The Political Report – 2/19/22

“Republicans are embarking on a primary season that is poised to reshape the GOP for a generation, and that journey begins in Texas,” Politico reports.

“In less than two weeks, the first primary election of 2022 will take place in the nation’s second-most populous state, and it’s a blockbuster: The state’s Republican governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner all face spirited challenges, as do several GOP House incumbents.”

“From there, fractious primaries will unfold across the electoral map in the coming months, cementing a more populist orientation for the GOP and Donald Trump’s status as the party’s lodestar, or setting a more traditionally conservative course.”

Philip Bump: “With Trump now on the sidelines — in the unsubtle manner of Spike Lee at a Knicks game, anyway — the Republican Party is trying to figure out what its next phase looks like. The tension at the heart of that effort, though, is that Trump coalesced a powerful anti-elite strain of political thought within the base that first gained significant traction with Sarah Palin’s ascendance in the 2008 presidential campaign and blossomed in the tea party era.”

WISCONSIN U.S. SENATOR. Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D), who is running for U.S. Senate against Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), “has tried to stake out his place as a liberal candidate seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

“But Barnes is now distancing himself from two unpopular, far-left political movements — defunding police and abolishing ICE — despite support from groups backing these efforts and past social media activity referencing these causes.”

Charlie Sykes: “This is how Ron Johnson gets another six years in the U.S. Senate.”

MILWAUKEE MAYOR. Milwaukee held its nonpartisan primary Tuesday for the special election to succeed longtime Mayor Tom Barrett, who resigned late last year to become ambassador to Luxembourg, and acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson and former Alderman Bob Donovan advanced to the April 5 general election. Johnson, who would be the first African American elected to lead the city, took 42%, while Donavan led state Sen. Lena Taylor 22-13 for second. The winner will be up for a full four-year term in 2024.

Donovan is the rare conservative politician in this blue municipality, and he learned the hard way six years ago just how tough a citywide race is. The alderman challenged Barrett in 2016 and looked viable for a time after he held the incumbent to a 45-34 lead in the nonpartisan preliminary election. But Donovan had trouble gaining traction in the general election against the well-funded Barrett, especially after the mayor highlighted Donovan’s past legal issues, and he went down in a 70-30 landslide.

NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR. Democratic state Sen. Tom Sherman tells the Portsmouth Herald that if he decides to challenge Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, his announcement would likely come early next month.

WMUR asked Sherman if he was near to deciding if he’d challenge Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, prompting the Democrat to reply that he was “very close.” The story also says that, while Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington has been talked about as a possible Democratic contender, she “does not appear to be taking any steps toward a campaign.”  

ILLINOIS GOVERNOR. State Sen. Darren Bailey has received a $1 million contribution from conservative mega donor Richard Uihlein ahead of the June Republican primary.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. The super PAC Honor Pennsylvania’s new commercial against TV personality Mehmet Oz uses footage from his show to argue he’s a “Republican in name only,” including a 2013 clip of him enthusiastically jumping up and down with Michelle Obama.

FLORIDA U.S. SENATOR. Mason-Dixon’s first poll of this contest finds Republican incumbent Marco Rubio leading Democratic Rep. Val Demings 49-42, which is very similar to the 49-41 edge Suffolk University gave him late last month. The congresswoman, though, has more than enough money to put up a serious fight: Demings outraised Rubio $7.1 million to $5.2 million during the fourth quarter, while the senator ended December with a modest $10.6 million to $8.2 million cash-on-hand advantage.

FLORIDA GOVERNOR. Mason-Dixon has released its first general election poll of Florida in nearly a year, and it shows Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis decisively beating each of his three Democratic foes. The results are below, with the firm’s February 2021 numbers in parentheses:

  • 51-43 vs. Rep. Charlie Crist (52-41)
  • 53-42 vs. state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (51-42)
  • 53-37 vs. state Sen. Annette Taddeo

The only other poll we’ve seen here this year was a late January offering from Suffolk University that showed the incumbent leading Crist and Fried 49-43 and 51-40, respectively. (Suffolk did not test Taddeo; Mason-Dixon’s earlier poll also did not include her, but she hadn’t launched her campaign yet.) Mason-Dixon also takes a look at the August Democratic primary and shows Crist ahead of Fried 44-27, with just 3% going to Taddeo.

NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR. The RGA has launched what the Santa Fe New Mexican describes as a “six-figure ad buy” caricaturing Democratic incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham as soft on crime.

