The Political Report – 1/26/22

A new EPIC-MRA poll in Michigan shows Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) leading her re-election race against challenger James Craig (R), 46% to 41%.

Another 13% remain undecided or refused to say who they would vote for. 

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told CNN that he and Donald Trump “are on the same page in backing the same candidate in two of the hottest Senate races — Nevada and Georgia. He has stayed neutral in Alabama where Trump endorsed a primary contender. And the Kentucky Republican believes that no matter which GOP candidate emerges from intraparty battles in Pennsylvania, North Carolina or Ohio, his party will be well-positioned to hold the GOP seats there.”

“Only in Alaska, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is fighting to hang onto her seat after voting to convict Trump for inciting the January 6 attack on the Capitol, are McConnell and Trump at sharp odds, though that seat is almost certain to stay in GOP hands.”

MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR. State Attorney General Maura Healey declared on Thursday that she was running for governor of Massachusetts, making her the favorite to win the September Democratic primary in what is one of the Democrats’ best gubernatorial pickup opportunities nationwide. Healey would be the first lesbian to serve as governor of any state should she succeed retiring Republican Charlie Baker, as well as the first woman elected to the Bay State’s top job. (Republican Jane Swift ascended to this office in 2001 but never sought election in her own right.)

Healey joins a field that already includes political scientist Danielle Allen and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, either of whom would be the first woman of color to lead Massachusetts. (Allen is Black while Chang-Díaz is of Latina and Asian ancestry.) Healey, though, has both a high-profile statewide office as well as a gigantic financial advantage: The attorney general ended 2021 with $3.6 million on hand while Allen had just $370,000 banked and Chang-Díaz had only $250,000 in her coffers.

Healey, however, has some critics on the left. The Boston Globe’s Emma Platoff wrote back in June that some of the vocal progressive activists who backed Sen. Ed Markey’s successful re-nomination campaign in 2020 “see Healey as a willing participant in a criminal justice system that some believe should be pared back or eliminated entirely.” The attorney general herself on Thursday avoided calling for the major reforms that her intra-party opponents have advocated, saying instead, “If something’s working, then let’s keep with it. And if it’s not working, let’s figure out what we need to do.”

Before any of the candidates can fully focus on the primary, though, they need to make sure they’re actually on the ballot. That’s because Democratic and Republican candidates for statewide office in Massachusetts need to compete at a party convention in the spring, and they have to win the support of at least 15% of the delegates to advance to the primary. This rule eliminated two of the five Democrats who sought the governorship in 2014, though things could be different in a three-person race.

Potential contenders have until May to file to run for office in Massachusetts, but it looks unlikely that any other major Democrats will get in.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said Thursday that he would remain in the cabinet rather than run for governor. Another Democrat, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, didn’t rule out a bid last month, but he now seems far more interested in running to succeed gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey as attorney general.

Things are more volatile on the GOP side, where Trump-backed former state Rep. Geoff Diehl has had the race to himself ever since Baker announced his departure at the start of December. More moderate Republicans are understandably skeptical that the far-right Diehl, who last month refused to acknowledge that Joe Biden was legitimately elected, can win in this solidly blue state, and some of Diehl’s critics are reportedly hoping to convince wealthy businessman Chris Doughty to run as a more electable alternative.

NEBRASKA 1ST CD. State Sen. Mike Flood on Friday unveiled endorsements from two prominent Nebraska Republicans, Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman, in his campaign to deny indicted Rep. Jeff Fortenberry renomination in the May primary.

Heineman in particular wasn’t subtle when he laid out the case for why Republicans should fire the nine-term incumbent, saying, “In modern political times in Nebraska, Jeff Fortenberry is the only Nebraska congressman that has ever been indicted on felony criminal charges. His actions have resulted in a dilemma for Nebraska’s 1st District voters.” The former governor also echoed Flood’s argument that Fortenberry’s legal problems could jeopardize the GOP’s chances against the Democrats, who are likely to nominate state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, in an eastern Nebraska constituency that would have supported Donald Trump 54-43.

Ricketts, meanwhile, declared, “We need to make sure the 1st District gets the full-time attention it deserves.” The Lincoln Journal-Star interpreted this as a reference to Fortenberry’s upcoming trial in Los Angeles, which is tentatively set for Feb. 15.

