The Political Report – 8/13/21

Former Clinton White House political director Doug Sosnik is out with a new strategy memo and slide deck warning Democrats that is will be very hard to keep control of the House and Senate in next year’s midterms. His rationale:

  • With only two exceptions (1998 and 2002), the party out of power has picked up seats in every midterm election since World War II.
  • The last five presidents have lost Senate and House majorities.
  • There are signs that President Biden’s support is beginning to soften — especially in handling the pandemic and the subsequent impact on the economy.
  • Crime is also on the rise and there are indications that the Republicans are making inroads with voters on their cultural war against the Democrats.

However, Sosnik writes that, despite these challenges, Democrats “are in a better position than history would suggest.” His key takeaways:

  • Republicans remain deeply unpopular with the American public.
  • Donald Trump remains a polarizing force and will have a significant impact on the outcome of the midterm elections.
  • Democrats have a favorable Senate map while in the House they are somewhat insulated since there are fewer swing districts, and, since they underperformed in 2020, they have fewer vulnerable seats to defend.

Sosnik concludes: “The outcome of next year’s elections will likely be determined by the results in a relatively small number of states and districts. The outcome will come down to Biden’s popularity, the state of the economy and containment of the coronavirus, and the GOP’s ability to recruit strong candidates who can survive a Trump-led Republican Party primary process.”

“High-profile Trump backers in Congress who tried to block President Biden’s election win have raked in cash this year. Many of their lesser-known rank-and-file colleagues have not,” Axios reports.

“New campaign finance data underscore a disparity among election objectors. Some have used the infamy to catapult themselves into MAGA stardom. Those who haven’t — including some facing competitive 2022 reelection fights — are stuck with all the baggage and little financial benefit.”

Harry Enten: “Mainstream Democrats have been winning a lot of big primaries in 2021. Their latest win came on Tuesday in the primary for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District special election: local legislator and party chair Shontel Brown — backed by South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — defeated Nina Turner, former co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign.”

“But while that win and those that came in other 2021 elections can be seen as moderates beating progressives, what it really shows is how Democratic voters actually like their party and its leadership. This marks a major difference between Democratic and Republican voters.”

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR AND 17TH CD — On Friday, Rep. Conor Lamb made his long-awaited entrance into what was already a crowded Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat, which will be one of Team Blue’s top pickup targets nationwide next year. Lamb’s decision means that he’s leaving behind his competitive 17th Congressional District in the Pittsburgh suburbs, though no one knows what his constituency will look like once the redistricting process is finished.

Lamb became a national sensation in March of 2018 when he won the special election for a very conservative congressional district that became open the previous year after GOP Rep. Tim Murphy resigned in disgrace in the face of duel sex and bullying scandals. Murphy’s seat, which was numbered the 18th District at the time, had supported Donald Trump by a hefty 58-39 margin in 2016, and few initially gave Team Blue much of a chance to flip it.

Lamb, though, proved to be a very strong candidate for a seat that stretched from the Pittsburgh suburbs into the rural western part of the state. The former federal prosecutor and Marine veteran had deep ties in Western Pennsylvania (his uncle, Michael Lamb, is the city controller for Pittsburgh), and he ran an energetic campaign that brought in plenty of money. The same could not be said for his GOP opponent, state Rep. Rick Saccone, who attracted scorn from his own party for everything from his basic campaign skills to his “porn stache.”

Outside Republican groups ultimately dumped in over $10 million to try to prop up their hapless candidate, and Team Red even sent in Trump himself—twice!—to stump for Saccone, who liked to claim that he “was Trump before Trump was Trump.” None of it worked, though, against Lamb, who campaigned as a moderate. The Democrat ended up beating Saccone 49.8-49.5, an upset that gave Republicans their strongest sign yet just how much the political climate had turned against them.

