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The Political Report – 2/24/22

A new CBS News/YouGov poll finds large majorities — more than eight in 10 — don’t think books should be banned from schools for discussing race and criticizing U.S. history, for depicting slavery in the past or more broadly for political ideas they disagree with.

The DSCC is launching a five-figure radio and podcast ad buy knocking the Sen. rick Scott-created GOP agenda unveiled Tuesday, specifically his call for new income taxes on millions of Americans, Politico reports.

The ad’s last sentence: “If Senate Republicans win, we pay the price.”

“Republicans are looking to expand the battleground map ahead of the November midterms, eyeing gubernatorial, Senate and House races outside of traditional swing states in the middle of a favorable political atmosphere,” The Hill reports.

“Republicans boast that gubernatorial races in New Mexico and Connecticut, Senate races in Colorado and Washington state, and House races in blue districts are now in play, pointing to President Biden’s low approval ratings and Democratic hurdles on issues like inflation and mask and vaccine mandates.”

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has selected a new congressional map that will shape power and politics in the state for the next decade,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

“In a 4-3 decision Wednesday, the court chose a map that was drawn by a Stanford professor and proposed by Democratic plaintiffs. The court also imposed a new election calendar for the May 17 primary, leaving that election day in place while moving the deadlines for candidates to file paperwork to get on the ballot.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has a very low key speaking slot at Conservative Political Action Conference — a 20 minute slot on Friday afternoon, Hot Air reports.

“This guy is polling second among Republicans for the 2024 presidential nomination, would be the presumptive nominee if Trump opts not to run, and is certainly the biggest political rock star to emerge on the right since Trump himself. And CPAC is being held in… Florida, his home state. He doesn’t even need to travel to be there. If ever there was a moment to showcase a rising party star, it’s the home-state governor being cheered by an audience that’s sure to adore him.”

“The North Carolina attorney general’s office says a constitutional prohibition on insurrectionists seeking federal office could be applied to Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) if a state board determines he aided or encouraged the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol,” Politico reports.

TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL. On Monday, barely a week ahead of the March 1 Republican primary, four of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s former deputy attorney generals publicly spoke out for the first time since they filed a whistleblower lawsuit against him over a year ago. The quartet said that, while they had wanted to stay quiet because of the “ongoing FBI investigation” into their former boss, he’d spent the last few weeks making “numerous false and misleading public statements that we feel obligated to correct.” The Trump-backed incumbent, as we’ll discuss, is trying to cobble together a majority of the vote next week that would allow him to avoid a May runoff.

Paxton has been under indictment since 2015 for securities fraud in a case that still has not gone to trial, while this separate scandal became public five years later in November of 2020. As we’ve written before, the AP reported back then that the FBI was investigating allegations that he used his office to aid a wealthy ally named Nate Paul in exchange for favors.

Four of Paxton’s senior aides also filed a lawsuit, which is still ongoing, saying they were fired after they reported this behavior to law enforcement: Among other things, this group claims that Paul helped their former boss remodel his home and, upon the attorney general’s recommendation, hired a woman Paxton was involved in an affair with. In August of last year, the attorney general’s office released its own report exonerating him from the whistleblower allegations; the FBI, for its part, has not commented on the reported probe.

Paxton was asked about the lawsuit by a conservative radio host a few weeks ago and responded by claiming that the whistleblowers “didn’t come to him” with their concerns before contacting the FBI and argued that “no one has ever disputed” the conclusions of his in-house document. The incumbent also used a separate interview to make the evidence-free accusation that the FBI had “infiltrated” his office before the four senior aides even spoke to the Bureau, adding, “I was investigating the FBI for corruption, so it’s kind of convenient.”

The whistleblowers, though, said Monday they’d repeatedly talked to Paxton before going to the FBI in September of 2020, and that they didn’t believe it was looking into him before then. They also pushed back on Paxton’s characterization of his own office’s report, which they said “selectively ignored some of the most troubling allegations we reported to the FBI, like Paxton providing blatant political favors to a campaign donor – the same campaign donor who has admitted in sworn testimony to hiring a woman at Paxton’s behest, a woman with whom media reports reveal Paxton had an extramarital affair.” The group also went after their former boss for suggesting that they were the ones who had broken the law, saying, “Paxton is under criminal investigation, not the whistleblowers.”

