The Political Report – 7/30/2021

Politico: “Susan Wright’s loss Tuesday night sent shockwaves through the former president’s inner circle. Many privately concede the pressure is on them to win another special election next week in Ohio.”

“More broadly, losses could undermine his standing in the Republican Party, where his popularity and influence has protected Trump’s relevance even as a former president barred from his social media megaphones. Some in the former president’s orbit worry that he’s been too prolific in endorsing candidates running in contested primaries.”

Roll Call: What the loss by Trump’s favorite in an all-GOP Texas runoff means.

Philip Bump: “One is that he’s centering many of them on retribution and loyalty, elevating candidates seemingly on a whim because they are running against people who opposed his false claims about election fraud or who voted to impeach him. This means endorsing challengers who will face opponents who have the advantage of incumbency, meaning they face an uphill climb from the outset.”

“The other thing hampering his endorsements is that Trump came into politics without a sophisticated sense of how elections work and never developed that sense as president. So he endorses candidates who probably could have used a bit more vetting, like his pick of a former aide, Max Miller, to challenge a pro-impeachment legislator in Ohio. Miller is accused of assaulting a member of Trump’s own administration. (He denies it.) Or Trump endorses based on who other people think is going to win, hoping to add an easy win to the scales.”

FiveThirtyEight: “After the recall looked uncompetitive for months, evidence has emerged that the race is tightening.”

“Who casts a ballot in this unusually timed election could be pivotal. The UC Berkeley IGS/Los Angeles Times poll underscored why: Among registered voters, Republicans were far more likely to say they’d vote than Democrats or independents.”

“Irregularly timed elections, like a gubernatorial recall held in September of an odd year, can produce unexpected results and lopsided electorates.”

Ari Berman: “Republicans could pick up anywhere from six to 13 seats in the House of Representatives — enough to retake the House in 2022 — through its control of the redistricting process in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas alone.”

This is somewhat misleading since it doesn’t net out states like New York where Democrat will likely gain seats due to redistricting.

ALASKA U.S. SENATOR — Alaska Wildlife Troopers are investigating whether U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka (R) illegally obtained a resident sportfishing license for a Kenai River sportfishing event in 2019, the Anchorage Daily News reports.

“The Republican serving as liaison between the Arizona state Senate and the private company conducting a partisan ballot review said Wednesday he intends to resign, citing his inability to back the final product,” NBC News reports.

“Ken Bennett, a former Arizona secretary of state, said he made the decision after it became clear he would not regain access to the Phoenix fairgrounds where the private company, Cyber Ninjas, continues its examination of millions of ballots cast last November in Maricopa County.”

“A private contractor conducting a Republican-commissioned review of 2020 presidential ballots in Arizona’s largest county announced late Wednesday that it has collected more than $5.7 million in private donations to fund the process,” the Washington Post reports.

TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL — Ever feel like you gave out a bunch of beer koozies dissing your own family for nothing? Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush may have an inkling of what that’s like following Donald Trump’s Monday night endorsement of scandal-tarred incumbent Ken Paxton, whom Bush is hoping to unseat in next year’s Republican primary for state attorney general.

Politico had reported months ago that “most insiders” believed that Trump would end up supporting Paxton, who was one of the ringleaders of a failed lawsuit aimed at convincing the Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 election, but that didn’t stop Bush from trying to prevent such an outcome by groveling before the GOP’s master. The land commissioner, who is the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, infamously used his campaign kickoff last month to distribute those beer koozies, which depicted a drawing of Bush and Trump shaking hands above a Trump quote reading, “This is the only Bush that likes me! This is the Bush that got it right. I like him.”

Bush also met privately with Trump, who once tweeted that Jeb Bush “has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife,”Columba, who is also George P. Bush’s mother. An unnamed source informed CNN that Trump personally told the younger Bush that he wouldn’t be taking sides, but the same person added that “that was never going to happen.” That may have been news to the challenger, though, as a different nameless source called Bush “naive” for believe Trump might remain neutral.

Still another anonymous source said, as CNN put it, “Trump endorsing Paxton is like Lucy and the football and Charlie Brown.” The story added that even Bush’s allies correctly predicted what was about to happen and “warned him not to publicly play up to the former President because Trump would once again take glee in embarrassing the Bush family.” Judging by the very existence of those koozies, Bush did not listen.

He still, however, is hoping that Paxton’s multitude of scandals will allow him to pull off a win next year despite the challenger’s own weaknesses with the party’s nativist base. Minutes after Trump made his endorsement, Bush took to Twitter to write, “Texans deserve a candidate without a laundry list of existing and potential criminal indictments.” Paxton was indeed indicted for securities fraud during his first months in office in 2015, though the case soon stalled due to ongoing legal challenges. He was re-elected 51-47 in 2018, but the prosecution remains ongoing.

