The Political Report – 1/29/22

First Read: “Due to the timing, Biden’s upcoming Supreme Court nomination (before the end of February) is going to serve as an appetizer to the main course of the Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade and the future of abortion in this country (which could come in June).”

“So while Biden’s SCOTUS replacement gives him an opportunity to reset, the abortion case has the potential to alter the midterms’ trajectory and issue matrix.”

“And we stress ‘potential’ here, because abortion hasn’t been a top-tier midterm issue. At least not yet.”

GEORGIA 14TH CD. Jewish Insider has obtained a Republican primary survey from TargetPoint that it says was done for “a group of Georgia Republicans who want to show that there is a viable, conservative alternative to” the infamous Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, but it shows just how tough it would be to deny her renomination.

To begin with, the survey asks any respondents who say they plan to vote in the Democratic primary, don’t plan to vote in any nomination contest, or are unsure, if they’d support Greene’s “Republican opponent this one time to hold Marjorie Taylor Greene accountable for repeatedly ignoring problems in her own district and inserting herself into the national news, knowing that you could still vote for a different candidate in the general election.” Even with this expanded electorate, though, Greene still fends off healthcare executive Jennifer Strahan 60-30; the poll did not ask about Greene’s other two primary foes.

The survey later finds the incumbent’s lead plunging to 45-44, but only after respondents are quizzed about her various antics and are provided information about the little-known Strahan.

NEW YORK 1ST CD. Republicans so far have had a pretty quiet race to succeed Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is leaving to seek the GOP nod for governor, but things are moving even though no one knows what this eastern Long Island constituency will look like following redistricting.

Government relations firm executive Anthony Figliola, who previously worked in Brookhaven’s town government as a Democrat before switching parties, announced earlier this month. He joins Navy veteran Robert Cornicelli, who launched in August but had a mere $80,000 on-hand at the end of 2021. Brookhaven Town Councilman Neil Foley, meanwhile, says he’s “absolutely ready to run,” while hedge fund head John Thaler is a no.

TEXAS 35TH CD. Austin City Council member Greg Casar has released a new poll from Lake Research showing him with a wide lead in the March 1 Democratic primary for Texas’ open (and safely blue) 35th District. The survey finds Casar taking 48% of the vote, with state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez at 20 and former San Antonio City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran at 14. Casar, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, has sought to present himself as the most progressive option in the race.

MARYLAND ATTORNEY GENERAL. Rep. Anthony Brown announced in late October that he had chosen to run for attorney general over seeking a fourth term in the House, and he’s found himself in an expensive June Democratic primary against former Judge Katie Curran O’Malley, the wife of ex-Gov. Martin O’Malley. Brown has outraised O’Malley by a small $647,000 to $626,000 margin, and they each have about $615,000 on-hand. The eventual nominee should have little trouble holding onto an office that the GOP last won in 1918 in a state that backed Joe Biden 65-32.

NORTH CAROLINA U.S. SENATOR. “Former Rep. Mark Walker says he is staying in North Carolina’s open Senate race, a decision that rattles the GOP primary in one of the nation’s most competitive contests,” Politico reports. “His decision to remain in the contest defies former President Donald Trump’s offer to endorse him for a House seat — an offer that was designed to clear the Republican field for Trump’s chosen candidate, Rep. Ted Budd.”

ALASKA GOVERNOR. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce on Friday announced that he’ll challenge his fellow Republican, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, in the August top-four primary. He joins a field that already includes GOP state Rep. Christopher Kurkal; former Democratic state Rep. Les Gara; and Dunleavy’s immediate predecessor, independent Bill Walker.

Pierce, whose community is home to about 8% of the state’s population, has spent the pandemic loudly questioning the value of masking and vaccines while extolling ivermectin, the horse dewormer the FDA has warned should never be used to treat or prevent COVID-19. The borough mayor didn’t fault Dunleavy’s handling of the pandemic on Friday, though he still called for the state to make it easier for ivermectin to be prescribed. Instead, Pierce argued that neither Dunleavy nor Walker had achieved many positive results while in office, saying, “I think if we go with either one of them, we will have another four years of the same results.”

ALABAMA GOVERNOR. State Auditor Jim Zeigler, citing weak fundraising for his exploratory committee, has announced that he won’t challenge Gov. Kay Ivey in the Republican primary after all. At least this time he didn’t self-publish a novel about a gubernatorial campaign he didn’t end up competing in.  

ARIZONA GOVERNOR. An in-house survey for OH Predictive Insights finds Arizona’s Republican primary for governor still a very much unsettled affair. Former TV anchor Kari Lake, who has Donald Trump’s backing, leads former Rep. Matt Salmon 21-17, while Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson trails with 6%. However, nearly half of all voters—46% in total—remain undecided. The firm also tested the Democratic primary, but its sample of 274 respondents falls below the minimum 300 we require for reporting on a poll.

