The Political Report – 6/15/22

“Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC), a staunch conservative who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for fomenting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, was defeated Tuesday by a Trump-endorsed primary challenger, the first of the 10 House Republicans who backed impeachment to test the will of the primary voters and lose,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Rice’s loss to State Representative Russell Fry means that half of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach will not return to Congress next year, and that number is likely to grow. In addition to Mr. Rice, four other House Republicans chose to retire rather than face the pro-Trump core of the Republican electorate.”

Politico: “Rice’s downfall comes 17 months after he joined a majority of the House — but only nine other Republicans — in charging former President Donald Trump with inciting the Capitol riot. It was a shocking vote from a congressman who had rarely criticized Trump beforehand. Since then, Rice has faced death threats, a censure from his state’s party and a long, rocky campaign.”

“Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who drew Donald Trump’s ire after openly criticizing the former president in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack, fended off a fierce GOP primary challenge from Katie Arrington (R) on June 14 despite Trump’s public political crusade against Mace,” the Charleston Post and Courier reports.

“The outcome of the primary contest, which carries national implications, demonstrated the limits of Trump’s continued influence on the Republican Party in an early presidential primary state.”

Washington Post: “Mace grabbed headlines by seeking to make amends for upsetting Trump by filming a video outside Trump Tower in New York earlier this year to convince her constituents that her support for Trump was solid.”

“Herschel Walker (R), the Republican nominee for Senate from Georgia, who has often spoken out against absentee fathers, particularly in Black households, on Tuesday publicly acknowledged having fathered a second son with whom he is not in contact,” the New York Times reports.

“The development is the latest and potentially the most damaging of a number of reports detailing Mr. Walker’s exaggerations and outright falsehoods concerning his life before entering politics.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders said he would not challenge President Joe Biden in a 2024 primary and would back him if he runs — a comment that comes as Democrats are uncertain whether the 79-year-old President should run again, CNN reports.

FLORIDA 7TH CD. Several Orlando-area Democratic elected officials have endorsed state party official Karen Green’s campaign to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy in a constituency that the new GOP gerrymander transformed from a 55-44 Biden seat into one Trump would have taken 52-47. One of the pols backing Green, whom we hadn’t previously mentioned, is state Rep. Carlos Guillermo, who didn’t quite rule out a bid of his own right after Murphy retired. Florida’s filing deadline is June 17, so the field will be set very soon.

FLORIDA 23RD CD. Airline pilot Curtis Calabrese has filed paperwork with the FEC terminating his campaign for the Democratic nomination for this open seat. Calabrese only switched his party registration from Republican to Democratic in March even though state law requires candidates be registered with their party at least a year before the start of candidate filing, so he likely would have faced serious legal opposition had he continued on.

GEORGIA 10TH CD.4 There haven’t been many negative ads in the leadup to the June 21 GOP primary runoff, but former state Rep. Vernon Jones is going up with one that portrays his opponent, trucking executive Mike Collins, as a little boy who can only explain his rationale for running with, “My daddy was in Congress.” After the actor playing “Little Mike” repeats this line, Jones tells the audience, “My daddy wasn’t in Congress, but he was a veteran and he fought for this country.”

ALABAMA 5TH CD. The Republican firm Cygnal gives us our first survey of the June 21 Republican runoff, which they tell us wasn’t conducted for a client, and it finds Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong beating former Department of Defense official Casey Wardynski 46-31. Wardynski’s allies at the nihilistic House Freedom Caucus aren’t giving up, though, as they’re running a new spot arguing Strong “caved to the woke liberals” and “shunned President Trump.” The group used similar messaging during the first round, but it wasn’t enough to stop Strong from outpacing his rival 45-23 last month.  

TENNESSEE 5TH CD. The Tennessee Supreme Court on Friday unanimously ruled that music video producer Robby Starbuck would stay off the August Republican primary ballot for this open seat, a move that reverses a lower-court decision that briefly resurrected his campaign.

Starbuck, who was booted by the state GOP failing to meet its opaque “bona fide” standard​, responded by​ tweeting Sunday​, “I have 3 days to decide if I’ll run write in for the primary or general (I have to pick 1). Problem is, if I win the primary, TNGOP can ignore it and pick the person who came in 2nd.” He added that he’d told party leaders​, “If they agree to honor the results of the primary election and support the winner, even if it’s a write-in, then I’ll run in the primary as a write-in and not in the general. The ball is in their court now.”

FLORIDA 2ND CD. Democratic Rep. Al Lawson announced Thursday that he would take on his Republican colleague, Neal Dunn, in the general election for the new Tallahassee-based 2nd District, which would have voted for Trump by a tough 55-44 margin under the new GOP gerrymander. Lawson made his decision a week after the conservative state Supreme Court declined to block the new map, which transformed his reliably blue and plurality-Black 5th District into a very white 57-41 Trump constituency.

Lawson faces a very difficult campaign in what will almost certainly be the only incumbent vs. incumbent general election fight of the cycle, especially since he currently represents only 31% of the redrawn 2nd’s population compared to 64% for Dunn. However, the Democrat previously argued his ties to the area are much deeper and broader than a quick glance at the toplines might suggest: Lawson represented much of this area, including several conservative counties outside of Tallahassee, when he was in the state Senate from 2000 to 2010.

MISSISSIPPI 4TH CD. Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell on Thursday received endorsements from all five of his defeated intra-party rivals for his June 28 Republican runoff against Rep. Steven Palazzo. The incumbent took only 32% of the vote earlier this week to Ezell’s 25%, so he’ll need to win over at least a large chunk of the other candidates’ supporters if he wants to turn things around.

