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The Political Report – 2/17/22

A new UC Berkeley poll in California finds Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) approval rating split at 48% to 47%.  “Concerns about rising crime and California’s seemingly intractable homelessness crisis emerged as the top political undercurrents driving voter dissatisfaction, with most of those surveyed giving Newsom poor marks on how he has handled those issues.”

A new Mason-Dixon poll in Florida shows Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) leading Charlie Crist (D) in the gubernatorial race, 51% to 43%.  DeSantis also leads Nikki Fried (D) in another possible match up, 53% to 42%.  In the Democratic primary, Crist is the clear favorite over Fried, 44% to 27%, with 26% still undecided.

NEVADA 2ND CD. Douglas County Commissioner Danny Tarkanian, a Republican who finally ended his legendary losing streak last cycle, revealed to the Nevada Independent that he’s considering challenging Rep. Mark Amodei in the June primary for Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District. The congressman quickly responded to the news by telling the site, “[I]t’s America. … If somebody thinks that they’ve got a better mousetrap, then those are the avenues available to them.” The filing deadline is March 18, and whoever wins the GOP nod will be the heavy favorite in a northern Nevada seat that, according to Dave’s Redistricting App, would have backed Donald Trump 54-43.

While it remains to be seen what argument Tarkanian might put forward to persuade primary voters to oust Amodei, the congressman’s experience last cycle could preview what’s to come. In September of 2019, Amodei pissed off conservatives nationwide when he became the first House Republican to identify as impeachment-curious, saying of the inquiry into Trump, “Let’s put it through the process and see what happens.” Amodei added, “I’m a big fan of oversight, so let’s let the committees get to work and see where it goes.” Where it went was a firestorm of far-right outrage, with angry conservatives convinced that Amodei had actually called for impeaching Trump.

Amodei quickly responded by protesting, “In no way, shape, or form, did I indicate support for impeachment,” though even expressing openness to an inquiry was enough to infuriate not only the rank-and-file but top Republicans as well. The Trump campaign soon rolled out its state co-chairs for 2020, and politicos noticed that Amodei, who was and remains Nevada’s only Republican member of Congress, was snubbed.

The far-right Club for Growth joined in the fracas by releasing a poll showing former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt beating Amodei in a hypothetical primary, but all of this sound and fury ended up signifying nothing—for 2020 at least. Amodei joined the rest of the GOP caucus in voting against both the inquiry and Trump’s first impeachment, and neither Laxalt nor anyone else of stature ended up running against him.

Things played out in a familiar manner right after the Jan. 6 attack when Amodei told Nevada Newsmakers, “Do I think he [Trump] has a responsibility for what has occurred? Yes.” The congressman, though, this time used his interview to say upfront that he’d oppose an impeachment inquiry, and he soon joined most of his party colleagues in voting against impeachment. However, as South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace just learned the hard way, Trump is very happy to back primary challenges to members who dared blamed him for the attack on the Capitol even if they sided with him on the impeachment vote.

Tarkanian, for his part, is also a very familiar name in Silver State politics, though not entirely for welcome reasons. Tarkanian himself comes from a prominent family: His late father was the legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, while his mother, Democrat Lois Tarkanian, was a longtime Las Vegas city councilwoman who now serves on the state Board of Regents. The younger Tarkanian—sometimes distinguished from his more famous father with the sobriquet “Little Tark”—was a resident of Las Vegas’ Clark County when he lost the:

But while Tarkanian’s long string of defeats has made him a punchline to state and national political observers for years, his name recognition, personal wealth, and connections to Nevada’s hardcore conservative base mean that he was never just another perennial candidate either party could dismiss. Notably in 2016, Tarkanian overcame $1.6 million in outside spending directed against him in the GOP primary to defeat state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, the choice of then-Gov. Brian Sandoval and national Republicans, by a surprisingly large 32-24 margin. That result might have cost Team Red the swingy 3rd District, but only just: Tarkanian lost to his Democratic foe, now-Sen. Jacky Rosen, 47-46 as Donald Trump was carrying the district 48-47.

