The Political Report – 9/17/21

After this week’s recall election, California Democrats haven’t lost a statewide race in 15 years, the AP reports.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) told CBS News that his party needs to “lean in” on COVID-19 prevention, despite hardline opposition. 

Said Newsom: “So, what I’m saying here is, be affirmative. Don’t be timid. Lean in. Because at the end of the day, it’s not just about formal authority of setting the tone and tenor on masks — on vaccines and masks. But it’s the moral authority that we have: that we’re on the right side of history and we’re doing the right thing to save people’s lives.”

Politico: “Elder was such a gift to Newsom that even many Republicans acknowledged he was tanking what little shot the GOP had at recalling the governor.”

“But it was Elder, easily portrayed by Newsom as a Donald Trump clone, whom the Republican base loved. Faulconer and other more moderate Republicans didn’t stand a chance.”

When asked on Election Day—just ahead of the recall’s crushing defeat—whether he might once again run against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom next year, conservative radio host Larry Elder said, “I have now become a political force here in California in general and particularly within the Republican party. And I’m not going to leave the stage.” Last month, Elder said that “in the unlikely event” he did not win the recall, he was “very likely” to seek a rematch in 2022.

While a number of commentators have tried spinning Tuesday’s results as some sort of victory for Elder, the huge drop-off between question 1 and question 2 on the recall ballot has artificially inflated his share of the vote. As of Wednesday afternoon, 9.1 million votes had been tallied on the first question but just 5.1 million on the second, meaning 4 million voters skipped the replacement question entirely—more than 40% of the electorate.

Elder, by contrast, had earned just 2.4 million votes—far fewer than the number who, by leaving the question blank, effectively voted for “none of the above.” And while Elder’s share stood at 47% on the second question, that amounted to just 26% of all votes cast. These raw numbers will grow as the remaining votes are counted (turnout was likely around 13 million, meeting or slightly exceeding the 12.7 million votes cast in 2018), but the percentages won’t shift much. If Elder does actually run again, a second bid will meet the same fate.

Another Republican who seems similarly undeterred by reality is wealthy businessman John Cox, whose entire life revolves around unsuccessfully running for office. Cox chalked up just 4% of the vote on question 2—good for fifth place—but nevertheless declared on election night, “I will explore all of the alternatives.” The recall was Cox’s sixth failed campaign, after bids in Illinois for the House (2000), Senate (2002), Cook County recorder of deeds (2004), and president (2008). He then moved to California to get crushed by Newsom 62-38 in 2018’s gubernatorial race, the biggest blowout since the late great Earl Warren’s re-election in 1950.

MISSISSIPPI 4TH CD — Bank executive Clay Wagner appears to have recently launched a challenge to GOP Rep. Steven Palazzo, judging by his Facebook page, though he doesn’t seem to have earned much media attention accompanying his kickoff apart from a mention on the conservative site Y’All Politics that he filed paperwork with the FEC last week. Wagner is one of several Republicans running in the primary against Palazzo, who is facing an ethics investigation into charges that he illegally used campaign funds for personal purposes.

NEW HAMPSHIRE 2ND CD — Republican state Rep. Jeffrey Greeson has filed paperwork with the FEC for a possible bid against Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster, but he does not yet appear to have said anything about his plans. New Hampshire Republicans have telegraphed that they intend to gerrymander the 1st Congressional District to make it more winnable for themselves, which would make the 2nd District bluer, so Kuster is not likely to be a major GOP target next year.

NEW MEXICO 2ND CD — Freshman state Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, who’d recently been mentioned as a possible challenger to Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, now confirms that she’s “exploring” a campaign. Last year, Correa Hemphill unseated conservative state Sen. Gabriel Ramos in the Democratic primary, then defeated Republican Jimbo Williams by a 51-49 margin after Ramos endorsed him.

The 2nd District is generally reliably red turf, but Democrat Xochitl Torres Small was able to seize it when it came open in 2018. However, she lost to Herrell last year 54-46 as the district reverted to form and backed Donald Trump by a 55-43 margin. Democrats in the legislature could conceivably make it bluer in redistricting, but doing so might jeopardize their hold on the state’s two other districts in a down year.

