The Political Report – 4/16/22

The President’s party averages roughly 47.5% of the two-party vote in midterm election. The FiveThirtyEight average shows Democrats are polling just a bit better at 48.7%.

History suggests it’s unlikely to get much better for Democrats before the election. If that trend holds, Republicans will probably end up winning the generic congressional ballot by between three and six percentage points. Since Joe Biden won by 4.5% in the 2020 election, this would mean that the national political environment has shifted roughly 7.5 to 10.5 percentage points towards Republicans.

Assuming no ticket-splitting and a uniform swing across the country — both of which are, admittedly, not a sure thing in the Trump-era — Simon Bazelon concludes that any Democrat running in a state that Biden won by less than 7.5% will probably lose their re-election race this year.

Here’s the list of Democratic senators who would be ousted:

  • Mark Kelly in Arizona (Biden +0.3)
  • Raphael Warnock in Georgia (Biden +0.2)
  • Catherine Cortez-Masto in Nevada (Biden +2.4)
  • Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire (Biden +7.4)

Of course, that’s just what the historical data suggests for the midterm elections. It’s very possible Republicans could end up nominating some very un-electable candidates in key Senate races as they did in 2010. But unless the national environment improves dramatically for Democrats in the next few months, they’re increasingly likely to lose control of the Senate.

OHIO U.S. SENATOR. As expected, Donald Trump formally endorsed J.D. Vance (R) in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary, Axios reports.

New York Times: “The move amounted to a major bet on Mr. Vance and on Mr. Trump’s influence over Republican primary voters in conservative-leaning Ohio, where several high-profile candidates are facing off in a contentious and at times nasty campaign to replace the retiring Senator Rob Portman, a Republican.”

Dropping a major endorsement on a Friday afternoon — on Good Friday — seems like odd timing.

“Republican rivals to J.D. Vance have embarked on a last-ditch effort to stave off an endorsement from Donald Trump in Ohio’s Senate primary, a response prompted by swirling speculation that the former president is close to backing Vance in the contentious race,” Politico reports.

“Trump has so far stayed out of the primary, even as early voting has already begun ahead of the May 3 election. But his endorsement could dramatically shift the margins in the crowded field of candidates, where no one in the five-way race has taken a commanding lead.”

Former GOP chair Jane Timken avoids going after any of her many intra-party rivals in her new spot for the May 3 primary and instead blames Joe Biden for inflation.

ALABAMA GOVERNOR. While Alabama’s Republican Senate primary has attracted considerably more attention than any other race on the May 24 ballot, the expensive GOP contest for governor may beat it for sheer bigotry. Incumbent Kay Ivey’s latest spot attempts to rally the party’s xenophobic base, while a transphobic commercial from one of her challengers, businessman Tim James, forced a school to increase security. And former Ambassador to Slovenia Lindy Blanchard, who is the top spender in this race, made news earlier this month with a commercial of her own declaring, “Lindy believes the election was stolen from Trump. Kay Ivey thinks Biden’s victory was legitimate.”

Ivey has been running a series of ads trying to cultivate the far-right vote by embracing the Big Lie and attacking “[t]ransgender sports,” but now she’s hitting another topic. This time, the governor tells the audience, “If Joe Biden keeps shipping illegal immigrants into our states, we’re all going to have to learn Spanish.” She’s none too happy with that (delusional) prospect, continuing, “My message to Biden: no way, José. That’s why I sent national guard troops to protect the Southern border.” The head of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama blasted Ivey’s message, though unsurprisingly, she hasn’t backed off in the slightest.

Neither has James, who is continuing to focus almost completely on anti-trans bigotry in his advertising campaign. The challenger’s recent ad features him claiming that “right here in Alabama, millions of your tax dollars are paying for the first transgender public school in the South” as the on-screen text identifies the Magic City Acceptance Academy and features photos of its students.

The institution, which describes itself as an “LGBTQ-affirming learning environment,” said it had to boost its own security measures after someone showed up and attempted to film pupils while quoting Bible verses at them. The principal blamed James’ ad for the incident, as well as for “a carload or two” of people yelling at students. But when asked about what happened, James blithely responded, “The principal said that the TV ad scared the children. What should scare mothers and fathers of these children is what the faculty is doing by presenting this ungodly display through the drag show to which the children were subjected.”

