The Political Report – 2/5/22

“Among the thousands of mail-in ballots that were rejected in Washington State during the 2020 election, auditors have found that the votes of Black residents were thrown out four times as often as those of white voters,” the New York Times reports.

“The rejections, all of them because of problematic signatures, disqualified one out of every 40 mail-in votes from Black people — a finding that already is causing concern amid the national debate over voter access and secure balloting.”

Seniors in South Florida report their voter registration was suddenly changed to Republican without their knowledge, WPLG reports.

“Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) has referred just 27 potential instances of illegal votes cast in the 2020 presidential election to state and local prosecutors for investigation, an indication of what he called a secure election two years ago,” The Hill reports.

“Democrats have drawn themselves aggressive maps in Illinois and New York as part of their efforts to overcome perceived Republican redistricting strengths this midterm year,” Axios reports.  “They’ve also been in position to veto some GOP maps and win court challenges to Republican districts.” “The wins are adding up, with Democrats now set to potentially gain two to three seats through redistricting.”

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. “In the Pennsylvania Senate race, one candidate is accusing a rival of having ‘dual loyalties’ to the US and a foreign country. In turn, that rival is charging his opponent with being too cozy with China,” CNN reports.

“But these aren’t candidates from opposing parties. They are hedge-fund executive David McCormick and TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, two of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination.”

“Without a clear primary preference from either Trump or Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, the Oz and McCormick teams are preparing to engage in a war of attrition.”

Val Arkoosh (D), a physician and the lone woman in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary, is dropping out of the race, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.  “She said she doesn’t plan to endorse in the primary but will campaign for the Democratic nominee in the general election.” Said Arkoosh: “Every Republican in this race is deeply concerning.”

RHODE ISLAND GOVERNOR. Multiple Republicans tell The Providence Journal’s Katherine Gregg that businesswoman Ashley Kalus, who only registered to vote in Rhode Island on Jan. 18, is thinking about seeking the GOP nomination for governor, though Kalus herself didn’t respond for the story. Kalus, whose company describes itself as “a medical practice focused on COVID testing, vaccination, and medical care run by physicians,” previously worked for then-Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner as his director of public engagement. It’s not clear exactly when she relocated to the Ocean State, though she bought a home there last May.

The declared candidates in Rhode Island’s race for governor—all of whom, so far, are Democrats—just filed fundraising reports covering the final quarter of last year, showing Gov. Dan McKee with a narrow cash lead. McKee brought in $176,000 and finished with $844,000 banked. Figures for his three main opponents are below:

  • Former CVS executive Helena Foulkes: $971,000 raised, $100,000 self-funded, $831,000 cash-on-hand
  • Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea: $162,000 raised, $770,000 cash-on-hand
  • Former Secretary of State Matt Brown: $63,000 raised, $38,000 cash-on-hand

TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL. We have our first two polls of Texas’ March 1 Republican primary for attorney general since the field fully took shape late last year, and they both show scandal-ridden incumbent Ken Paxton below the majority he’d need to avoid a May runoff.

YouGov, surveying on behalf of the University of Houston, has the Trump-endorsed Paxton at 39%; Land Commissioner George P. Bush leads Rep. Louie Gohmert by a small 16-13 for second, while former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman is last with 8%.

The University of Texas at Tyler’s poll for the Dallas Morning News, meanwhile, puts Paxton’s support at 33% as Bush enjoys a wider 19-8 edge over Gohmert for second, with Guzman at 7%.

Paxton, for his part, appears to see Gohmert as the candidate he needs to weaken right now. The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reports that the attorney general so far is only airing TV spots in Gohmert’s East Texas base, and while these spots are positive, Paxton has also been deploying anti-Gohmert mail pieces and social media ads. Svitek adds that, to date, the incumbent hasn’t put any money into efforts attacking Bush or Guzman.

GEORGIA GOVERNOR. Donald Trump stars in a rare direct-to-camera appeal for former Sen. David Perdue, who is spending $150,000 on this opening spot for the May Republican primary, and it’s just pretty much the TV version of one of his not-tweets.

Trump immediately spews as much vitriol as he can at the man Perdue is trying to unseat as well as the all-but-certain Democratic nominee by claiming, “The Democrats walked over Brian Kemp. He was afraid of Stacey ‘The Hoax’ Abrams. Brian Kemp let us down. We can’t let it happen again.” He goes on to say, “David Perdue is an outstanding man. He’s tough. He’s smart. He has my complete and total endorsement.”