MICHIGAN GOVERNOR. EPIC-MRA’s new poll for several Michigan media outlets has Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defeating one of her Republican opponents, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, 46-41, which is an improvement from her 45-44 edge in the firm’s August survey. We’ve seen two other polls so far this year: An independent survey from the Glengariff Group found Whitmer beating James 49-39 and doing even better against other Republicans, while a James internal from ARW Strategies showed them deadlocked 46-46.

Wealthy businessman Perry Johnson, who reportedly may be able to self-fund, has joined the crowded GOP primary to take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. A dozen Republicans are seeking their party’s nod, including former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, chiropractor Garrett Soldano, businessman Kevin Rinke, and conservative radio host Tudor Dixon. A former top adviser to Craig, consultant John Yob, is now working for Johnson.

OHIO GOVERNOR. Former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley has released a Clarity Campaign Labs survey giving her a 33-20 lead over former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley in the May Democratic primary, with a 48% plurality undecided. This is the first poll we’ve seen of the match between Whaley and Cranley, whose terms as mayor each expired near the start of the month, for the right to take on Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

Meanwhile, a pro-DeWine dark money group called Free Ohio PAC is spending $220,000 on TV ads that will air on Fox and radio spots promoting the incumbent as a conservative.

Former Rep. Jim Renacci has released a Fabrizio, Lee & Associates internal that shows him defeating Gov. Mike DeWine 46-38 in the May Republican primary, which would be a huge upset in a race that has been largely overshadowed by Team Red’s wide-open and already very expensive Senate nomination fight. As Politico notes, though, the memo did not include numbers for DeWine’s other intra-party foe, farmer Joe Blystone. This is the first poll we’ve seen of the GOP’s gubernatorial primary in the better part of a year.

WISCONSIN GOVERNOR. Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch has earned an endorsement from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which is the equivalent of the state chamber of commerce, for the August Republican primary. Meanwhile, conservative megadonor Dick Uihlein put out a public statement Monday calling for businessman Kevin Nicholson to run for governor and promising that he’d “have my full support and commitment to win the primary and general elections.” Uihlein notably spent a massive $11 million to support Nicholson in his unsuccessful 2018 campaign for the GOP Senate nod.

Businessman Kevin Nicholson announced Thursday that he’ll run for governor, a move that guarantees Wisconsin Republicans will have to slog through an expensive and ugly August primary before they can focus on Democratic incumbent Tony Evers.

The Marine veteran—and onetime president of the College Democrats of America—once again has the backing of conservative megadonor Dick Uihlein, who threw down $11 million to aid Nicholson’s unsuccessful campaign for the GOP’s Senate nomination in 2018. But there’s some high-priced discord in the Uihlein household as Uihlein’s wife, Liz, has already contributed $220,000 to aid former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who is Nicholson’s main intra-party foe.

Even before Nicholson officially launched his new effort, he was engaged in a match of trading insults with Kleefisch allies. Last week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said at an event, “If Kevin Nicholson is listening—you need to not run for governor,” adding, “I think if he runs, it hurts our chances to defeat Gov. Evers.” Nicholson heard but very much did not listen: He used his Thursday announcement to say of the speaker’s suggestion, “That’s like taking political advice from Scooby-Doo, except Scooby-Doo actually gets the guy in the end.”

Over the weekend, Nicholson also told state GOP chairman Paul Farrow, who simultaneously serves as county executive of populous Waukesha County, “You represent a broken machine—you’re part of it.” (Nicholson got into a public dispute with the chairman’s mother, former Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow, during his last campaign.)

Unsurprisingly, Kleefisch herself has been on the receiving end of Nicholson’s attacks for months as well. Last October, after the former lieutenant governor suggested that Republicans “hire mercenaries” for “ballot harvesting” in order to compete with (entirely lawful) Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts, Nicholson replied that anyone who supported that idea was “as dumb as a bag of hammers.” He wasn’t much nicer on Thursday, saying that Kleefisch was a “broken record” whose nomination would only result in more Democratic victories in the Badger State. (Kleefisch was Gov. Scott Walker’s running mate in 2018 when their ticket lost to Evers and Mandela Barnes, who is now running for Senate.)