The new congressman had to quickly prepare for another contest in the fall, but this time, he didn’t need to run on turf this red. The state Supreme Court had thrown out the GOP’s gerrymandered congressional map earlier that year and drawn a new one after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf threatened to veto the Republican legislature’s attempts to pass a new gerrymander. Lamb ended up running in a district, now numbered the 17th District, that was considerably more suburban than the constituency he’d won in March and had backed Trump only 49-47.

Lamb, who worked hard to keep the moderate image he’d cultivated in the special election, faced off against three-term Rep. Keith Rothfus, a Republican who had been an ardent Trump ally. While national observers initially expected a very competitive incumbent vs. incumbent race, national Republicans viewed Rothfus as a weak candidate and left him to fend for himself in late September. Lamb ended up beating Rothfus 56-44 in a year where Democrats did exceptionally well in suburban areas like this, and he looked secure going into 2020.

That year, though, proved to be unexpectedly challenging for Lamb. Donald Trump promoted Army veteran Sean Parnell early, and he ended up raising a strong amount of money late in the campaign. The Congressional Leadership Fund began airing ads to help Parnell in the final days of the race, and that investment almost paid off: Lamb fended off Parnell 51-49 as Joe Biden was taking this seat by a slightly larger 51-48 spread.

A number of Republicans, including Parnell, are running to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, but Lamb has his own primary to get through before he can focus on any of them. The Democratic field already includes two well-funded candidates: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who also hails from Western Pennsylvania, and Montgomery County Commission Chair Val Arkoosh, who leads a populous community in the Philadelphia suburbs. A few other Democrats are also in including Malcolm Kenyatta, a Philadelphia-based state representative who would be the nation’s first Black gay senator.

Lamb’s centrist reputation could also prove to be an obstacle in the primary. The congressman notably told the New York Times just after the 2020 election, “I’m giving you an honest account of what I’m hearing from my own constituents, which is that they are extremely frustrated by the message of defunding the police and banning fracking,” a message he argued was both unrealistic and politically harmful. Lamb’s most prominent supporter, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, played up the congressman’s moderate views on Friday, labeling him, “Not too far left, not too far right. Moderate.”

Lamb, though, launched his statewide run arguing that he is a mainstream Democrat “somewhere in the middle of where we are as a party.” He declared that he has “economically progressive positions” such as support for unions and campaign finance reform; he added, “We can achieve very, very progressive results if we’re open-minded about the people we want to elect, and we have a teamwork frame of mind.” Lamb also opened his campaign assailing Republicans as the party that “denies reality and worships Trump.”

KANSAS — A Kansas Republican accused one of her party’s leaders of barring her from a special convention vote after she congratulated a Democrat who beat her in a state House election, the Wichita Eagle reports.

IOWA — Iowa Republican Party chair Jeff Kaufmann tweets: “Had a great 15 minute call from President Trump this evening. He asked about Iowa’s farmers and other topics including Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status.”

OHIO New York Times: “Today, as J.D. Vance pursues the Republican nomination for an open Senate seat in Ohio, he has performed a whiplash-inducing conversion to Trumpism, in which he no longer emphasizes that white working-class problems are self-inflicted.”

GEORGIA U.S. SENATOR — The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling has released its first survey of next year’s Senate contest in Georgia, and the poll finds Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock with modest leads over three prospective Republican challengers. Warnock holds a 48-46 advantage over former NFL player Herschel Walker, a 47-44 edge in a rematch against former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and a wider 46-38 lead over state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who has much less name recognition than Walker or Loeffler.

Black is the only one of the three Republicans who has formally joined the race so far, but Donald Trump has been heavily encouraging Walker to get in. Loeffler has also been considering another campaign against the man who beat her in January’s special election runoff.

Meanwhile, Politico reports that former GOP Sen. David Perdue has been “grappling with whether to run” after his defeat in January for Georgia’s other Senate seat, though there’s no direct quote from Perdue himself. The former senator had said he wasn’t running earlier this year, but CNN recently reported that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is worried Walker would be a weak candidate and “has suggested to allies” that he wants Perdue to change his mind about running.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Potential Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker and his wife live in Texas, but she voted in Georgia’s election for president last fall.”