The congressman, who is under federal indictment for allegedly lying to investigators as part of a probe into a foreign billionaire who used straw donors to illegally funnel a total of $180,000 to Fortenberry and three other GOP candidates, quickly put out a statement making it clear just how angry he was. (No blurry videos this time, though.) “Today’s announcement is particularly disappointing because I have counted these people as friends and you hope you can rely on your friends to stand by you when you face adversity like a false and unjust accusation,” he wrote. Fortenberry, notably, backed then-state Sen. Mike Foley over his “friend” Ricketts in the competitive 2014 primary for governor. 

Flood, a former speaker of the unicameral chamber who also owns and operates the local news media chain News Channel Nebraska, argued that Fortenberry’s legal problems threatened the GOP’s control over what should be a safe seat. “I would tell you that we’re here today because of the situation that Congressman Fortenberry is in as it relates to the indictment,” Flood said, adding, “I respect his service and I look forward to being a challenger that can not only win the primary but win the general.”

Rudy Giuliani is selling signed 9/11 t-shirts for $911.00.

COLORADO U.S. SENATOR. Construction company owner Joe O’Dea said Thursday that he planned to reach the June Republican primary ballot by collecting signatures, while one of his intra-party rivals, real estate developer Gino Campana, previously revealed that he’d go through the party’s convention process instead. This is an important decision in Colorado, and as we’ll discuss, both options have big potential drawbacks.

Candidates from each party can try to reach the primary in one of two ways: Either by winning the support of at least 30% of the delegates at their party’s biennial convention (also known locally as an “assembly”) or by collecting enough signatures to appear on the June ballot, regardless of what happens at the convention. Typically, the conventions take place about two to three months before the primary, and the GOP gathering is set for April 9. Candidates can opt to try both methods, but doing so still doesn’t offer a guarantee: If a contender takes less than 10% of the vote at the convention, then their campaign is over no matter how many signatures they turn in.

Contenders who want to petition their way onto the ballot for U.S. Senate or governor must collect 1,500 valid signatures in each of Colorado’s eight congressional districts from registered members of their political party. (Hopefuls for other statewide office, such as attorney general, need 1,000 per district, while there are different requirements for other posts.) That’s a time-consuming undertaking that can become quite expensive, with consultants telling Colorado Politics that Senate candidates could spend close to $500,000 to make the ballot.

To make things even more complicated, voters can only sign one petition for each race. If a voter signs petitions for multiple contenders, it only counts in favor of the first candidate to turn in their signatures, so there’s a rush for everyone to submit—which introduces even more problems. Unsurprisingly, candidates often sue―sometimes even successfully―if election authorities rule that they failed to turn in the requisite number of petitions.

The convention route is considerably cheaper and, because the contender with the most delegate support gets the top spot on the primary ballot, it offers another enticing advantage to candidates. However, party assemblies can be very unpredictable events, as the GOP found out in the 2016 race. That year, an underfunded El Paso County commissioner named Darryl Glenn wowed the delegates with a speech and secured so much support that no one else competing at the assembly advanced; Glenn ended up winning the nomination before losing the general election to Sen. Michael Bennet, the Democrat that O’Dea, Campana, and several others are now trying to unseat.

ARIZONA GOVERNOR. Campaign finance reports are in for all the candidates ahead of the August primary, and there was one big surprise in the Republican contest. Businesswoman Paola Tulliani Zen, who founded a biscotti company, attracted little attention when she launched her bid last year, but she self-funded $1.2 million and had about that much left to spend.

Still, two other wealthy Republicans ended the year with far larger war chests. Steve Gaynor, who was the 2018 nominee for secretary of state, raised less than $10,000 from donors but self-funded $5 million, and he had $4.7 million in the bank. Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, meanwhile, raised $1.7 million, threw in almost $2 million more of her own money, and had $3 million on-hand.

Former Rep. Matt Salmon, who has not done a significant amount of self-funding, took in $1.2 million and had just $490,000 on-hand. That still gave him more money to spend than Donald Trump’s endorsed candidates, former TV anchor-turned conspiracy theorist Kari Lake, who raised $1.5 million but held only $375,000 at the end of the year.

On the Democratic side, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs brought in close to $3 million and had $1.5 million to spend. Former state Rep. Aaron Lieberman took in about $1 million, put in $150,000 more of his own money, and had $765,000 on-hand; former homeland security official Marco López also raised $765,000 and self-funded another $235,000, but he had only about $255,000 left going into the new year.

COLORADO 7TH CD. Jefferson County Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper has announced that she won’t seek the Democratic nod for this open seat. State Rep. Brianna Titone has announced that she’ll support state Sen. Brittany Pettersen in the June Democratic primary for this open seat rather than run herself.