Republicans also took Tarkanian seriously in 2017 when he launched a primary challenge to Sen. Dean Heller and a pair of polls showed him winning. Trump, however, managed to redirect Tarkanian just before the filing deadline when he convinced him to drop out and run for the 3rd District a second time, with his endorsement. Tarkanian, though, lost to Democrat Susie Lee by a wide 52-43 spread as Rosen was unseating Heller.

Tarkanian decided soon afterwards that he’d had enough of Vegas and moved to Douglas County, a small rural community located well to the north, near the Reno area. But he was hardly done with politics: Amodei himself suggested in April of 2019, months before his impeachment inquiry flirtations, that Tarkanian could run against him.

Tarkanian didn’t follow through but instead devoted his efforts to denying renomination to an incumbent with a far lower profile, Douglas County Commissioner Dave Nelson. The challenger joined a pro-development slate of candidates seeking seats on the five-member body, and this time, fortune was, at last, just barely on his side: Tarkanian won the nomination 50.1-49.9―a margin of 17 votes―and he had no opposition in the general election. We’ll find out in the next five weeks if, now that he’s finally an elected official, Little Tark decides to test out his newfound luck by going after Amodei.

NEW JERSEY 7TH CD. On Thursday evening, 2020 nominee Tom Kean Jr. narrowly defeated Assemblyman Erik Peterson at the Hunterdon County Republican Convention, which gives him the important party endorsement in the June primary to take on Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski. Peterson is a longtime politician from Hunterdon County, which makes up 17% of the population this six-county congressional district, and he’s enjoyed the county’s support in past bids for local races.

Endorsements from county parties are typically very important in New Jersey primaries on both sides of the aisle. That’s because, in many counties, endorsed candidates appear in a separate column on the ballot along with other party endorsees, a big deal in a state where party machines are still powerful. (This designation is known colloquially as the “organization line.”)

You can see an example of this on the 2018 Democratic primary sample ballot from Burlington County. Sen. Robert Menendez and 2nd Congressional District candidate Jeff Van Drew, who was still a year away from his infamous party switch, appeared in the column identified as “BURLINGTON COUNTY REGULAR DEMOCRATS,” along with party-backed candidates running for other offices. Lisa McCormick, who was challenging Menendez for renomination, was listed on her own in the second column while the three candidates running against Van Drew each had a column entirely to themselves.

Kean will likely have another line before long: The New Jersey Globe writes that he recently received the unanimous support of the Republican Executive Committee in Warren County, which forms another 14% of the 7th District, meaning “he is the favorite to win the county organizational line there as well.”

Peter Thiel is injecting $1.5 million into a seed round for a new conservative dating app called “The Right Stuff,” Axios reports.  “While it isn’t political itself, the app will be catered to conservatives living primarily in big, progressive cities.”

RHODE ISLAND 2ND CD. Allan Fung, a former Cranston mayor who twice was the Republican nominee for governor, announced Friday that he’d run to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin in the 2nd Congressional District. He joins a September primary that includes state Sen. Jessica de la Cruz and 2020 nominee Bob Lancia, who lost to Langevin 58-42.

The current version of this constituency, which is unlikely to change much when redistricting is finished, moved from 51-44 Clinton to a stronger 56-43 Biden. But in between those presidential contests, according to Dave’s Redistricting App, Fung lost this seat by a close 47-43 margin in his 2018 general election against then-Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Fung was decisively elected to lead Rhode Island’s second-most populous city in 2008 on his second try, an accomplishment that made him the state’s first Chinese American mayor, and he quickly emerged as a Republican rising star in the heavily Democratic Ocean State. Fung went ahead with a long-awaited campaign for governor during the 2014 red wave, and while he lost to Raimondo 41-36 (a hefty 21% went to the late Robert Healey of the Moderate, or “Cool Moose,” Party), he remained the state GOP’s biggest name following his near miss.

After easily winning re-election in Cranston, Fung soon launched a 2018 rematch with Raimondo, and it looked like he had a real chance to finish what he’d started. While the national political climate very much favored Democrats, Raimondo had posted unimpressive poll numbers throughout her tenure. That was due in part to her turbulent relationship with progressives ever since she pushed through pension reforms as state treasurer and some bad headlines on a variety of topics while in office. However, the governor this time captured the majority that eluded her in 2014 by beating Fung by a decisive 53-37, with Trillo taking 4%.