Ezell is doing his best to make sure that doesn’t happen by running an ad reminding voters about the ongoing ethics probe into the incumbent. “Steven Palazzo has been under the cloud of an ethics investigation for a year, accused of using his campaign funds for his own personal benefit,” says the narrator, adding, “Mike Ezell has served with honesty and integrity as a law enforcement officer for 40 years fighting crime, cleaning up corruption, saving taxpayers millions.” She also gets in a dig at Palazzo’s chronic absenteeism, arguing Ezell “will show up to represent our values every day.”

HAWAII 1ST CD. Blue Dog Democrat Rep. Ed Case looks safe for renomination in a state where primary voters have long tolerated conservatives, but his only intra-party foe did receive an endorsement from one of the state’s most influential unions. Attorney Sergio Alcubilla, who is challenging Case from the left, picked up the backing of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. Alcubilla, though, had less than $10,000 in March, so he still may not be able to put up much of a fight in the August primary. This seat, which is based around Honolulu, is reliably blue turf at 64-34 Biden.  

HAWAII 2ND CD. There were no last-minute surprises as filing closed for the Democratic primary to succeed freshman Rep. Kai Kahele, who is leaving to run for governor, in a safely blue seat that’s home to a portion of Honolulu as well as Hawaii’s more rural Neighbor Islands, the term for every island apart from Honolulu’s Oahu. Six Democrats are running, and the two frontrunners appear to be state Rep. Patrick Branco and former state Sen. Jill Tokuda.

Branco would be the state’s first Latino member of Congress, as well as the third Native Hawaiian to serve after Kahele and the late Sen. Daniel Akaka. Tokuda, who lost a tight 2018 primary to lieutenant governor, has EMILY’s List in her corner.

FLORIDA 14TH and 15th CDs. The August Republican primary for the new 15th District got smaller this week when former Rep. Dennis Ross and wealthy businessman Jerry Torres each dropped out. Ross, who unexpectedly retired in 2018 from a previous version of the 15th, said that he was abandoning his comeback bid because of “limited resources.” By contrast Torres, who pledged to self-fund up to $15 million, announced that he would run instead against Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor in the 14th District even though, at 59-40 Biden, it’s far tougher turf than the 51-48 Trump constituency he had been seeking.

SOUTH CAROLINA 7TH CD. Rep. Tom Rice’s allies at Grand Strand Pee Dee PAC, which so far is responsible for all of the $260,000 in outside spending here, did everything they can to portray Trump-endorsed state Rep. Russell Fry as a secret liberal. Its commercial does not mention Rice, who is one of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment, or any of the other challengers hoping to force the incumbent into a June 24 runoff.

The minute-long spot begins by faulting Fry for supporting gas and car sales taxes as well as the “largest tax increase in South Carolina history” before it attacks him for not stopping America from turning into a conservative nightmare. The narrator argues that Fry “hasn’t done enough to protect our borders,” “has done little to push back against woke radical left ideas like critical race theory,” and “hasn’t done enough to keep these dangerous ideologies from poisoning the minds of our kids,” though the ad never actually goes into detail on what exactly the state representative should be doing.

TEXAS 34TH CD SPECIAL ELECTION. House Majority PAC is spending $110,000 on a Spanish-language ad campaign against Republican Mayra Flores, which makes this the first TV ad on the Democratic side for the June 14 all-party primary. The commercial ties Flores to the Jan. 6 attack, arguing, “Mayra supported the conspirators and conspiracy theories that were part of the armed attack on Jan. 6, leaving 150 police officers injured and 5 dead, all thanks to criminals who promote the same lawlessness that Mayra Flores supports.”

WISCONSIN 1ST CD. The new congressional map adopted by the state Supreme Court shrunk Donald Trump’s margin of victory in this southeastern Wisconsin district from 54-45 to 50-48, but Republican incumbent Bryan Steil still doesn’t look vulnerable this year. Businesswoman Ann Roe, who is the only Democrat who appears to have filed, ended March with only $80,000 on-hand. Still, even if Steil skates by this time, he could be in for a much tougher race in a better political climate for Democrats.

WISCONSIN 3RD CD. Longtime Rep. Ron Kind is retiring from a southwestern Wisconsin district that, just like the constituency it replaces, would have supported Trump 51-47, and at least four fellow Democrats have filed to succeed him. Kind is backing state Sen. Brad Pfaff, who is his former chief of staff. Two other Democratic contenders, former CIA officer Deb McGrath and businesswoman Rebecca Cooke, also brought in a notable amount of money through the end of March.

The only Republican is 2020 nominee Derrick Van Orden, whose 51-49 defeat was still the closest race of Kind’s congressional career. Months later, Van Orden used leftover campaign funds to attend the Jan. 6 insurrectionist rally in D.C., where, it appears, he went inside a restricted area on the Capitol grounds.

WISCONSIN ATTORNEY GENERAL. Three Republicans are competing to take on Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul. The most full-throated election denier is Karen Mueller, who founded a conservative legal organization and has declared that “the 2020 presidential election results must be decertified to restore the integrity and transparency of Wisconsin’s future elections.” Former state Rep. Adam Jarchow and Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, writes NBC, “haven’t denied the results of the 2020 election.”

Washington Post: “About a third of the way through the 2022 primaries, voters have nominated scores of Republican candidates for state and federal office who say the 2020 election was rigged.”

“District by district, state by state, voters in places that cast ballots through the end of May have chosen at least 108 candidates for statewide office or Congress who have repeated Trump’s lies. The number jumps to at least 149 winning candidates — out of more than 170 races — when it includes those who have campaigned on a platform of tightening voting rules or more stringently enforcing those already on the books, despite the lack of evidence of widespread fraud.”

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