So far, polls have found that Ivey, who earned the NRA’s endorsement this week, has largely been successful in outflanking both James and Blanchard on the far right. A mid-March survey for the local media put the governor at 46%, which is just shy of the majority she needs to avoid a runoff, with James and Blanchard far back at 12% and 10%, respectively; Ivey’s own internals from around that time, meanwhile, showed her taking about 60% of the vote.

However, we haven’t seen more recent numbers, and the governor’s opponents are hoping that their own heavy spending has helped them shift things. NBC reports that Blanchard, who has been self-funding her bid, has outspent Ivey $4.1 million to $3.2 million in ads, while James has deployed $2.2 million.

A new UChicago Harris/AP-NORC poll finds half of Americans say both parents and teachers have too little influence on the curriculum in their children’s schools. That includes 65% of Republicans and 38% of Democrats.

That’s led to a flurry of new state laws in states controlled by Republicans meant to curtail teaching about racism and sexuality and to establish a “parents’ bill of rights.”

Of course, it’s possible that Republicans will overreach with these new state laws. Some of them are truly draconian. But Republicans are betting voters will punish Democrats who overreached during the pandemic by defending — and then prolonging — virtual learning and mask wearing.

What started as parental concern about pandemic restrictions has morphed into something much larger with 50% of Americans saying that parents have too little influence on the school curriculum.

It’s a prime wedge issue for Republicans because nearly four in ten Democrats agree.

NORTH DAKOTA U.S. SENATOR and AT LARGE CD. Candidate filing closed Monday for North Dakota’s June 14 primary, and the secretary of state has a list of contenders here. There won’t be much to see, though, as Sen. John Hoeven faces only minor GOP primary opposition in this very red state while Rep. Kelly Armstrong, a fellow Republican, has no intra-party foe. Hoeven briefly faced a primary challenge from state Rep. Rick Becker, but Becker dropped out last month after he failed to win the state party endorsement.

NEW HAMPSHIRE U.S. SENATOR. A newly hired consultant for Republican Vikram Mansharamani, who is an author and investor, confirms that his client is considering entering the September primary to take on Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. WMUR says that Mansharamani “is expected to make a decision about launching a campaign within the next two weeks.”

NEBRASKA GOVERNOR. Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster (R) faces accusations about groping from eight women, including a state senator, the Nebraska Examiner reports.  During an event in 2019, State Sen. Julie Slama (R) confirmed that as she walked by Herbster, he reached up her skirt, without her consent, and touched her inappropriately.

“The Republican National Committee voted Thursday to require GOP presidential candidates to attest in writing that they will only appear at party-sanctioned primary and general election debates,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The move is the latest escalation in a disagreement between the RNC and the Commission on Presidential Debates following grievances leveled by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans about fairness in moderator selections, changes to formats and other conditions.”

“Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel is considering running for reelection for a fourth term leading her party in 2023, and she has received encouragement from former President Donald Trump,” Politico reports.

“Should McDaniel serve another term, she would become the longest serving RNC chair in recent history.”

KANSAS GOVERNOR. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s allies at the Kansas Values Institute have launched a new ad against state Attorney General Derek Schmidt that ties the likely Republican nominee to former GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, who left office deeply unpopular in 2018. The spot quotes Schmidt saying that Brownback “delivered time and again” for the state before reminding viewers that the former governor’s draconian budget policies resulted in “devastating cuts to our schools” and “dismal job growth.” The narrator further quotes Brownback praising Schmidt as “like minded” and argues that electing the latter would “take Kansas back to Brownback.”