FLORIDA 7TH CD. Retired Navy Captain Mac McGovern has joined the Republican primary to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy.

OHIO U.S. SENATOR. Wealthy businessman Mike Gibbons’ newest spot for the May Republican primary features him blaming the Biden administration for inflation.

NEW JERSEY 11TH CD. Morris County Surrogate Heather Darling said over the weekend that she was interested in seeking the Republican nod to take on Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill.

GEORGIA 6TH CD. Republican Rich McCormick unsurprisingly earned an endorsement from the Club for Growth, which backed him to the hilt in his unsuccessful 2020 campaign for the old 7th District, in his bid for the new and solidly red 6th.

NEW YORK GOVERNOR. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul has picked up an endorsement from New York State United Teachers.

Rep. Tom Suozzi, who trails badly in polls of the Democratic primary for governor, is using his first ad of the race to attack criminal justice reformers. Suozzi claims that “the Manhattan DA is actually proposing to downgrade armed robbery to a misdemeanor and to stop prosecuting resisting arrest” and declares, “If any DA refuses to enforce the law, I’ll remove them.” He concludes, “If Gov. Hochul refuses to act, I will.” Suozzi’s claims about Alvin Bragg, the borough’s new district attorney, are a histrionic overreaction, but more to the point, in calling for his ouster, he’s taken the side of all of the Republican candidates for governor.

NEVADA SECRETARY OF STATE. Both parties are taking a serious interest in the race to succeed termed-out Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, who was the only Nevada Republican to prevail statewide during the 2018 Democratic wave, and the GOP got a new candidate Friday when Reno-area developer Jesse Haw jumped in. The Nevada Independent writes that Haw, who was appointed to fill a vacant state Senate seat for a few months in 2016, is “expected to bring at least half a million of dollars in campaign cash in the bank.”

It remains to be seen if Haw will echo so many other GOP secretary of state candidates nationwide in advocating for the Big Lie, but there’s no question where former Assemblyman Jim Marchant, who looks like his main foe in the June primary, stands. Marchant lost the 2020 race for the 4th Congressional District to Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford by a 51-46 margin, but he responded to that clear defeat by claiming he was the “victim of election fraud” and unsuccessfully suing to overturn that election.

The former assemblyman, who has repeatedly addressed QAnon gatherings, has also said that he would not have certified Joe Biden’s victory in the state had he been secretary of state at the time. He’s also responded to judges dismissing Trump supporters’ many attempts to overturn his defeat by saying, “A lot of judges were bought off too—they are part of this cabal.” The GOP field also includes Sparks City Councilman Kristopher Dahir, former TV anchor Gerard Ramalh, and ex-District Court Judge Richard Scotti.

On the Democratic side, former Athletic Commission member Cisco Aguilar is going up against former Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel; Aguilar outraised Spiegel $485,000 to $36,000 last year. 

TEXAS 28TH CD. A full day after Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar’s home and campaign headquarters were raided by the FBI, we finally got a hint as to what the investigation might be about. According to an unnamed source who spoke with ABC News’ Mike Levine, the matter concerns “a wide-ranging federal probe relating to the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan and several U.S. businessmen” for which a grand jury has been impaneled in Washington, D.C. Levine says, though, that it’s “unclear if Cuellar is a target” of the grand jury’s inquiry.

CNN further adds (again, based on an anonymous source) that the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity unit, which investigates corruption allegations concerning elected officials, is “involved with the investigation.”

The nature of the reported probe into Azeri activity is unknown, and Cuellar’s alleged connection to the former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea is similarly murky, though Rolling Stone’s William Vaillancourt offers some helpful background details. As Levine notes, Cuellar is a member of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus, a development that, as Vaillancourt points out, a Texas-based nonprofit called the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan took credit for encouraging in 2013.

AFAZ, as the group is known, found itself in the crosshairs of U.S. investigators not long after. In a 2015 report, the Office of Congressional Ethics concluded that Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company had used AFAZ and another nonprofit to funnel $750,000 that was used to “secretly fund[] an all-expenses-paid trip” to a conference in the Azeri capital of Baku attended by 10 members of Congress and their staffs in the spring of 2013, according to the Washington Post. Cuellar was not a participant and only joined the Azerbaijan Caucus later that same year, but as Vaillancourt observes, “the trip demonstrates how the nation has tried to influence American politics.”