This development comes at a time when Paxton is in a competitive primary for renomination against four opponents, and a poll conducted days before showed him below the majority he’d need to avoid a second round. UT Tyler, working on behalf of the Dallas Morning News, has the incumbent taking 39% of the vote, while Land Commissioner George P. Bush holds a 25-13 lead over former state Supreme Court Justice Eve Guzman for second as Rep. Louie Gohmert brings up the rear with just 7%. The only other survey we’ve seen this month was from YouGov for the University of Texas, and it showed Paxton in stronger shape with 47% as Bush outpaced Guzman 21-16.

All three of Paxton’s intra-party opponents have attacked his ethics, but for now, Bush, who has plenty of longtime conflicts with the GOP base, is focused on making sure he’s the candidate who gets to be in a runoff. In his new ad, Bush’s narrator says the candidate “will finish the wall” while Guzman “won’t protect Texas.”

Paxton has been running spots in Rep. Louie Gohmert’s East Texas base that, somehow, try to portray the far-right congressman as too liberal, so now Gohmert is responding ahead of their four-way March 1 Republican primary. Gohmert’s ad, which the Texas Tribune says is running in the Tyler media market, features him telling the audience, “Ken Paxton’s attacks on me are now revealing a real desperation. It doesn’t bother me, I’ve been fighting Washington liberals for years.” The challenger goes on to remind the viewer that the attorney general “has been indicted for fraud and is being investigated for bribery.”

Gohmert on Monday also picked up an endorsement from fellow Rep. Chip Roy, who previously served as Sen. Ted Cruz’s chief of staff.

WASHINGTON U.S. SENATOR. Public Policy Polling (D) for the Northwest Progressive Institute: Patty Murray (D-inc): 50, Tiffany Smiley (R): 41 (Nov.: 50-37 Murray)

CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR. 2018 Republican nominee John Cox, a perennial candidate who got plenty of attention, but few votes, by campaigning in last year’s recall with a 1,000 pound black bear, said over the weekend that he would sit this year’s election out.

NEVADA GOVERNOR. Better Nevada PAC has launched a TV commercial attacking Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak and promoting Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo ahead of the June Republican primary, and the Nevada Independent says it’s running for six-figures.

The spot begins by portraying Sisolak as weak on crime and, citing the conservative Heritage Foundation, claims the governor “made our elections less secure, now the worst in the nation.” (Among the categories that Heritage gives the Silver State scores of 0 for in its “Election Integrity Scorecard” are “Restriction of Same-day registration” and “Restriction of Automatic Registration.”) The narrator goes on to say Lombardo will make the state “safer” and will “require voter ID to vote and make ballot harvesting a crime again.”

PA-Gov: Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano belatedly submitted campaign financial disclosures that record him raising $360,000 in 2021 and finishing the year with $550,000 on hand, but the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that his report “left some GOP insiders scratching their heads — and raised questions about whether his campaign is following the rules.” Most notably, the senator said he spent less than $15,000 for that entire period, all of it in January of last year, while he didn’t report spending anything on several subsequent events.

Mastriano then on Monday night released a very amended campaign financial disclosure report saying that he now raised $1 million for all of 2021 and the month of January, which is almost three times the amount he originally listed, and ended the year with $1.3 million on hand. And while his first filing said he’d spent less than $15,000 for the entire reporting period, he now records expending $215,000 for the year.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. The well-funded super PAC Honor Pennsylvania’s new commercial uses a picture taken earlier this month of TV personality Mehmet Oz enthusiastically smooching his new star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an image TV viewers should probably get used to seeing ahead of the May Republican primary. The ad features actors unconvincingly portraying Hollywood liberals as they praise Oz as “Oprah’s bestie” and a supporter of “red flag laws that take away people’s guns.”