Kleefisch, who launched her campaign all the way back in September, hasn’t echoed her intra-party rival’s brash talk as yet, but she’s sought to establish herself as the dominant primary frontrunner. Last week, she released an internal from the Tarrance Group that showed her demolishing Nicholson 61-8 and soon thereafter earned an endorsement from the influential Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

And while Nicholson is trying to position himself as a conservative outsider campaigning against a failed GOP political establishment, his last campaign uncovered one big weakness that Kleefisch’s side can exploit. Nicholson, as we noted, is indeed an outsider to Republican politics, seeing as he was head of the College Democrats of America in 2000 and even delivered a speech at that year’s Democratic National Convention in support of Al Gore. The candidate claimed during his Senate bid that he’d left that gathering “absolutely sure” he wasn’t a Democrat, but reporters uncovered plenty of evidence indicating that the lesson took a lot longer to seep in than he let on.

Nicholson and Kleefisch are currently the only major Republicans running for governor, though that could change before long. Wealthy businessman Eric Hovde, who narrowly lost the 2012 Senate primary to former Gov. Tommy Thompson, is publicly considering a bid. The 80-year-old Thompson, who went on to lose that campaign to Baldwin, also hasn’t ruled out trying to reclaim the governorship he gave up two decades ago. Wisconsin’s candidate filing deadline isn’t until the start of June.  

CONNECTICUT U.S. SENATOR and GOVERNOR. Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal is far from a top-tier Republican target in dark blue Connecticut, but CT Insider’s Dan Haar reports that Republican fundraiser Leora Levy, who served as Donald Trump’s ambassador to Chile, is considering taking him on. Levy sought the GOP nod last year in a special election for a state Senate seat, but the party’s nominating convention selected another candidate.

One name we hadn’t previously heard in connection to this race was former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, who has been eyeing a bid against Gov. Ned Lamont for some time, but former state Sen. John McKinney touted her as a possible Blumenthal opponent on Sunday. There’s no word if Klarides, who would be in for a difficult gubernatorial primary against 2018 nominee Bob Stefanowski, is at all interested in taking on the senator, though Haar writes she “declined to comment on a possible run for U.S. Senate.” 

Stefanowski, who was the 2018 Republican nominee, is spending $1 million on an opening TV buy for his second campaign for governor. Stefanowski, who has pledged to use $10 million of his own money, sticks to his biography in his intro spots, which tout him as a middle class-born candidate who “know[s] what it’s like to start with nothing.”

ILLINOIS GOVERNOR. The Republican firm Victory Research, which says it has no client here, finds Democratic incumbent J.B. Pritzker far ahead in the first poll we’ve seen testing him against any of his declared GOP foes. Pritzker defeats businessman Gary Rabine by a wide 52-28, while each of the other four Republicans fare even worse.

Two Republicans looking to unseat Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, are going up with TV ads well ahead of the June primary.

Irvin’s opening commercial commends him for having “called in” the National Guard to stop a “riotous mob” in 2020, a claim he’s made before. As WCIA noted last week, though, it was Pritzker, the man Irvin is hoping to beat, who deployed the Guard to Aurora and other communities in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder; a state National Guard spokesperson also confirmed that, while mayors may make this request of the governor, they don’t have the authority to call the Guard in.

AdImpact says that Irvin is spending almost $500,000 on this opening buy, something he can afford to do after raising $1.1 million from several wealthy donors. Conservative megadonor Ken Griffin hasn’t yet written him a check, though this will probably change before long.

Sullivan, meanwhile, uses his spot to echo Donald Trump and blame Pritzker for crime in Chicago, which was a perennial issue in city politics long before Pritzker was elected. After touting his service in Afghanistan as a civilian intelligence analyst, the candidate declares, “Pritzker’s leftist agenda is literally killing us, turning parts of Illinois into a war zone.” AdImpact reports that the commercial is part of a $960,000 buy.

MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR. Businessman Chris Doughty announced Wednesday that he’d run for this open seat as a “moderate Republican” and would put down $500,000 of his own money as “seed capital.” Doughty competed for the nomination against 2018 Senate nominee Geoff Diehl, a Trump-endorsed former state representative who has refused to acknowledge that Joe Biden was legitimately elected, in the race to succeed retiring GOP Gov. Charlie Baker in this very blue state.

Before Doughty can focus on winning the September primary, though, he needs to make sure he makes it past the May 21 party convention; that’s because, as we’ve written before, major party candidates for statewide office need to win the support of at least 15% of the delegates to advance to the ballot.

Doughty’s supporters believe that he’d be a far more appealing nominee than Diehl in a state that has long sent moderate-sounding Republicans to the governor’s office, but the new candidate also has some views that Democrats can attack. While Doughty focused his opening pitch on “jobs and the economy,” he told the Boston Globe he’s usually opposed to allowing abortion after “a fetus can feel pain.” And while Doughty volunteered that he voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016, he acknowledged that he supported his party’s nominee four years later.  

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

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