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The Political Report – 11/18/21

“House Democrats’ campaign arm presented polling to members this week that showed they are cutting into the GOP’s advantage in battleground districts,” Politico reports.  “Democrats were down two points in a head-to-head, generic matchup with the GOP — an uptick from a similar poll in July that found Democrats trailing Republicans by a whopping six points.”

Turns out if you actually pass things and talk yourselves up for doing it, your poll numbers go up.

Nate Cohn: “Two obscure special elections in Ohio’s 11th and 15th congressional districts, where Democrats and Republicans each retained long-held seats, revealed a possible bright spot for Democrats and faintly signaled that political conditions may not be as dire for Democrats as they seem.”

“Neither race received much national attention. Neither race was especially competitive. And neither had a high turnout.”

“But unlike in the flashier races for Virginia and New Jersey governor, the two Democratic candidates in the Ohio congressional races ran about as well as Democrats usually do.”

Global Strategy Group memo finds that in eight Senate battleground states there are “key Senate races can be won or lost on paid leave.”

New York Times: “The president and his aides are hoping that the highly choreographed event will begin to allow Mr. Biden to find his footing. They are betting that the bipartisan victory will allow him to project sustained progress in confronting the nation’s problems — not just being different from former President Donald J. Trump.”

“Will Monday’s victory be the steppingstone that Mr. Biden needs for a political turnaround, proving to voters that they got what they expected when they put him in office last year? Or will it be a blip in time, destined to be quickly forgotten among the Washington rancor that is on the way in the days ahead?”

Jonathan Bernstein: Biden’s infrastructure win won’t make him more popular.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds Americans say by a roughly 2-to-1 margin that the Supreme Court should uphold its landmark abortion decision in Roe v. Wade, and by a similar margin the public opposes a Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

“Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) suggested that Republicans may not run anyone to oppose Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) when she comes up for reelection in 2024,” The Hill reports.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) told Politico that she’s not switching parties, though Republicans want her to.  Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the GOP whip, wishes it were otherwise, confirming in an interview he’s pressed Sinema to join his party multiple times.

TEXAS GOVERNOR. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced Monday that he would challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, a move that gives Texas Democrats a candidate they’ve eagerly sought for months. O’Rourke is unlikely to face any serious opposition in next year’s primary, but he’ll have a very challenging task ahead of him in next year’s general election in a place where Democrats haven’t won a single statewide race since 1994.

O’Rourke, who was elected to the House in 2012 from an El Paso-based seat, emerged in the national spotlight in 2018 when he went up against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a contest that very few initially thought he could win. The Democrat, though, raised close to $80 million thanks in large part to Cruz’s utter radioactivity, as well O’Rourke’s own strong social media campaign, and he held the incumbent to a 51-48 victory during that blue wave year.

O’Rourke’s near-loss, which was the closest the Dems had come to winning a Texas Senate seat since Democrat Lloyd Bentsen earned his final term all the way back in 1988, only magnified his stardom, but he turned down the chance to challenge Sen. John Cornyn in 2020. Instead, the former congressman launched a bid for the presidency that started out with strong fundraising and national coverage (though O’Rourke himself would later regret the Vanity Fair cover story where he said, “I’m just born to be in it”), but he struggled to maintain his momentum as the campaign continued and dropped out well before the Iowa caucus.

O’Rourke launched his bid for governor Monday by taking Abbott to task for signing the state’s infamous anti-abortion law and for the February power grid failure that resulted in massive blackouts. The former congressman also said of his foe, “He doesn’t trust women to make their health care decisions, doesn’t trust police chiefs when they tell him not to sign the permitless carry bill into law, he doesn’t trust voters so he changes the rules of our elections, and he doesn’t trust local communities.”

Abbott’s team quickly responded by utilizing a clip from O’Rourke’s presidential bid of him advocating for a mandatory assault weapon buyback program by proclaiming, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” O’Rourke two years ago trumpeted that debate line by tweeting, “If it’s a weapon that was designed to kill people on the battlefield, we’re going to buy it back,” while Abbott’s campaign is now trying to caricature him as an enemy of gun rights.