NEW YORK GOVERNOR. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul in the June Democratic primary.

PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR. While state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman ended 2021 with more cash on hand than any of his many rivals in the May Republican primary, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Andrew Seidman reports that his three-month-old campaign has been burdened by major staff turnovers and internal disappointments.

Corman earlier this month hired his third campaign manager after already cycling through two others, and Seidman adds that he’s also parted ways with his “political director, finance director, a fund-raiser, and scheduler.” And while the candidate raised $3 million from donors during 2021—far more than anyone else brought in, not including self-funding—an unnamed source says his team initially believed they could have raised $2 million more during this time than they ultimately did.

Political observers are still very much treating Corman like a viable contender, though some suggested to Seidman he “may have been overly confident at the outset.” The Senate leader reportedly predicted in October that he could clear the field, something Corman himself acknowledged this month very much didn’t happen. “I probably thought there was an opportunity to sort of coalesce around someone,” he told the Inquirer, adding, “So, if I said that, it didn’t happen.”

COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE. Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters announced Monday evening that she would seek the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a declaration that came days after the Grand Junction Police Department charged the nationally infamous Peters with obstructing an officer when she refused to turn over her iPad. A few other Republicans are already running, including former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson.

The Colorado Sun explains that Peters, who has been one of the far-right’s most prominent election deniers, is currently “under grand jury investigation for a security breach of her county’s election system after she allegedly allowed an unauthorized person to attend a sensitive Dominion Voting Systems software update and facilitate the digital copying of her election system.” Griswold went on to prevent Peters from overseeing the 2021 elections in Mesa County, and she’s seeking the same sanction for this year.

The local district attorney’s office is also investigating whether Peters illegally recorded the court hearing of one of her deputies with the iPad that the police tried to seize last week. The clerk was arrested and filmed being restrained by the cops, with one officer telling her, “Do not kick, do you understand?”

NEW YORK 4TH CD. New York Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Long Island Democrat who spent years as an intra-party critic of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, declared Tuesday that she would not seek a fifth term representing the 4th Congressional District, which is located entirely within Nassau County. The decision was a surprise, as the congresswoman—who turned 57 the day she made her announcement—had given no obvious indication she was looking to leave the House. Rice is the 30th House Democrat who is retiring or running for another office, compared to 13 Republicans.

The redrawn version of Rice’s constituency, which barely changed after redistricting, would have supported Joe Biden 55-43. However, Democrats will want to still keep an eye on this contest following last year’s Republican wins in Nassau County’s local elections; indeed, one of those victors was Bruce Blakeman, who was narrowly elected county executive seven years after losing an open-seat race for the 4th District to Rice.

Former Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen tells Newsday that she’s thinking of running to succeed her fellow Democrat, retiring Rep. Kathleen Rice. Gillen in 2017 made history when she became the first Democrat elected to lead Hempstead, a huge community with a population approaching 800,000, in more than a century, but she narrowly lost re-election two years later.

The paper also reports that three Democratic members of the Nassau County Legislature are also thinking about getting in: Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams, who lost the 2014 primary to Rice; Siela Bynoe, who considered challenging the congresswoman in 2020 but didn’t end up running; and Carrié Solages. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, though, took his name out of contention on Wednesday when he announced that he would not seek re-election or run for any other office in 2022. Newsday also says that another Democrat, former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, has decided not to campaign for Congress.

On the GOP side, businessman Bill Staniford generated very little attention when he launched his campaign last quarter and has primarily been self-funding his effort. Staniford raised a mere $52,000 during the fourth quarter but self-funded $200,000, which left him with $233,000 on hand at the end of December. Rice’s retirement, though, will likely entice more Republicans to take a look ahead of the early April filing deadline.

Rice’s announcement also means that Long Island’s House delegation will get almost a complete refresh, since two other local representatives, 1st District Republican Lee Zeldin and 3rd District Democrat Tom Suozzi, are both running for governor. Meanwhile, freshman Republican Rep. Andrew Garbarino, who was elected last cycle after longtime Rep. Peter King retired, should have no trouble winning now that his 2nd District has become considerably more conservative—which would actually make him the area’s most senior congressman. (Veteran Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks also represents a small portion of Nassau County, but almost 90% of his safely blue 5th District is made up of his Queens base.)

