.6 million in the bank). Sununu, though, has the name recognition to enter the race late if he so chooses, though last month he said he intends to “enjoy having a summer and fall … of just being a governor,” so any launch could come very late indeed.

MICHIGAN GOVERNOR –– Just hours after announcing the formation of an “exploratory committee”—a vehicle not recognized under Michigan law—former Detroit police Chief James Craig told Fox host Tucker Carlson, “I am running” for governor.

A few other Republicans are running against Whitmer, but none of them have the stature of Craig, who recently stepped down as Detroit’s police chief and would be the Wolverine State’s first Black governor. Some GOP powerbrokers, though, appear to be casting about for an alternative to the first-time candidate: Kyle Melinn at MIRS News wrote last week that speculation about a potential campaign by Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s notorious education secretary, “tends to add some gravitas to the story line that … Craig is not the unanimous choice among all major Republican players.” (DeVos has yet to say anything publicly about taking part in this race.)

The eventual GOP nominee will be in for an expensive contest against Whitmer in this swing state: The governor announced this week that she’d hauled in $8.5 million from Jan. 1 through July 20—an off-year record—and had $10 million on-hand.

VIRGINIA GOVERNOR — While finance executive Glenn Youngkin, the Virginia GOP’s self-funding nominee in this fall’s race for governor, has been spending freely on television for quite some time, former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is only now going up with his first TV ad of the race. The spot, narrated by McAuliffe himself, follows the classic compare-and-contrast formula: “When I was Governor last time, I worked with reasonable Republicans to get things done,” says McAuliffe. “We created thousands of new jobs, put billions into our infrastructure projects and a billion dollars into education.”

But, he warns, “Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican. He is a loyalist to Donald Trump.” The ad switches to showing side-by-side clips of Youngkin wearing a red baseball cap bearing his own name and Trump sporting a similar-looking MAGA hat, then plays an audio clip of Youngkin—surprisingly, from several days after he’d sewn up the GOP nomination—saying, “President Trump represents so much of why I’m running.” (Incidentally, Youngkin only offers caps in white and blue in his campaign store.) Concludes McAuliffe, “Well you know what folks, I’m running because of you.”

The ad tracking firm AdImpact says McAuliffe is putting $452,000 behind this ad, while Youngkin has spent $4 million on TV since early June.

CONNECTICUT 5TH CD — Former state Sen. George Logan, who lost his bid for a third term in the legislature last year, announced this week that he’d challenge Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District. Logan’s career has been marked by a string of close races: In 2016, he unseated veteran Democratic state Sen. Joseph Crisco in the 17th District by a 51-49 margin to become the Senate’s first Black Republican, but after defeating Democrat Jorge Cabrera just 51.1-49.9 two years later, he lost to Cabrera 52-48 in a rematch in 2020.

Logan’s old Senate district, however, doesn’t actually overlap with the congressional seat he’s seeking, though he said he’d move into the 5th District once new lines are drawn. They aren’t likely to change too much, though, since the next map will probably reflect a compromise between the two parties or be crafted by a court. That’s because Connecticut requires a two-thirds supermajority vote in the legislature for new districts, which Democrats currently lack.

(Also, important reminder: Members of Congress do not have to live in the districts they represent. The Constitution only mandates that they reside in their home states, and courts have said states cannot add further requirements.)

Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, was first elected to Congress in 2018, after Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty resigned following her failure to properly address sexual harassment complaints levied against her former chief of staff. Hayes easily turned back Republican Manny Santos 56-44 to become the state’s first-ever Black member of Congress, then won re-election by a similar 55-44 margin in a race that attracted little outside attention last year—the exact same spread Joe Biden prevailed by.

Republicans had long dominated in the northwestern corner of Connecticut until Democrat Chris Murphy defeated GOP Rep. Nancy Johnson in the 2006 wave. Since then, though, the closest they’ve come was in 2012, when Murphy successfully ran for Joe Lieberman’s Senate seat and Esty won her first term 52-48 over state Sen. Andrew Roraback.

COLORADO 3RD CD — Democratic state Rep. Dylan Roberts had been considering a bid against Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District but instead announced this week that he’d run for the state Senate seat held by fellow Democrat Kerry Donovan—who is term-limited and is already running for Boebert’s seat herself.

TEXAS 6TH CD — Does anyone else think this is, like, not so great for Susan Wright? The Trump-endorsed wife of the late Rep. Ron Wright has released a poll from American Viewpoint of Tuesday’s special election runoff for Texas’ 6th Congressional District that shows her up 44-34 on state Rep. Jake Ellzey, which doesn’t look all that dominant with the race just days from concluding.

What’s more, that’s actually worse than an early June poll that had Wright ahead 49-34. And not only does Wright’s own data show a decline in her fortunes, it also shows there’s still a great deal of fluidity left to resolve. Just how unsettled things are is quite unclear, though: American Viewpoint’s memo says that 12% of voters are undecided, but as that tickle in your brain will quickly tell you, those figures only add up to 90%.

So what’s going on with that other 10%? We just can’t say. If they’re people saying they won’t vote, then they should probably just be excluded, especially since the poll says it’s a sample of likely voters. On the other hand, if those are folks declining to state a preference or insisting on some other candidate, well, there are only going to be two names on the ballot, so they probably belong in the undecided pile. And it doesn’t appear to be a typo, either, as Wright’s June survey likewise only totaled 94%.

Ellzey, however, hasn’t released any polling of his own—in fact, the only numbers we have are from Wright—and that’s always a lacuna worth noting. But this contest does seem up for grabs, especially if Ellzey can quietly convince Democratic voters that if they turn out for him, they’ll be sticking it to Trump.

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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