We’ve seen two October polls, which were each conducted online by YouGov for different clients, but they very much disagreed on how competitive this race is right now. The survey for the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and Rice University had Abbott edging out O’Rourke just 43-42, while a poll done later in the month for the University of Texas at Austin for the Texas Tribune showed the incumbent up 46-37.

O’Rourke, sprinting through his second day on the trail with stops in San Antonio and Laredo, signaled he’ll avoid the playbook that failed Terry McAuliffe in Virginia, Axios reports. Said O’Rourke: “Trump doesn’t live in Texas. Biden doesn’t live in Texas. Thirty million of us are what’s most important to me.”

First Read: “In 2018, the best political environment for Democrats in the past decade, O’Rourke lost his Senate race against Ted Cruz by about 2.5 percentage points, 50.9 percent to 48.3 percent, the best showing for a top-of-ticket Texas Democrat in almost 30 years.”

“Then in the 2020 presidential election, which saw record turnout, Joe Biden lost the state by 5.6 points, 52.0 percent to 46.4 percent.”

“So for Beto to win in Texas — or to just keep it close — he needs a much more favorable political environment than Democrats face right now; he needs to find new voters who didn’t participate in 2020; and he needs to win over some of the 5.9 million Texans who voted for Trump (versus 5.3 million who voted for Biden).”

“And all at a time when the GOP is making gains among Latinos in the state.”

FLORIDA TWENTIETH CD. Broward County Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott on Friday declared that businesswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick was the “apparent winner” in the Nov. 2 Democratic primary after she retained her 5-vote lead over Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness with all the district’s overseas and military ballots counted. Holmes said later that evening, “I will be talking to my attorneys in the next few days to determine our course of action.”

The Democratic nominee should have absolutely no trouble in the January special election to succeed the late Rep. Alcee Hastings, who decisively beat Cherfilus-McCormick in their 2018 and 2020 primaries, in this 77-22 Biden seat.

WEST VIRGINIA SECOND CD. Donald Trump on Monday took sides in the incumbent vs. incumbent Republican primary by supporting Alex Mooney over David McKinley, and the anti-tax Club for Growth followed suit the following day.

Both congressmen have been ardent Trump allies, but only McKinley voted to set up a committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack and for the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill. In his not-Tweet, Trump lauded Mooney for having “recently opposed the horrendous Biden Administration’s ‘Non-Infrastructure’ plan, and he opposed the January 6th Committee, also known as the Unselect Committee of partisan hacks and degenerates.”

A new MBE Research poll in West Virginia finds President Biden’s approval rate upside down at 33% to 65%.

For comparison, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has an approval rate of 61% to 37%.

SOUTH DAKOTA GOVERNOR. Former South Dakota House Speaker Steve Haugaard (R) will challenge Gov. Kristi Noem (R) for the Republican nomination for governor next year, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports.

It may seem impossible to believe that anyone could outflank Noem on the right, a Trump sycophant who auditioned for a future presidential run by loudly denouncing any measures aimed at combating the pandemic, but Haugaard has no shortage of far-right credentials. Christopher Vondracek of Forum News Service notes that back in January, Haugaard attended a rally aimed at promoting the Big Lie that featured Proud Boys members as speakers. Haugaard, Vondracek also writes, is also “part of a group of ultra-conservative legislators” that often clashes with Noem.

Haugaard and Noem have also come into conflict over whether state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in August and avoided jail time for striking and killing a man with his car last year, should stay in office. Noem has called for the legislature to remove the attorney general if he won’t resign, and last week, the state House voted 58-10 to authorize the Special Investigative Committee to probe whether impeachment is justified. (House Speaker Spencer Gosch said the report may not be ready until January.) Haugaard, though, was in that small minority that voted against starting that investigation into his ally Ravnsborg.