MARYLAND GOVERNOR. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has endorsed former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez ahead of the crowded July Democratic primary for governor. Montgomery County, a jurisdiction in the D.C. suburbs where Perez also served on the County Council from 2002 to 2006, is the largest in the state at just over one million residents.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Education Secretary John King has launched his first ads in the Democratic primary, which the campaign says is backed by a six-figure buy. One of the spots opens with King noting that it took his family “three generations to travel 25 miles” from the Maryland farm where his great-grandparents were enslaved to Silver Spring, where his daughter goes to public school, simultaneously highlighting King’s deep roots in the state and links to education. The other commercial relays how both of King’s parents died when he was a child but his public school teachers helped him succeed and go on to become a teacher, principal, and education secretary under President Obama.

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly’s new spot features footage of the former astronaut in zero-g as he tells the audience, “Compared to Congress, the way NASA operates might seem kind of upside down. Putting the mission first. Working as a team. And getting the job done —no matter what.” The senator proclaims that he’s “doing things differently” than the rest of the D.C. crowd and will “put aside the party politics so we can accomplish results, together.”

Wealthy businessman Jim Lamon, who ran a commercial earlier this year that depicted him firing a gun at Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, is now embracing Easter hope and optimism in his new ad for the August GOP primary. “But we must never forget, even in our darkest days, Almighty God is in charge,” says Lamon, continuing, “With faith, he will show us the way. Easter—when darkness and despair were transformed into life and hope.” Lamon’s spot, which is also available in Spanish, doesn’t actually mention he’s even running for any office, much less Senate, except at the very end as he approves his message.

GEORGIA U.S. SENATOR. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) “broke another fundraising record by amassing $13.6 million over the first three months of the year, ending the quarter with $25.6 million in the bank for a campaign that could decide control of the Senate,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

“Former NFL star Herschel Walker has made millions in business ventures since he retired in 1997, and he claims to be worth more than $29 million today,” the Daily Beast reports. “But despite that success, the Republican Senate hopeful and longtime friend of Donald Trump has, for whatever reason, chosen to dramatically inflate his business record… In doing so, Walker has established a parallel record of demonstrably false claims, many of which appear to bear no resemblance to reality whatsoever.”

“Herschel Walker’s campaign has been restricting access to their candidate with mostly closed GOP events and friendly Fox News and sports interviews ahead of his May 24 GOP primary for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

“But they’re also working to get the first-time candidate quickly up to speed on an array of federal and state issues with conversations and sit down sessions with GOP heavyweights during what the campaign blocks out on his schedule as ‘policy time.’”

NEVADA U.S. SENATOR and GOVERNOR. The Reno Gazette-Journal has released a poll from Suffolk University testing several different hypothetical general election scenarios for Senate and governor, and it finds things close overall. Former Attorney General Adam Laxalt posts a 43-40 advantage over Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, while Army veteran Sam Brown, who is the underdog in the June Republican primary, edges her out 40-39.

Turning to the governor’s race, Suffolk pits Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak against five different Republicans:

  • 41-29 vs. venture capitalist Guy Nohra
  • 39-35 vs. attorney Joey Gilbert
  • 39-39 vs. former Sen. Dean Heller
  • 37-39 vs. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo
  • 37-40 vs. North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee

NORTH CAROLINA U.S. SENATOR. SurveyUSA takes a look at the May 17 Republican primary on behalf of WRAL and finds Rep. Ted Budd beating former Gov. Pat McCrory 33-23, with just 7% going to former Rep. Mark Walker. Several other recent polls have also given Budd the lead.

Cheri Beasley is spending six figures on her first TV spot for the May 17 Democratic primary, where she faces little opposition. Beasley emphasizes her past career as a public defender, saying, “I represented North Carolinians who couldn’t afford a lawyer—because everyone has a right to representation, no matter who you are or where you’re from.” She continues, “As a judge and chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, I led with a commitment to justice and integrity.”

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has publicized an internal from GBAO that finds him leading Rep. Conor Lamb 44-19 in the May 17 Democratic primary, while state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta takes 17.

On the GOP side, TV personality Mehmet Oz is trumpeting his endorsement from Trump in his new ad, and he also gets in a swipe at former hedge fund manager David McCormick. “Trump knows who the real conservative is who’s gonna shake up Washington,” says the narrator. “It’s not David McCormick, the liberal pro-Biden, pro-China, Wall Street insider.”