In November, the AP reported that the FBI was investigating unrelated allegations that Paxton had used his office to aid a wealthy ally named Nate Paul in exchange for favors. He’s also facing a whistleblower lawsuit from four former senior aides who say they were fired after they reported Paxton’s actions to law enforcement. Among other things, these staffers claim that Paul helped their former boss remodel his home and, upon the attorney general’s recommendation, hired a woman Paxton was involved in an affair with. Unsurprisingly, Trump did not find any of this remotely disqualifying.

The GOP primary also features a third candidate, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, who doesn’t have either of her rivals’ problems—or their financial resources. Bush outraised Paxton $2.3 million to $1.8 million during the final 10 days of June (the period was so short because state-level elected officials were prohibited from raising money during the regular legislative session), but it was Paxton who ended last month with a huge $6.8 million to $2.7 million cash-on-hand lead. Guzman, who entered the race in late June, hauled in $1.1 million and had $610,000 to spend.

Texas Democrats haven’t won a statewide race since 1994, but Team Blue is hoping that an acrimonious primary could give them an opening. The Democratic field currently consists of former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski and prominent civil rights attorney Lee Merritt. Jaworski raised $450,000 during the first half of 2021 and had $525,000 to spend while Merritt, who only officially announced this month, received $100,000 in donations from the progressive group Real Justice PAC.

Politico: “The Justice Department on Wednesday issued another warning aimed at states conducting or considering audits of ballots tallied in last year’s election, reminding election authorities that allowing ballots to be mishandled can violate federal law.”

“Georgia Republicans have taken the first step on their freshly blazed path toward a possible takeover of Fulton County’s elections,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

ALABAMA 5TH CD — Madison County businessman John Roberts, who if he’s lucky will one day rate getting called “No, Not That John Roberts,” has joined the Republican primary for Alabama’s open 5th Congressional District. Notable candidates already in the race include former Department of Defense official Casey Wardynski and Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong.

GEORGIA 10TH CDThe latest entrant into the extremely crowded Republican primary for Georgia’s open 10th Congressional District is former Trump administration official Patrick Witt, who was also a member of the Trump legal team that sought to overturn the results of last year’s election in Georgia.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR — Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) is expected to launch a campaign for U.S. Senate campaign next month, Roll Call reports.

Political consultant Craig Snyder has decided to test his theory that an anti-Trump Republican can win a crowded primary. Snyder, who founded a PAC in 2016 to support Hillary Clinton, announced his candidacy Wednesday after warning, “In the absence of the kind of movement that I’m trying to mobilize, Pennsylvanians are going to end up next November with an unacceptable choice between a MAGA extremist and a woke progressive extremist.” He did serve as chief of staff to a Republican senator in the 1990s, which could be an asset … if that senator weren’t the late Arlen Specter, a moderate who joined the Democratic Party in 2009.

CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR — Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will soon make the most of the huge financial advantage he enjoys over the field of would-be replacement candidates, as he just booked $8.6 million in ad time on TV and radio from Aug. 2 through Sept. 13, the day before the recall elections. Newsom first went on the air in mid-June, so it’s not clear whether this latest reservation is for new ads or to continue airing the same spots.

A major reason Newsom has raised about twice as much money as his opponents is that the targets of recalls in California are allowed to accept donations without any size limits. Contributions to any of the candidates running against Newsom, meanwhile, top out at $32,400—large by federal standards, but tiny compared to infinity.

MICHIGAN GOVERNOR — Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson says he hasn’t ruled out a challenge to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in next year’s Democratic primary, but the better question would be, what would he hope to accomplish? An independent poll released last month showed Whitmer with a nearly 90% approval rating from Democratic voters and just reporting having more than $10 million in her campaign coffers—not exactly the markings of an incumbent vulnerable to an intra-party challenge.

Swanson, though, is an eclectic figure who may not heed this political reality. Last year, he earned national attention after setting down his baton and helmet during a Black Lives Matter protest and later joined the demonstration. But just weeks earlier, as the coronavirus pandemic was amidst its initial crescendo, he said his department would not enforce Whitmer’s lockdown orders aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.

OREGON GOVERNOR — State House Speaker Tina Kotek, who last month did not rule out a run for governor, has now acknowledged through a spokesperson that she’s considering a bid. Willamette Week’s Rachel Monahan adds that various sources say a Kotek campaign is “likely,” including one person willing to speak on the record, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, “who reiterated this week that she herself hasn’t closed the door on running.”