Polling is scarce in South Dakota, so there’s little indication if a significant number of primary voters are open to parting ways with Noem. What we do know, though, is that the incumbent, who announced that she had $6.5 million on-hand, will not struggle with money.

Whoever emerges with the GOP nod will be the heavy favorite in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1974. Back in 2018, the blue wave helped then-state Sen. Billie Sutton hold Noem to a 51-48 win in the closest South Dakota gubernatorial race since 1986, but we haven’t heard any notable Democrats so much as express interest in running so far.

PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR. State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman announced this week that he was joining the crowded May Republican primary to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. NBC 10 writes that Corman, who runs the upper chamber, has been part of the GOP legislative leadership team “that sent more than 50 bills to a veto on the Democrat’s desk, putting Wolf on track to compile the most vetoes by any governor since Milton Shapp in the 1970s.” Among other things, this includes bills to roll back abortion rights, restrict voting, and take away some of the governor’s pandemic authority.

Corman, who was elected in 1998 to succeed his father in a central Pennsylvania state Senate seat, told NBC 10, “Someone who comes from the Legislature, who understands the Legislature, can work with the Legislature to get good things accomplished is something that we need.” We’re, shall we say, skeptical that this will be a particularly compelling pitch to Trump-obsessed primary voters, though his attacks on Wolf’s public health measures may strike more of a chord.

Corman also said he’d be keeping his leadership post while he runs statewide. That’s not going to be welcome news for state Sen. Dan Laughlin, who said last week that he’d drop out if he won an intra-party race to succeed Corman as president pro tempore.

NEW YORK GOVERNOR. New York Times: “Three months after Ms. Hochul’s unexpected ascension as the state’s first female governor, next year’s Democratic primary contest is now veering toward something New York has not seen in decades: a freewheeling intraparty battle among some of the state’s best-known political figures.”

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams announced Tuesday that he would challenge Gov. Kathy Hochul in the June Democratic primary. Williams joins state Attorney General Tish James, who would also be the first African American elected to this post, in the contest to take on the governor.

Polls taken last month, before Williams or James got in, indicate that the public advocate will start out as the clear underdog. An early October poll from Marist College showed Hochul leading James 44-28 with Williams a distant third with 15%. A Siena College survey done days later, meanwhile put the incumbent’s edge over James at 47-31, with Williams in fourth at just 8%. (Just ahead of him at 10% was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has not yet decided on his 2022 plans.)

This is not the first time that Williams has gone up against Hochul, who became New York’s chief executive in August when Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace after James concluded he’d sexually harassed 11 women. Back in 2018, when Williams was a New York City councilman, the self-described “democratic socialist” campaigned against Hochul from the left in the primary for lieutenant governor and held the incumbent to a surprisingly small 53-47 victory.

Williams quickly used that strong showing as a springboard to win a 17-way 2019 special to succeed James, who had just been elected attorney general, as public advocate. That contest took place under some very unusual rules: Not only did it take just a plurality to win, but candidates also were not permitted to run under their normal party labels and instead had to come up with lines of their own creation. Williams, running under the moniker “It’s Time Let’s Go,” defeated his Republican colleague Eric Ulrich (of the “Common Sense” line) 33-19 to win this citywide post, and he’s had no trouble holding it.

Williams kicked off his new campaign by arguing that he’s the only Democratic contender who stood up to Cuomo at the height of his power. In particular he faulted Hochul, who was Cuomo’s running mate in 2014 and 2018, for not doing enough to combat what he characterized as a toxic political environment in the state capitol. Williams, by contrast, focused far less on James, who shares a Brooklyn political base with him; he even said James has been doing “​​a good job,” but that he believed he’s been the one with a “really consistent” vision.

Meanwhile, Politico’s Anna Gronewold writes that Cuomo’s remaining advisors (yes, he still has some) haven’t ruled out the idea that their boss, who still has an $18 million war chest, could be on the ballot for governor or another office next year. Gronewold spoke to several Empire State insiders, both on and off the record, who also were far from convinced that they were finally rid of the ex-governor.