Democrat Stacey Abrams announced she raised a massive $9.2 million in the month since she kicked off her second bid for governor and says she ended January with $7.2 million in the bank. Her red-hot pace outstripped Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who brought in $7.4 million in the second half of 2021, though he has a considerably larger $12.7 million war chest. Kemp, however, will have to spend much of that money in his already bitter primary feud with former Sen. David Perdue, who has yet to say how much he’s raised and “has tried to downplay expectations,” according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Greg Bluestein.

CNN reported Tuesday that Donald Trump has offered former state Rep. Vernon Jones his endorsement if he runs for an open House seat instead of continuing his bid for governor. Trump is backing former Sen. David Perdue’s campaign to deny renomination to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, and Jones’ departure from the primary would likely give Perdue a better chance to win the majority in the May primary he’d need to avert a runoff.

An unnamed source close to Jones said that he prefers the 10th District over the 6th, but that he hadn’t yet decided if he’d abandon his statewide campaign. Jones tweeted the following day, “My priority is – and has been since Day One –  is to do whatever it takes to defeat Brian Kemp who’s cowardice nearly cost us our country. I will always stand with President Trump in anywhere I serve.”

MICHIGAN GOVERNOR. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hauled in $2.5 million from Oct. 21 through Dec. 31 and had $9.9 million to spend at the close of 2021, which left her with a far larger war chest than any of her Republican foes.

The governor also transferred $3.5 million to the state Democratic Party, money she was able to raise without any contribution limits thanks to multiple Republican efforts to recall her from office. Because those recalls all failed to qualify for the ballot, Whitmer was required to disgorge those additional funds, though the party can use that money to boost her re-election campaign. (A GOP suit challenging Michigan’s rule allowing recall targets to raise unlimited sums was recently rejected.)

Things didn’t go nearly as well for former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who looked like the Republican frontrunner when he announced his campaign back in July. Craig raised $600,000 but spent $700,000, and he had $845,000 on-hand. Wealthy businessman Kevin Rinke, by contrast, raised a mere $5,000 from donors but self-funded $2 million, and his $1.5 million war chest was the largest of anyone running in the August GOP primary.

Two other Republicans, chiropractor Garrett Soldano and conservative radio host Tudor Dixon, took in $250,000 and $150,000, respectively, while Soldano led Dixon in cash-on-hand $315,000 to $96,000. A fifth GOP candidate, businessman Perry Johnson, entered the race last week after the new fundraising period began, but he’s pledged to self-fund $2.5 million.

MINNESOTA GOVERNOR. Former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek declared Tuesday that he would seek the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Gov. Tim Walz. He joins an intra-party battle that includes state Sen. Michelle Benson, former state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, former state Sen. Scott Jensen, dermatologist Neil Shah, and healthcare executive Kendall Qualls, who was the GOP’s 2020 nominee for the 3rd Congressional District.

Minnesota Morning Take reports that Stanek, just like all the other notable GOP candidates, will, in local parlance, “abide” by the endorsement process at the Republican convention in May. That means that none intend to continue on to the party’s August primary if someone else wins the support of 60% of delegates required to earn the official Republican stamp of approval. Stanek launched his campaign hours before the start of precinct caucuses, which are the first step towards selecting convention delegates, so it may be too late for any other Republicans to get in if they want a shot at the endorsement.

Stanek, who previously served in the Minneapolis Police Department, is a longtime politician who got his start in the state House in 1995 and resigned from the chamber in 2003 when Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed him state public safety commissioner. Stanek quit his new post the next year after acknowledging he’d used racial slurs during a 1989 deposition that took place after he was accused of police brutality (Minnesota Public Radio reported in 2004 that this was “one of three police brutality lawsuits brought against him”), but the scandal did not spell the end of his political career.

Stanek made a comeback by pulling off a landslide win in the officially nonpartisan 2006 race for sheriff of deep-blue Hennepin County (home of Minneapolis), and he had no trouble holding it in the following two elections. The sheriff’s base in the state’s most populous county made him an appealing candidate for governor in 2018, but Stanek opted to seek a fourth term instead. His luck finally ran out in that Democratic wave year, though, and he lost a very tight race for re-election.