WPRI reports that U.S. Department of Commerce official Sarah Morgenthau is considering entering the September Democratic primary to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Langevin. Morgenthau, who was a prominent fundraiser for Joe Biden’s campaign, also comes from a legendary political family: Her grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Jr., was FDR’s secretary of the treasury, while her uncle, Robert Morgenthau, served decades as Manhattan’s district attorney. Her late mother, Ruth Morgenthau, was also the Democratic nominee for a previous version of the 2nd District in 1988, but she badly lost to Republican incumbent Claudine Schneider.

TEXAS 28TH CD. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) endorsed Jessica Cisneros (D) in her Democratic primary challenge to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX).  Cisnero came up about 3,000 votes short in her previous attempt to unseat Cuellar.

Politico: “The race between Cisneros and Cuellar faced a curveball in recent weeks following an FBI raid on the long-time incumbent’s home.”

Cisneros’ newest ad is narrated by a woman named Esther who says she’s lived in Laredo for four decades but complains, “Nothing changes—even the problems stay the same.” She goes on to say she “used to like Henry Cuellar,” but criticizes him for “taking money from big insurance and drug companies” even as the cost of medication and insurance has risen for her. “You ask me, Henry Cuellar’s been in Washington too long,” she concludes.

The left-wing group Justice Democrats is also reportedly spending $78,000 to air a spot on Cisneros’ behalf, attacking Cuellar for living it up as a politician (he “got rides in donors’ private jets” and “fixed his BMW with campaign cash”). It also mentions the FBI raid of his home last month. “After 36 years in politics,” says the narrator, “Cuellar has changed.” The spot concludes with the voiceover saying, “We need someone who works for us” and shows a photo of Cisneros along with her name on screen, but for no clear reason, the narrator doesn’t actually say her name aloud.

TEXAS 30TH CD. Web3 Forward, a new super PAC with ties to the crypto industry, is out with its first TV spot in support of state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, and the group says it will spend $1 million to aid her in the March 1 Democratic primary. (A different crypto-aligned PAC, Protect our Future, has also pledged to deploy $1 million for Crockett.) The opening ad praises Crockett for leading “the fight to stop voter suppression efforts in Texas” and reminds the audience that she’s backed by retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.

ALABAMA 2ND CD. Wealthy trucking company owner Jeff Coleman filed paperwork Thursday for a primary rematch against Republican Rep. Barry Moore, who defeated him 60-40 in last cycle’s runoff, but it remains to be seen if Coleman will be allowed a spot on the June ballot in this safely red seat.

The confusion came about after a panel of three federal judges moved the filing deadline for House hopefuls from Jan. 28 to Feb. 11 when it struck down the GOP’s new congressional map for violating the Voting Rights Act last month. On Feb. 7, however, the Supreme Court stayed that ruling, allowing elections to go forward this year using the new map.

Republican Secretary of State John Merrill put out a statement the next day declaring that it would now be up to each state party as to whether to recognize Feb. 11 as the new filing deadline, though he added, “Any candidate that qualified between January 28 and February 7 (prior to the stay being granted) was qualified to be on the ballot.”

Both Coleman and Jamie Aiken, who is (or was) running an underdog campaign against Rep. Gary Palmer in the 6th District, went ahead and tried to file with the state GOP on Feb. 10, but Aiken says party officials told him he was too late. State party chair John Wahl did not comment when AL.com contacted him on Sunday evening, and Coleman has requested that a federal court clarify the situation. For now, though, his name is not included on the Alabama GOP’s candidate list, which shows Moore, as well as Palmer, running unopposed.

Coleman, though, didn’t wait to launch what his campaign called a “significant television buy” that included a spot during the Super Bowl. The ad shows him driving a truck while a narrator argues he’s a pro-Trump alternative to “namby-pamby politicians.”

ALABAMA 5TH CD. Six Republicans have filed to succeed Rep. Mo Brooks, who is leaving the House to run for the Senate, in this northern Alabama seat that would have gone for Trump 62-35. Should no one take a majority of the vote, a runoff would occur on June 21.