Assemblymember Yuh-line Niou outright predicted he’d try again, while an unnamed legislative source memorably declared, “He’s nuts and he’s got a vendetta right now.” New York’s filing deadline isn’t until early April, though candidates need to start gathering petitions much earlier than that.

Finally, Hochul this week earned an endorsement from Rep. Brian Higgins, who represents part of her longtime geographic base in the Buffalo area.

MAINE GOVERNOR. Former state Sen. Tom Saviello, a Democrat-turned-independent-turned-Republican who backed Democrat Janet Mills in 2018, said this week he knew he’d need to decide “pretty soon” if he’d challenge her next year as an independent.

Saviello said he was motivated by his opposition to the construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect hydropower project, which the incumbent and her presumptive Republican foe, ex-Gov. Paul LePage, both backed. Saviello was part of the successful campaign earlier this month to pass Question 1, a referendum to “ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine.”

Saviello, though, also acknowledged that LePage had prevailed with a plurality in three-way races in 2010 and 2014, which does not seem to be an outcome he wants. (While Maine’s instant-runoff voting law applies to primaries for governor, it still only takes a plurality to win the general election thanks to a court opinion.) LePage, for his part, once called Saviello “the most repugnant human being I’ve ever seen.”

SOUTH DAKOTA U.S. SENATOR. Republican Sen. John Thune said Monday that he would decide by the end of the year whether or not he’d run for a fourth term.

MISSOURI U.S. SENATOR. State Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz announced Tuesday that he was joining what was already a packed August Republican primary. St. Louis Public Radio writes that Schatz, who represents Franklin County as well as a small portion of neighboring St. Louis County, gave his 2014 legislative campaign “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and retains the ability to self-fund.

While Schatz launched his campaign by emphasizing his right-wing credentials, though, the Kansas City Star says that the state Senate leader has faced intense opposition from the chamber’s so-called “conservative caucus” this year. Notably, Schatz successfully pushed for Missouri’s first gas tax increase since the 1990s, which earned him a furious condemnation from the Franklin County GOP.

Now that Schatz has made his decision, the only major Republican who appears to still be making up his mind is Rep. Jason Smith. The congressman attracted media attention in late September when he launched a statewide digital ad, but if any observers thought that meant he was about to announce, they were wrong.

NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR. While two state Democrats said early Thursday that they’d heard former Gov. John Lynch was interested in running for his old job, Lynch himself declared that evening, “Running for governor is not something I’m even considering.” Lynch added that “at this point, it’s not something I’m not even considering” (emphasis ours), which may not be quite a definitive no but is still pretty close. 

Meanwhile, WMUR reports that Cinde Warmington, who is the only Democratic member of the five-member Executive Council, “appears to be strongly considering” a bid against Republican incumbent Chris Sununu. Warmington did not rule anything out when she was asked about a statewide campaign in August.

NEBRASKA GOVERNOR. Former state Sen. Theresa Thibodeau announced Wednesday that she’d run in the Republican primary for this open seat. Thibodeau joins a contest that includes University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen, who is close to termed-out Gov. Pete Ricketts; state Sen. Brett Lindstrom; and agribusinessman Charles Herbster, Donald Trump’s endorsed candidate and her own one-time running mate.

In Nebraska candidates for governor and lieutenant governor compete as a ticket in primaries, and Herbster revealed in April that his second-in-command would be none other than Thibodeau. The former state senator, however, declared in July she was dropping out because of undisclosed “potential opportunities that would conflict with the campaign,” adding, “At this time, I do not feel I will be able to devote the needed time to the campaign.” Thibodeau said last month, though, that this matter has been taken care of and she could run for office now that she’d sold her daycare.

Thibodeau earned her seat in the legislature in 2017 when Ricketts appointed her to fill a vacancy in an Omaha area constituency. Her tenure in the officially nonpartisan chamber proved short, though, as she lost the next year to Machaela Cavanaugh, who campaigned as a Democrat, 51-49.

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

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