The Minnesota Post has rounded up every candidate’s fundraising for 2021, and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz far outpaced his many GOP foes by bringing in $3.6 million and ended the year with that amount available. The Republicans are below:

  • former state Sen. Scott Jensen: $1.2 million raised, $805,000 cash-on-hand
  • former state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka: $545,000 raised, $460,000 cash-on-hand
  • Dermatologist Neil Shah: $230,000 raised, $25,000 cash-on-hand
  • State Sen. Michelle Benson: $215,000 raised, $120,000 cash-on-hand

SurveyUSA, polling on behalf of a trio of Minnesota TV stations, tests Democratic Gov. Tim Walz against six different Republican foes, and it finds things considerably closer than when it went into the field in December. The results are below, with the firm’s earlier numbers in parentheses:43-40 vs. former state Sen. Scott Jensen (48-36)

  • 42-37 vs. state Sen. Paul Gazelka (47-34)
  • 45-37 vs. state Sen. Michelle Benson (47-35)
  • 43-35 vs. healthcare executive Kendall Qualls
  • 44-35 vs. Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy (47-36)
  • 45-34 vs. physician Neil Shah (48-31)

The earlier numbers did not include Qualls, who launched his bid last month. Former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who announced this week, was also not asked about in either poll.

Even though SurveyUSA shows Walz losing ground since December, he still posts a 45-37 favorable rating, which is the same margin as his 47-39 score from last time. His many opponents, by contrast, remain pretty anonymous: Even Jensen, who comes the closest in the head-to-heads, only sports a 18-12 favorable image.

OHIO GOVERNOR. Former state Rep. Ron Hood, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nod in last year’s special election for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, has now set his sights on the Buckeye State’s gubernatorial race. Hood, described by as “among the most conservative lawmakers” in the legislature, joins former Rep. Jim Renacci in challenging Gov. Mike DeWine, potentially splitting the anti-incumbent vote in the race for the Republican nomination. He didn’t make much of an impact running for Congress, though, finishing third with 13% in the primary.

Financially, though, DeWine doesn’t have too much to worry about. New fundraising reports, covering the second half of 2021, show the governor raised $3.3 million and had $9.2 million in the bank. Renacci, meanwhile, brought in just $149,000 from donors, though he self-funded an additional $4.8 million and had $4.1 million left to spend.

On the Democratic side, former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley outraised former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley $1.3 million to $1 million, but the two campaigns had comparable sums on hand: $1.8 million for Whaley and $1.9 million for Cranley.

Renacci, who has spent his time trashing DeWine’s handling of the pandemic, last week dropped a poll showing him leading the incumbent 46-38 in a two-way race. A Renacci win would represent a major upset, but no one else has responded with contradictory numbers.

The only poll we’ve seen of the Democratic primary was a Whaley internal she publicized last week giving her a 33-20 edge, but with a 48% plurality undecided. The former mayors both ended 2021 with close to $2 million to spend apiece.

SOUTH DAKOTA GOVERNOR. State House Minority Leader Jamie Smith announced Tuesday that he would challenge Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, which makes him the first notable Democrat to kick off a bid for an office his party last won in 1974. Noem herself only won 51-48, and we’ve seen no recent polling looking at her popularity in what is usually an extremely red state.

What we do know, though, is that the incumbent will be very well-funded. Noem raised $11.8 million during 2021, and she ended the year with $7.3 million on-hand. State Rep. Steve Haugaard, who announced in mid-November that he would challenge the governor for renominationtook in $56,000 and reported having just $36,000 to spend.

NEW YORK GOVERNOR. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s first TV spot ahead of the June Republican primary features several photos of Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul with her disgraced predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, as the narrator argues that the state is in poor shape. The ad goes on to exalt Zeldin as a veteran who has “won seven tough elections” and a “tax-fighting, trusted conservative.” There is no word on the size of the buy.

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. The radical anti-tax Club for Growth has endorsed Blake Masters, a top aide to conservative megadonor Peter Thiel who also has the support of a super PAC funded by his boss, in the crowded August Republican primary to face Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.

FLORIDA GOVERNOR. Rep. Charlie Crist has released a GBAO Strategies survey giving him a 54-28 lead over state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in the August Democratic primary, with state Sen. Annette Taddeo at 7%. We haven’t seen any other surveys of the contest to face Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis since well before Taddeo entered the race last October.