“State law determines residency based on where a voter’s ‘habitation is fixed,’ and those who move to another state with the intention of making it their residence lose their eligibility to vote in Georgia.”

FLORIDA GOVERNOR — Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ allies at the Florida Chamber of Commerce have released a poll from Cherry Communications showing the governor beating both of his leading Democratic challengers, with DeSantis sporting a 51-43 edge over Rep. Charlie Crist and a similar 50-42 advantage over state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. This poll’s release comes right on the heels of a recently released survey by St. Pete Polls for Florida Politics that found a much tighter contest with Crist actually up 45-44 over DeSantis and Fried trailing the incumbent just 45-42.

Polling of this race has been sporadic, but the few surveys we have seen so far have typically showed DeSantis with a more sizable edge closer to what Cherry Communications just found.

NEVADA GOVERNOR — Associates of former Republican Sen. Dean Heller have indicated that Heller is likely to join next year’s contest for governor with a “very early September announcement” in the works, while state political experts noted that Heller has long been interested in serving as governor. Heller lost re-election to Democratic Sen. Jackie Rosen in the 2018 midterm wave, and if he decides to challenge Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak next year, 2022 could see a reversal of the 2018 ticket with Heller running for governor and 2018 gubernatorial nominee Adam Laxalt running for Senate against Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto instead.

However, Laxalt hasn’t yet joined the Senate race, and Heller would first have to get past a primary field for governor that includes Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee.

WISCONSIN GOVERNOR — Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, who had expressed interest in potentially joining the Republican primary for governor last year, is currently running to be chair of the state Republican Party, which is a sign that he may be unlikely to turn right around and launch a campaign against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers next year.

MASSACHUSETTS 4TH CD — The Boston Globe reported on Friday that former Brookline Selectwoman Jesse Mermell is considering another run in the Democratic primary for this safely blue district. Mermell ran for last year’s open seat contest as a staunch progressive but lost by a slim 22-21 against moderate Rep. Jake Auchincloss in a crowded field where progressives split the vote and helped Auchincloss prevail.

Although there’s no direct quote from Mermell regarding her interest, she could have an easier time consolidating progressive voters this cycle without numerous rivals running. However, Auchincloss may be harder to beat now that he’s the incumbent and has been making overtures to the left to ward off a primary challenger.

Gerald Seib: “Congress has to approve the seating of its own members, so what happens if, after the 2022 midterm elections, a Republican state legislature demands Congress refuse to seat some members duly elected in their states because of alleged voting irregularities—or demands the seating of someone local election officials didn’t declare a winner?”

“That would surely set off a cascade of challenges from Democrats seeking to block Republican members, setting off a slide into chaos.”

“The scenario is frightening but no longer far-fetched, given what has been learned in recent days about efforts by former top Justice Department officials to pressure Georgia’s state legislature to convene to pick its own slate of presidential electors after the 2020 presidential vote was counted, and subsequent efforts by legislators there and elsewhere to take control of elections and their outcome away from the local election officials who have long handled them.”

MARYLAND U.S. SENATOR –If Republican Gov. Larry Hogan wanted to put to rest any speculation that he might run against Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen next year, he could simply crib from ol’ William Tecumseh Sherman, whose famous Statement™ they teach on the first day of politician school. Instead, he’s continued to keep the door open just a crack, most recently telling Maryland Matters, “I’ve said like a million times I haven’t really expressed any interest whatsoever in that.” Added Hogan, “Van Hollen should not lay awake at night, every night, worrying about me.” Precisely what Hogan would like—a complacent opponent! Seriously, though, this is getting silly, but it can end if Hogan wishes it to.

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR — Rep. Ro Khanna, who’d been the lone holdout among California House Democrats in not yet backing Sen. Alex Padilla for re-election, has at last endorsed the incumbent for a full six-year term. Khanna had previously declined to rule out a challenge to Padilla, who was appointed to replace Vice President Kamala Harris in January, but with no major opponents in sight, the senator should be a lock next year.

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

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