Only two contenders had a notable amount of money at the end of 2021: Former Department of Defense official Casey Wardynski, who previously served as Huntsville City Schools Superintendent, outraised Madison County Commission Dale Strong $139,000 to $95,000 during the fourth quarter, but Strong finished December with a $303,000 to $267,000 cash-on-hand lead.

Businessman John Roberts (who, if he’s lucky, will get to be known as “no, not that John Roberts”) took in a mere $16,000 and threw in another $10,000, and he had $80,000 on hand. Former state Sen. Paul Sanford, who entered the race in early November, raised $37,000 and had a similar amount to spend, while businessman Andy Blalock and Some Dude Harrison Wright each had less than $8,000. So far, no major outside groups appear to have taken sides in this contest.

MICHIGAN 12TH CD. Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey has announced that she’ll take on Rep. Rashida Tlaib in the August Democratic primary for this safely blue Detroit-based seat. Winfrey previously went up against a different incumbent, the late John Conyers, in the 2016 for the old 13th District but raised very little money and lost 61-39. Her office a few months later earned awful headlines for its botched handling of the presidential election, with a post-election audit concluding that “an abundance of human errors” by election administrators contributed to the problem.

Fellow Democrat Garlin Gilchrist, who served as Detroit’s technology director, challenged Winfrey in 2017 on a platform of modernizing the city’s election administration and improving access to voting and lost by a narrow 51-49 margin. Gilchrist was elected lieutenant governor the next year while Tlaib was elected to succeed Conyers; Winfrey, meanwhile, won re-election last year 71-29 in a race that attracted far less attention than her previous contest.

NEW YORK 12TH CD. Attorney and hotel executive Suraj Patel has announced that he’ll challenge Rep. Carolyn Maloney for the third time in the June Democratic primary for what remains a safely blue Manhattan-based seat. Patel in 2018 outspent the congresswoman but lost 60-40 after an effort that attracted some unflattering headlines. Maloney enjoyed the financial edge for their rematch two years later, but she won by a much closer 43-39 spread.

This time, though, Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, has some notable advantages she didn’t have previously. Perhaps most importantly, the new congressional district has lost parts of Brooklyn and Queens, areas Patel won last time. Instead, the reconfigured 12th now includes part of the Upper West Side, a wealthy area that has much in common with the congresswoman’s longtime base on the Upper East Side.

And while Patel was Maloney’s only intra-party foe in 2018 and her only well-funded opponent in 2020, this time there’s also nonprofit founder Rana Abdelhamid, who ended 2021 with $380,000 to spend. The congresswoman has also worked to replenish her war chest after two expensive bouts, and she had $1.07 million on hand.

NEW YORK 18TH CD. Republican Assemblyman Colin Schmitt has publicized an internal from BK Strategies that shows him edging out incumbent Sean Patrick Maloney, who heads the DCCC, by a 38-37 margin—a result that obviously includes a large pile of undecideds. Maloney won very competitive races to claim his first two terms in 2012 and 2014, but he’s convincingly won re-election ever since. The new Democratic-drawn map also moved this Hudson Valley-based constituency a few points to the left: While the old 18th supported Joe Biden 52-47, the redrawn version would have backed him 53-45.

PENNSYLVANIA 18TH CD. Edgewood Borough Council member Bhavini Patel has joined the May Democratic primary for this open and safely blue seat. Patel, who founded a tech startup, is 28, and her victory would make her one of the youngest members of Congress.

MINNESOTA 5TH CD. Former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels says he’s interested in taking on Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar but adds that he’s not sure if he’d want to pursue a primary bid or campaign as an independent.

VIRGINIA 2ND CD. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy last week endorsed state Sen. Jen Kiggans’ bid to take on Democratic incumbent Elaine Luria. McCarthy’s decision was hardly a surprise, though, as his allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund backed Kiggans last month. The move comes just days after former Rep. Scott Taylor expressed interest in a possible comeback.

WEST VIRGINIA 2ND CD. Republican Rep. Alex Mooney’s latest commercial in his May incumbent vs. incumbent primary accuses David McKinley of “[l]ying on TV, claiming he’s on Trump’s side.” The ad goes on to tell viewers that Mooney is Trump’s man (he does indeed have Trump’s endorsement), while McKinley “votes for the Biden/Pelosi agenda and the Jan. 6 witch hunt.”

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

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