MINNESOTA GOVERNOR — Kendall Qualls, who was the GOP’s 2020 nominee for the 3rd Congressional District, did not rule out challenging Democratic Gov. Tim Walz when asked Monday. Qualls told Minnesota Public Radio’s Brian Bakst that “I haven’t even gotten to the point where I even know if there is a door to close because I’m not trying to frame one.”

MinnPost’s Peter Callaghan reports that all six announced Republican candidates for governor so far have said they plan to, in local parlance, “abide” by the endorsement process at next year’s state GOP convention. That means that none intend to run in the party’s primary unless they win the support of 60% of delegates required to earn the official Republican stamp of approval.

As Callaghan notes, only once has a candidate for governor lost the GOP endorsement but won the primary, but the circumstances were extremely unusual: Arne Carlson was the incumbent governor in 1994, but delegates viewed him as too liberal and endorsed conservative former state Rep. Allen Quist instead. Carlson nevertheless handily won the primary and general election as well, but he’s become a total apostate in Republican circles, having regularly endorsed Democrats like Barack Obama and Joe Biden over the years.

More typical was the debacle that unfolded in 2018 when former Gov. Tim Pawlenty sought to make a comeback. T-Paw, regarded as hopelessly squishy by hardliners, decided to ignore the party convention entirely and instead rely on his name recognition and fundraising connections to power him through the primary. That, however, resulted in a massive humiliation after delegates went with the name they knew, 2014 nominee Jeff Johnson, who then went on to beat Pawlenty for the nomination by a 53-44 margin despite getting massively outspent.

Callaghan’s piece also offers an in-depth look at how, exactly, a campaign to win the Minnesota GOP’s endorsement typically gets waged. In some ways it resembles a traditional campaign, but in many ways it differs markedly, since it revolves around wooing and flattering 2,200 delegates one by one.

As for Democrats, their convention process is similar, but it’s been much less influential in recent years. The current governor, Tim Walz (who is seeking re-election), won the Democratic nod in 2018 despite failing to secure the party’s endorsement, while his predecessor, Mark Dayton, managed the same feat in 2010.

NEBRASKA GOVERNOR — Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Foley is out with what appears to be his first public statement about a possible 2022 campaign to succeed his boss, termed-out incumbent Pete Ricketts, but he didn’t give us any insights into his plans.

When the Omaha World Herald’s Paul Hammel asked Foley, who was in the State Capitol at the time, about his future on Friday, he responded, “When the dust settles on the 2022 election cycle, I hope to be working in this building.”

Hammel says that there’s speculation that Foley could be considering a run for state auditor, the post he held before he was elected lieutenant governor in 2014, in addition to the top job.

WISCONSIN GOVERNOR — Lobbyist Bill McCoshen said Tuesday that he’d “have some news to share in the next day or two” about his future. McCoshen, who served as a member of former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s cabinet in the mid-1990s, has been considering seeking the GOP nomination to take on Democratic incumbent Tony Evers.

ARIZONA 2ND CD — Kirsten Engel said last week that she was resigning her seat in the state Senate in order to focus on her campaign to succeed her fellow Democrat, retiring Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. A vacant legislative seat in Arizona is filled by appointment with a member of the party that last held it.

FLORIDA 13TH CD — 2020 nominee Anna Paulina Luna earned a GOP nomination endorsement Tuesday from Donald Trump in her second campaign for what is now an open St. Petersburg-based seat. She faces a primary that includes former lobbyist Amanda Makki, whom Luna beat 36-28 last year, and nonprofit founder Audrey Henson.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been at a point that’s been quite this tenuous for the democracy. I think it’s a huge danger because it’s the first time that I’ve seen it being undermined — our democracy being undermined from within.”  — Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R), quoted by CNN.

MINNEAPOLIS MAYOR — On Tuesday, Minnesota Judge Jamie Anderson ruled that votes would not be counted in this November’s referendum to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety agency. Supporters of the ballot measure quickly announced that they would appeal to the state Supreme Court, which granted an accelerated appeal the following day.