While Kotek is one of the most prominent Democrats who could enter the contest, she still hasn’t offered a concrete timetable for making a decision. Given how slowly the field has taken shape, she may not feel much urgency: Though many candidates are still weighing the race, to date, the only noteworthy Democrat to launch a bid has been Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla. Several Republicans are running, most notably 2016 nominee Bud Pierce.

SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR — State Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said this week that he would not challenge Gov. Henry McMaster in the Republican primary.

VIRGINIA GOVERNOR — With Republican Glenn Youngkin set to join an “election integrity” rally on the campus of Liberty University next month—an event former GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman called “conspiracy-palooza”—Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s latest TV ad slams his opponent for “repeating Donald Trump’s lies” about last year’s presidential race. The spot features a video clip of Youngkin describing the launch of his campaign: “Our election integrity task force was launched week one. This is the most important issue we’re going to talk about.” It then plays audio of Youngkin saying, “President Trump represents so much of why I’m running,” a snippet McAuliffe has used in past ads.

OHIO 16TH CD — In a deep look at Max Miller, the former aide Donald Trump is backing in the GOP primary against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, Politico’s Michael Kruse reports on allegations that Miller last year physically attacked his then-girlfriend, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham. Miller attorney Larry Zukerman responded by declaring, “Mr. Miller has never, ever assaulted Ms. Grisham in any way whatsoever,” while Grisham did not comment.

Several unnamed people close to Grisham told Kruse that they became worried after hearing about Miller’s behavior towards her in late 2019 and early 2020. Three of them relayed that they’d heard how he’d thrown “at her a dog-toy tennis ball when she suggested she suspected he was cheating on her.” They also said Miller had repeatedly “grabbed her at the elevator as she tried to leave after arguments,” though Grisham wasn’t sure if he was threatening to harm her.

These associates said, though, that there was “nothing ambiguous” about the alleged April 2020 incident when Grisham broke up with her boyfriend. “Miller pushed her,” writes Kruse, “He slapped her. She fled. The temperatures that evening dipped into the 40s, and Grisham left with no coat, only her purse.” One of her White House coworkers said that afterwards, “We just talked and cried,” while another Grisham friend unconnected to the Trump administration told Kruse, “It was violent and it was hard for her.”

Zukerman told Kruse in response, “None of these alleged ‘three people’ could possibly have any first-hand knowledge of this false incident.” He also produced emails between Miller and Grisham to argue that, by not mentioning any physical attack, Grisham had refuted the accusations “by way of omission.”  

Those emails, though, do include a conversation between the two that occurred less than two days after the alleged incident in which Grisham said, “I can’t wrap my head around how much you hurt me—it just doesn’t seem possible.” She continued, “People are taking turns watching me … I’m just so hurt. Betrayal is one of the worst kinds of pain.” Miller responded, “I seriously don’t know what I did here? I did not cheat on you. I have no idea what is going on and that is the absolute truth.” That led Grisham to write, “I love you—more than anything—but I am beyond devastated by who you’ve become and how you’ve treated me.”

Kruse also spoke to a number of Miller’s high school classmates for his piece, three of whom said they’d witnessed Miller at a party where he “pushed a girl out the door of his room and she fell down some stairs after he became enraged when she resisted his attempts to touch her.” The girl, Politico says, was not injured and law enforcement was not contacted; through his attorney, the candidate “categorically denies” this incident took place.

Kruse also writes that from 2007 to 2011, when Miller was in high school and later college, he had six encounters with law enforcement in his hometown of Shaker Heights and in nearby Cleveland Heights. One serious incident occurred in 2007 when, as the Washington Post reported in 2018, Miller, then a high school senior, was “charged with assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after punching another male in the back of the head and running away from police.” Miller ultimately pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges; two years later, he “pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge related to another altercation.”

The most recent incident Kruse writes about took place in 2011, when Miller was charged with driving a vehicle while impaired after he crashed into a pole; the charges were again dropped to a misdemeanor. Miller’s associates said that around this time, he sought to change his life and later enlisted as a Marine reservist.

Miller, who hails from a very wealthy and well-connected family, is currently the main-intra party challenger to Gonzalez, who infuriated Trump by voting to impeach him in January. Both contenders are well-funded, but the congressman holds a big financial advantage at this point: Gonzalez outraised Miller $600,000 to $405,000 during the second quarter of 2021, and the incumbent ended June with a $1.52 million to $535,000 cash-on-hand lead.

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

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