OHIO U.S. SENATOR. On Thursday evening, one day after candidate filing closed, wealthy businessman Bernie Moreno announced that he was dropping out of what’s now an eight-person Republican primary to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman. Moreno, who kicked off a $4 million TV ad campaign in December, said, “After talking to President Trump we both agreed this race has too many Trump candidates and could cost the MAGA movement a conservative seat.” 

The development came one day after another Republican contender, former state Treasurer, Josh Mandel, released a WPA Intelligence poll arguing that he has the lead in this extremely expensive primary. The toplines are below, with the numbers from an early January WPA survey for Mandel’s allies at the Club for Growth in parenthesis:

  • former state Treasurer Josh Mandel: 28 (26)
  • Businessman Mike Gibbons: 17 (14)
  • Venture capitalist J.D. Vance: 13 (10)
  • former state party chair Jane Timken: 9 (15)
  • Businessman Bernie Moreno: 6 (7)
  • State Sen. Matt Dolan: 5 (4)

Three other Republicans are also in, but none of them have been making a serious effort.

Dolan is trying to better his fortunes by using personal wealth to go on TV, but he’s far from alone: The Republican firm Medium Buying reports that close to $24 million has already been spent or reserved to air ads. The GOP primary will likely get far more expensive still, as all six of these contenders ended 2021 with at least $1 million in the bank. Their fourth quarter fundraising numbers are below:

  • Timken: $595,000 raised, additional $1.5 million self-funded, $3.6 million cash-on-hand
  • Vance: $530,000 raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand
  • Mandel: $370,000 raised, $6 million cash-on-hand
  • Dolan: $360,000 raised, additional $10.5 million self-funded, $10.4 million cash-on-hand
  • Gibbons: $70,000 raised, additional $3.5 million self-funded, $6.4 million cash-on-hand

Things are far less chaotic on the Democratic side, where Rep. Tim Ryan is the likely nominee. He faces Morgan Harper, a former advisor to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Joyce Beatty for renomination in 2020, as well as two little-known candidates. Ryan outraised Harper $2.9 million to $335,000 in the most recent quarter, and he held a $5 million to $435,000 cash-on-hand edge.

The Dem’s eventual nominee will face a tough task in November in a longtime swing state that lurched hard to the right in the Trump era, but Democrats are hoping that a bloody GOP primary will give them a larger opening.

HAWAII GOVERNOR. Hawaii News Now has gathered the fundraising reports for the second half of 2021, and the numbers for the three major Democrats are below:

  • Lt. Gov. Josh Green: $775,000 raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand
  • Businesswoman Vicky Cayetano: $475,000 raised, additional $350,000 self-funded, $655,000 cash-on-hand
  • former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell: $345,000 raised, $720,000 cash-on-hand

None of the Republicans currently in the race have reported raising a notable amount.

IOWA GOVERNOR. The Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel relays that some Iowa Democrats are seeking an alternative to Deidre DeJear, the 2018 secretary of state nominee who ended last year with less than $10,000 on-hand, though there’s no sign anyone else is looking to take on Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. Pfannenstiel writes that some of “the names being floated” are 2018 nominee Fred Hubbell, state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, and state Reps. Chris Hall and Todd Prichard, but none of them have shown any obvious interest in getting in ahead of the March 18 filing deadline.

MAINE GOVERNOR. Former state Sen. Tom Saviello said this week that he would not run as an independent. That’s probably welcome news for Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, whom Saviello backed in 2018.

MARYLAND GOVERNOR. The Democratic Governors Association is out with new numbers from Public Policy Polling arguing that Del. Dan Cox, a Trump-endorsed candidate who played a role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol by organizing a busload of people to attend the rally that preceded it, is well-positioned in the June Republican primary in this dark blue state.

Cox leads former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, who has termed-out Gov. Larry Hogan’s backing, 20-12, with a huge 68% majority undecided. (The poll did not include Robin Ficker, a perennial candidate who has self-funded $1.1 million.) But after respondents are told that Trump is supporting Cox while Schulz is backed by termed-out Gov. Larry Hogan, the delegate’s margin balloons to 52-18. This is the very first poll we’ve seen of this primary.

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

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