MONTANA 1ST CD. Federal investigators on Wednesday released a 32-page report concluding that former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke violated federal ethics rules while in office by taking part in talks with developers, including the multi-national energy giant Halliburton, about a project involving land owned by his foundation and then lying about his involvement in the negotiations. The document says, “We referred this matter to the DOJ [Department of Justice]. The DOJ declined criminal prosecution in the summer of 2021. We are providing this report to the current Secretary of the Interior for any action deemed appropriate.”

Zinke, who is Donald Trump’s endorsed candidate in the June Republican primary for western Montana’s brand-new 1st District, dismissed the news by accusing the Biden administration of having “published false information, and was shared with the press as a political hit job.”

Zinke and his wife, Lola, in 2007 together established a group called the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation, which the AP says was formed “to build a community sledding hill,” that owned land in his hometown of Whitefish. A decade later, the organization was negotiating with developers, including Halliburton, about using its property for a parking lot for a commercial project that would have included “a hotel, microbrewery, restaurant, and other businesses.” Zinke officially resigned as the foundation’s president in March of 2017, the month he joined Trump’s cabinet, and said that his wife would now be in charge of the project. However, Inspector General Mark Greenblatt, who is a Trump appointee, wrote that the secretary had by no means stopped participating.

Greenblatt instead says that Zinke communicated with the developers 64 times between August and July of the following year and “negotiated with them on behalf of the foundation by discussing the use of foundation property for the project, specific design aspects of the project, and the development of a microbrewery.” His team also found just one instance of Lola Zinke talking to the developers, which was when she ended the parking lot deal.

Additionally, says the report, the secretary “misused his official position” when he “had his staff arrange an office and dinner meeting with the developers” and that “his staff exchanged an email in which they stated that they would print the materials for him.” Investigators also concluded that Zinke had lied when he claimed that his involvement with his old group was “minimal and limited to helping his wife with the Foundation’s taxes.” Greenblatt, however, did not find that Zinke had broken federal conflict-of-interest laws or that he’d tried to use his post to financially benefit either himself or Halliburton.

Zinke resigned from the cabinet in November of 2018, reportedly due to pressure from the White House, in the face of 18 federal investigations. Most of these inquiries ended after investigators concluded he hadn’t committed wrongdoing or because Interior Department staffers didn’t cooperate. A probe that hasn’t come to a definitive conclusion, though, is an inquiry into whether Zinke lied to investigators about why he denied two tribes permission to operate a casino in Connecticut; the Washington Post says this matter “which was referred to the Justice Department for potential criminal charges, is still pending.”

IDAHO 2ND CD. Attorney Bryan Smith last October announced that he’d seek a rematch in the May Republican primary against Rep. Mike Simpson, who defeated him 62-38 in 2014, and self-funding has helped him remain financially competitive with the longtime incumbent. Simpson outraised Smith $268,000 to $196,000 among donors, though the challenger threw down an additional $172,000, and he ended 2021 with a $517,000 to $289,000 cash-on-hand lead.

Smith last time argued that Simpson, who has represented this safely red seat since 1999, was too close to then-Speaker John Boehner and the party establishment, and he enjoyed the backing of the anti-tax Club for Growth. Simpson responded by attacking his opponent’s career as a greedy trial lawyer, and while Smith ran commercials defending himself, the Club sensed where things were going and canceled its planned ad buy.

Smith once again is trying to portray the congressman as insufficiently conservative, saying, “I met a man the other day who didn’t know me, but he did know that Mike Simpson declared Donald Trump unfit for the office in 2016.” This time, though, Smith is also attacking Simpson’s support for breaching the four dams along the lower Snake River, an idea that proponents argue is necessary to save the local salmon population. The challenger, by contrast, insists, “The farmers aren’t buying it. Ranchers aren’t buying it. The ratepayers who get their electricity aren’t buying it and the grain growers aren’t buying it.” So far, no major outside groups have gotten involved in the rematch.

MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR. Political scientist Danielle Allen announced Tuesday that she was dropping out of the September Democratic primary to succeed retiring Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. Allen used her departure to call out the state’s “too onerous” ballot access rules, which require statewide candidates to receive the support of at least 15% of delegates at their party’s convention in order to even advance to the primary. She also acknowledged to Politico that she didn’t believe she’d take enough support at this spring’s party gathering.

The Democratic primary is now a duel between state Attorney General Maura Healey and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz. Chang-Díaz and Allen both were campaigning to Healey’s left so the state senator may benefit from the smaller field, though she’d still need a lot more to go right in order to defeat the well-established and well-funded Healey.

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

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