TEXAS GOVERNOR. UT Tyler’s latest poll for the Dallas Morning News finds Gov. Greg Abbott easily defeating former state party chair Allen West 60-7 in next week’s Republican primary.

OHIO U.S. SENATOR. Former state Treasurer Josh Mandel has launched a $2 million buy, which the Republican firm Medium Buying says marks his first TV ad campaign since April of last year (though his allies at the Club for Growth have spent heavily on his behalf). The opening spot touts the candidate’s time in the Marines and describes him as “pro-God, pro-gun, pro-Trump.”

VERMONT U.S. SENATOR. Former U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan announced Tuesday that she would seek the Republican nomination for Vermont’s open Senate seat. The last time Green Mountain Republicans won a federal election was 2000, when moderate Sen. Jim Jeffords easily secured a final term; Jeffords famously abandoned the GOP (and his all-Republican barbershop quartet, the Singing Senators) the following year to caucus with the Democrats as an independent, a move that handed the Dems control of the upper chamber. Nolan quickly earned an endorsement from Gov. Phil Scott, who long ago took himself out of the running.

VERMONT GOVERNOR. Republican Gov. Phil Scott says he’ll announce whether he’ll seek a fourth two-year term after the legislative session ends, which local NBC reporter Stewart Ledbetter writes usually happens in early May. It would be a huge surprise if the governor, who has given no obvious indication that he’s thinking about retiring, does anything other than seek re-election, especially since his departure would give the GOP just weeks to find a new candidate before the filing deadline.

ARIZONA GOVERNOR. The local Republican pollster Data Orbital has released a new survey testing Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democratic frontrunner, against four Republican candidates. The only one who starts with an advantage is former TV anchor Kari Lake, who edges out Hobbs 43-41. The Democrat, meanwhile, posts identical 41-39 leads over former Rep. Matt Salmon and wealthy businessman Steve Gaynor, while she beats Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson by a larger 42-37 score.

Lake, for her part, is running a new spot that makes it extremely clear what kind of campaign she’s running in order to win the GOP nod in August. After reminding viewers that she has Trump’s endorsement, Lake continues, “If you’re watching this ad right now, it means you’re in the middle of watching a fake news program.” She goes on, “You know how to know it’s fake? Because they won’t even cover the biggest story out there, the rigged election of 2020.”

NEW YORK GOVERNOR. Wealthy businessman Harry Wilson, who was the 2010 Republican nominee for comptroller, announced Tuesday that he would enter the June primary for governor, telling Fox that he’s putting $12 million of his own money that will all go into an opening ad campaign that starts Wednesday. Wilson joins a nomination battle that includes Rep. Lee Zeldin, who has long looked like the frontrunner, as well as 2010 nominee Rob Astorino and former Trump aide Andrew Giuliani.

Wilson served as a senior advisor to Barack Obama’s Task Force on the Auto Industry in 2009, but he appeared on the ballot next year as a Republican when he campaigned against Democratic Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who’d been appointed to fill a vacancy in 2007. Wilson ultimately lost 51-46 during that year’s red wave, which remains the closest Team Red has come to winning statewide since George Pataki secured his third and final term as governor in 2002. Wilson considered other campaigns over the ensuing decade, but he stayed put until now.

However, while Wilson gives the GOP a potential nominee with access to scads of money, he has his detractors on the right. State Conservative Chairman Gerard Kassar, whose organization supports Zeldin, responded to Wilson’s entrance by faulting the newcomer for donating to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who won last year on a criminal justice reform platform. Zeldin, for his part, has spent the last year winning over the backing of county-level GOP organizations, and the Buffalo News writes that he’s “expected” to earn the state party endorsement next week. Candidates need to win 25% of the weighted vote at the convention to earn an automatic spot on the primary ballot, though Wilson has more than enough resources to launch a signature-gathering campaign if he falls short.

On the Democratic side, Siena has released a new primary poll that shows Gov. Kathy Hochul defeating New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams 46-17, with Rep. Tom Suozzi (who has himself run ads going after Bragg) taking just 9%.

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

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