Anderson last week struck down the planned ballot language for the referendum, writing that it was “vague, ambiguous and incapable of implementation, and is insufficient to identify the amendment clearly.” The Minneapolis City Council quickly passed updated wording just ahead of the deadline for ballots to be printed, but the judge was still not satisfied. On Tuesday, she ruled that the new language still “does not ensure that voters are able to understand the essential purpose of the proposed amendment.”

The proposed amendment would create a “Department of Public Safety” to succeed the police department and shift more control of the new department from the mayor to the city council. Opponents have argued that the measure, in its current form, could result in the police department being abolished without a clear way to replace it, while an attorney for the pro-referendum campaign said in response, “The police department will exist until the City Council decides otherwise.”

The referendum campaign has divided prominent Minnesota Democrats. Gov. Tim Walz, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Mayor Jacob Frey have said that, while police reform is needed, abolishing the police department would be counterproductive. Rep. Ilhan Omar and state Attorney General Keith Ellison, though, have both argued that this plan is necessary in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and have pushed back on the idea that the measure would defund the police.

ALABAMA GOVERNOR — Businessman Tim James, who came in a very close third during the 2010 Republican primary, confirmed Wednesday that he was thinking about waging an intra-party campaign against Gov. Kay Ivey and would decide by the end of the year. James is the son of former Gov. Fob James, who was elected governor as a Democrat in 1978 and as a Republican in 1994 but badly lost re-election four years later.

Ivey infuriated the GOP’s anti-vaxx base in July when she said it was “time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks” for the resurgent pandemic, but the younger James himself didn’t say this week why he believed the governor should be fired. Instead, he declared war on the “beast with three heads,” which he said were critical race theory, transgender rights, and yoga in public schools. Ivey’s team responded to James’ speech by saying, “We appreciate his unwavering commitment to the important fight on yoga. As for Gov. Ivey, she doesn’t do any yoga.”

Republicans across the nation routinely demonize transgender people and the idea of critical race theory, but James’ attack on yoga is much more unusual. The only notable Republican we’d heard torch the exercise before now was E.W. Jackson, the 2013 nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia who once suggested it leads to Satan, but James isn’t the only Alabama conservative up in arms about it.

In May, Ivey signed a bill that removed a nearly three-decade ban on yoga in public schools, though it still required English names for any positions. Additionally, the law’s language said, “Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited.”

The Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman tweeted in the spring that the bill “close[d] the book on one of the stupidest moral panics in Alabama history, which is really saying a lot,” but as James’ speech demonstrates, not everyone is done panicking. The Eagle Forum of Alabama alleged that yoga wasn’t an exercise but was instead done as “an offering of worship” to Hindu deities. The Universal Society of Hinduism pushed back, saying that many yoga instructors aren’t Hindus and that “traditionally Hinduism was not into proselytizing.”

James, for his part, badly lost the 2002 primary for governor, but his second bid for the GOP nod eight years later went far better. The candidate generated national attention when he said in an ad, “This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it.” James ended up finishing 166 votes behind state Rep. Robert Bentley for the important second-place spot in the runoff, and that tiny loss proved to have enormous consequences. Bentley went on to win the nomination and the general election, and the sex scandal that led to his 2017 resignation elevated Ivey to the governor’s office.

Ivey already faces a potential primary challenge from state Auditor Jim Ziegler, who formed an exploratory committee in June. Former Ambassador to Slovenia Lynda Blanchard also hasn’t ruled out switching from the Senate race to the gubernatorial contest. Alabama requires primary candidates to win a majority of the vote in order to avoid a runoff.

WinRed, the GOP’s small-dollar fundraising operation, is planning to lower the fees it charges candidates and committees for each contribution they receive, a change that could significantly boost incoming money to Republican campaigns ahead of the midterms, Politico reports.

Mike Pence is positioning himself for a 2024 presidential run by aiming to raise a whopping $18 million this year, Axios reports.

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

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