ABC’s Mike Levin reports that Cuellar, his wife, and “at least one of his campaign staffers” have also been hit with subpoenas as part of a still-unclear federal probe that apparently concerns the western Asia nation of Azerbaijan. Levine’s piece sheds some light, though, on Cuellar’s connections to the oil-rich former Soviet republic, as does another recent article from the Daily Beast.

Henry Cuellar is forging ahead with his campaign: The conservative Democrat is airing a new TV ad in both English and Spanish touting his roots and promising to “never stop fighting for South Texas.” There’s no word on the size of the buy, though Cuellar’s campaign previously said it ended 2020 with $2.3 million in the bank.

NEW JERSEY 3RD CD. Mount Holly school board member Will Monk has dropped out of the Republican primary to take on Democratic Rep. Andy Kim, which leaves yacht manufacturer Robert Healey as the only notable contender. New Jersey’s new congressional map dramatically changed the partisan makeup of this coastal South Jersey seat: While the old 3rd District supported Donald Trump by a narrow 49.4-49.2, the reconfigured constituency would have gone for Joe Biden 56-42.

MICHIGAN 10TH CD. Politico reports that both the DCCC and Sen. Gary Peters are trying to recruit Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor to run for the new and open 10th District, a suburban Detroit seat that would have backed Donald Trump by a narrow 50-49 spread, but local unions and other Democrats are wary of Taylor. That’s because the mayor is a former Republican who supported Trump in 2016 and 2018 GOP Senate nominee John James and has previously both voiced anti-abortion views and supported legislation hostile to labor.

Taylor went on to give Joe Biden a high-profile endorsement in 2020 out of disgust for what he called Trump’s “deranged” tenure; he also backed Peters’ successful re-election effort that year against James, who is now looking at running in the 10th himself. However, there’s still some bad blood between progressives and the mayor even though an unnamed “Democratic operative familiar with his thinking” tells Politico Taylor has become far more friendly to labor groups while in office and has abandoned his old anti-abortion views. Taylor, who has said he’s not affiliated with any party anymore, merely didn’t rule out the idea of running as a Democrat when asked, though the story says he is considering the idea.

The story adds that national Democrats are taking a look at some other people in addition to Taylor including attorney Huwaida Arraf, who is the only notable candidate currently in. Politico says the DCCC is also talking to former state Sen. Steve Bieda, Macomb County judge Carl Marlinga, and Warren Council member Angela Rogensues, though there’s no word from any of them about their interest.

CALIFORNIA 13TH CD and the Special Election in the 22ND CD. Two of California’s biggest political guns have come out for Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray’s bid for the newly open 13th District in recent days: Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sen. Alex Padilla. But Gray just got some company from financial advisor Phil Arballo, a fellow Democrat who’d been running in the special election for the old 22nd District. Arballo abandoned his bid for that orphaned district, which has no proper successor to speak of, to instead focus on the 13th, a decidedly bluer seat to the north that doesn’t overlap the old 22nd at all.

Two other Democrats, however, are staying away from the battle for the 13th. State Sen. Anna Caballero previously didn’t rule out a run, but on Friday, she announced she’d seek re-election to the legislature. Prosecutor Andrew Janz, meanwhile, said Thursday that he would not enter the race.

NEW YORK 3RD CD. DNC member Robert Zimmerman, a longtime local Democratic politico who runs a public relations firm and often appears on cable news, announced Monday that he was entering the primary to succeed Rep. Tom Suozzi. Zimmerman, who would be Long Island’s first gay member of Congress, joins a June nomination contest that includes 2020 candidate Melanie D’Arrigo, deputy Suffolk County Executive Jon Kaiman, and Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan.

Zimmerman, after losing a trio of races in the 1980s, became a major national party fundraiser in the 1992 presidential election and has remained an influential party bundler in the decades since then. The New York Times even wrote back in 2004 that a Democratic operative dubbed him the “Pope of Long Island” due to what the paper called his “bloated Rolodex and ability to coax money from Democrats.”

However, Zimmerman hasn’t entirely restricted his efforts to helping Team Blue. Back in 2014, he hosted a fundraiser at his home for the re-election campaign of Republican state Sen. Jack Martins. Zimmerman, who was also on the DNC at the time, declared, “I’m a proud Democrat, but my community and Long Island come before partisanship.” Martins won that campaign, but he lost the general election for the 3rd District two years later by a 53-47 margin to none other than Tom Suozzi.

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

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