“Pennsylvania Republican Dave McCormick’s U.S. Senate campaign raised more than $4.3 million in the first three months of the year,“ Axios reports.

“That substantial haul leaves McCormick in a strong position to compete ahead of a May 17 primary in which his chief rival, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, scored former President Trump’s endorsement last week.”

“A source close to the campaign said it will be reporting additional self-funding from McCormick.”

GEORGIA GOVERNOR. Gov. Brian Kemp’s allies at Hardworking Georgians are out with a Cygnal poll arguing that he’s in a strong position both to claim the Republican nod and defeat Democrat Stacey Abrams in the fall. The survey shows Kemp taking 49% of the vote on May 24, which is tantalizingly close to the majority he needs to avoid a July runoff, while former Sen. David Perdue is well behind with 33%; Cygnal also finds the incumbent ahead 52-37 in a two-person contest. The general election portion gives Kemp a 50-44 lead in a rematch with Abrams even as she edges out Perdue 48-47.

Abrams, for her part, is continuing to run positive spots to reintroduce herself to voters. One ad is based around a testimonial from Lara Hodgson, an independent who describes how she partnered with Abrams to build a successful small business. The spot briefly alludes to the candidate’s recent cameo on “Star Trek: Discovery” when Abrams explains that she and her co-star are a bit different: “Laura’s more Star Wars,” says Abrams, to which Hodgson responds, “Stacey’s … Star Trek.” Another commercial features a Macon restaurateur crediting Abrams for helping her and her community during the pandemic.

“Former President Donald Trump’s political operation is plowing cash into Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary — his organization’s first major financial investment in a midterm race and an indication that he’s willing to dig into his massive war chest to defeat his foes,” Politico reports.

“Those close to Trump’s political apparatus describe it as an initial cash infusion ahead of the May 24 primary, which pits Kemp against Trump-endorsed former Sen. David Perdue.”

Last week a group called Get Georgia Right began airing an ad that echoed Trump by using the Big Lie against Gov. Brian Kemp, and Politico’s Alex Isenstadt now reports that the organization received $500,000 from Trump’s super PAC last month. Kemp, though, maintains a massive financial edge heading into his May 24 Republican primary against Trump’s candidate, former Sen. David Perdue: Isenstadt writes that the incumbent and his allies so far have spent $11.4 million on TV compared to just $2.7 million for Perdue’s side.

Kemp is also continuing to make use of his financial edge by running new ads where he praises himself for lifting Georgia’s “lockdown” all the way back in April of 2020, a move even Trump said at the time was happening “too soon.”

OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR. While Gov. Kevin Stitt had looked secure ahead of his June Republican primary, NBC reports that two dark money groups have together spent a hefty $3.3 million to derail him. The incumbent is now firing back with an ad declaring, “The insiders and casino bosses are spending millions to attack Kevin Stitt because he won’t do their bidding, resorting to lies, smears, even actors.” The story says that Stitt has spent a total of $468,000 on ads so far, while his allies at the RGA are deploying another $577,000 to support him.

Stitt only picked up a notable intra-party challenger last month when Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs Director Joel Kintsel launched his bid to unseat his boss, but the offensive against the governor began well before then. All the way back in December, an organization called Conservative Voice of America began running ads attacking Stitt for approving the 2020 release of an inmate named Lawrence Anderson, who was charged the next year with murdering three people, while another group called Sooner State Leadership has deployed similar messaging. (Public Radio Tulsa said Anderson’s release was “apparently recommended by the state pardon and parole board by mistake.”)

CVA, per NBC, has spent $1.7 million so far, while SSLF has dropped a similar $1.6 million. A third outfit, The Oklahoma Project, said in December that it would spend $500,000 total to thwart Stitt. The group’s messaging has been different from that of the other two, though, as its ads have argued that the governor has failed to achieve results.

Last month, Fox 23 sought to learn more about Stitt’s critics. It traced TOP’s donations back to George Krumme, an oilman and longtime member of the Democratic National Committee. SSLF, meanwhile, was formed by former GOP state Rep. Trebor Worthen, but the organization is not required to divulge its donors. Worthen, in the words of KOCO, said his group “is made up of business and community leaders dedicated to encouraging strong leadership in Oklahoma,” adding that it planned to spend a total of $10 million. There’s even less information available about CVA except that it’s run by longtime lobbyist and Republican staffer Mike Cys.

PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR. This week was truly chaotic day in Pennsylvania’s Republican primary for governor that began with Donald Trump urging voters, “Do not vote for Bill McSwain, a coward, who let our Country down.” Multiple media sources reported minutes later that state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman was about to drop out of the race, but while Corman himself essentially confirmed those stories in the afternoon by asking that his name be removed from the May 17 ballot, there was one last twist left: Corman announced in the early evening that he’d decided to stay in the contest because of “President Trump’s statement on the race and my conversation directly with the president.”

We’ll start with McSwain, who appeared to be in a good position until Trump declared he’d never endorse the man he’d once appointed as U.S. attorney for the eastern portion of the state. Trump reiterated the Big Lie to pummel the candidate, claiming that McSwain “did absolutely nothing on the massive Election Fraud that took place in Philadelphia and throughout the commonwealth.”

That was dismaying news for McSwain, who had in fact tried to use the Big Lie to gain, rather than lose, Trump’s support. His efforts included a letter to Trump last year claiming that his office had “received various allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities” and alleging that “Attorney General Barr, however, instructed me not to make any public statements or put out any press releases regarding possible election irregularities.”

Trump was all too happy at the time to use McSwain’s missive to backup his own lies and bludgeon Barr, who responded by saying his old subordinate “wanted to not do the business of the department, which is to investigate cases, but instead go out and flap his gums about what he didn’t like about the election overall.” On Tuesday, though, McSwain got to be the victim of his own words when Trump claimed he “knew what was happening and let it go. It was there for the taking and he failed so badly.”

All of this drama inspired Corman to continue a once-promising campaign that he was about to end after several major setbacks. Corman was arguably the primary frontrunner when he entered the race to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf back in November, and he raised more money than any of his intra-party rivals in 2021. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that his team initially believed they would bring in considerably more during that time: The state Senate leader seemed to agree as he soon went through an intense staff shakeup, but he never managed to fix things.

Corman ended late March with just over $270,000 left in his campaign coffers, and McSwain ominously didn’t even bother to mention him in a recent ad targeting three other opponents. Corman himself seemed to recognize he was doomed on Tuesday when he formally sought to have a state court remove his name from the ballot, but hours later he filed a new petition asking the body to ignore that first request. He explained that he’d spoken to Trump, who “encouraged me to keep fighting, and that’s what I’m going to do – keep fighting for the people of Pennsylvania.” This saga may not be quite over, though, as ABC27 writes, “It is not guaranteed Corman will be able to remain in the race after his first petition was filed.”

A day after Donald Trump unloaded on former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain and told Republican primary voters not to vote for “a coward, who let our Country down,” McSwain’s allies at the Commonwealth Leaders Fund say they are “currently assessing what all this means for the primary election.” The group already spent roughly $6 million backing McSwain, who previously appeared to be a top contender in the crowded May 17 GOP primary until Trump issued his anti-endorsement of his one-time appointee over McSwain’s supposedly insufficient zeal in promoting the Big Lie.

VERMONT GOVERNOR. Republican Gov. Phil Scott reiterated this week that he wouldn’t announce whether he’ll seek a fourth two-year term until Vermont’s legislative session adjourns May 20, and he insisted to NBC 5 that he was truly undecided. “I think a lot depends on what happens in the next month with the Legislature in this legislative session—what we accomplish and what we don’t,” said the governor, who currently faces no serious opposition from either party. The filing deadline is May 26, so a Scott retirement would give other candidates very little time to make up their minds if he does indeed wait as long as he says he will to make up his mind.

MINNESOTA GOVERNOR. State Sen. Paul Gazelka has picked up an endorsement from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, which is the largest police union in the state, in his quest for the Republican nomination for governor. The Minnesota Reformer described the development as a “blow to former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek,” who is one of the many other Republicans who is competing for the state party endorsement at the May 13-14 convention.

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

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