The Political Report – August 6, 2022

Democrats are now “slightly favored” to hold the U.S. Senate after the midterm elections, according to the FiveThiryEight forecast.

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “In an election where Republicans are banking on the environment while Democrats are banking on differences in candidate quality, Republicans are relying on a very inexperienced group of candidates.”

“Compared to 2014, the last time Republicans flipped the Senate, the party’s non-incumbent candidates are incredibly green.”

“The quality of candidates on the Republican side is such an issue that we think the race for the Senate majority is basically a Toss-up.”

ABC News: Trump picks roil GOP’s Senate outlook.

The Hill: “McConnell sought to manage expectations Wednesday in an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier when asked about the prospects of Republicans in several key races.”

Said McConnell: “I think it’s going to be very tight. We have a 50-50 nation. And I think when this Senate race smoke clears, we’re likely to have a very, very close Senate still, with us up slightly or the Democrats up slightly.”

Karl Rove: “Every candidate, good or bad, is under pressure in the general election, which is coming up fast. Absentee voting starts in six weeks, Election Day is about three months off, and plenty of contests are up in the air. The Schumer-Manchin deal won’t save the Democrats. But unhinged GOP candidates might.”

ARIZONA GOVERNOR. Trump-backed Kari Lake, a Big Lie fanatic and voter fraud conspiracy monger, is now projected to win the GOP Arizona gubernatorial primary after several days of the race being too close to call.

Lake no longer sees voter fraud in her race, even though she was “already detecting some stealing going on” on Monday! Interesting! After her victory became official on Thursday night, Lake bragged that “Arizonans who have been forgotten by the establishment just delivered a political earthquake.”

We know there wasn’t any voter fraud in Lake’s primary because, as she told reporters on Tuesday, “If we don’t win, there’s some cheating going on.” So now we can safely say there was no cheating!

Democrat Katie Hobbs announced hours before polls closed for Tuesday’s primary that she would go on the air the next day with ads attacking each of the GOP frontrunners, former TV news anchor Kari Lake and Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, even though she didn’t yet know which opponent she’d face. The RGA, which is run by termed-out Gov. Doug Ducey, had no doubt it would be going up against Hobbs, though, and it used Wednesday to launch the first commercial from its $10.2 million reservation.

WYOMING AT LARGE CD. Former Vice President Dick Cheney assailed ex-President Donald Trump as a “coward” and a prime threat to the United States in a new campaign ad for his daughter, Rep. Liz Cheney, days before her Republican primary election in Wyoming, CNBC reports.  Said Cheney: “In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who has posed a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump. He tried to steal the last election using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him.”

He added: “He is a coward. A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters. He lost his election and he lost big. I know it, he knows it, and deep down, I think most Republicans know it.”

“A handful of Republican operatives are quietly mounting a last-ditch effort to rescue Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from a Trump-backed primary challenge,” Axios  reports. “The previously unreported effort shows how some Republicans are trying to surreptitiously undercut the former president’s revenge campaign, which has so far claimed the political lives of a significant chunk of GOP critics.”

“Their strategy is two-pronged: Persuade Democrats to cross the aisle and back the Wyoming Republican in this month’s open primary, and dent her Trump-endorsed challenger by portraying her as insufficiently loyal to the former president.”

TENNESSEE 5TH CD. “Andy Ogles (R) secured the Republican nomination for the 5th Congressional District despite a barrage of attack ads and federal campaign finance fumbles,” the Tennessean reports. “Ogles is now poised to flip the 5th, a longtime Democratic stronghold, after the Tennessee General Assembly’s Republican supermajority this year redrew the district into GOP-friendly territory.” The districct was a 60-37 Biden district and is now a 54-43 Trump constituency.

The race, between former state House Speaker Beth Harwell, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, and retired Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead, was a pricey one. Winstead, who is self-funding the majority of his campaign, outspent Harwell $1.3 million to $600,000 through July 15, while Ogles deployed only $300,000. However, Roll Call notes that two affiliates of the Club for Growth, USA Freedom Fund and School Freedom Fund (sensing a theme here?) have dropped a total of $1.7 million to support Ogles or attack his main rivals.

One recent spot argues that Harwell, who took fourth in the 2018 primary for governor, “rammed through a 28% gas tax increase,” while the narrator insists that Winstead “bankrolled the liberal Tennessee Democrat Party.” A different pro-Ogles piece also makes use of footage of him proclaiming, “When this administration attacked Americans by weaponizing COVID, I refused to comply with the mandate.”

Not every big money group, though, is so enamored with Ogles, who is a former state director for the Koch network’s Americans for Prosperity. Conservative Americans PAC, which has gotten involved in a few GOP primaries this year, has spent over $700,000 going after the mayor; its efforts include a new spot that accuses Ogles of supporting tax increases when his “businesses didn’t pay their own taxes—the state had to file liens to collect.”

Another organization called Government of the People, which supports Harwell, has also used $110,000 to argue Ogles is a lobbyist while Harwell is a true conservative. Harwell is using a similar theme in her own ad, which labels him as beholden to “amnesty-loving RINOs who sell out America.” Winstead, who does not have any major outside group allies, is running his own commercial pushing back on attempts to portray him as a secret Democrat. The spot stars a fellow veteran who defends him for casting a “dumb vote and a donation or two over 10 years ago.” A recent Winstead internal showed him trailing Harwell 22-20, with Ogles in third with 15%.

Politico: “Inside a half-empty convention hall at the start of CPAC, as expected, Orbán received a welcome reception from American activists who seemed unfamiliar with — but intrigued by — his policy of increased government spending to promote traditional marriage and encouraging citizens to have more children.”

“To the extent that CPAC gatherings are an opportunity to reinforce emerging themes in conservative politics with the Republican faithful, signs point to a growing number of politicians on the right embracing that type of nationalistic populism, which ramps up government spending to ease burdens on citizens with children — while also delivering condemnations of same-sex families, transgender rights and open borders.”

David Weigel: “It was a Trump rally with a Hungarian accent.”

“Republican candidates, facing a stark reality check from Kansas voters, are softening their once-uncompromising stands against abortion as they move toward the general election, recognizing that strict bans are unpopular and that the issue may be a major driver in the fall campaigns,” the New York Times reports.

“In swing states and even conservative corners of the country, several Republicans have shifted their talk on abortion bans, newly emphasizing support for exceptions. Some have noticeably stopped discussing details at all. Pitched battles in Republican-dominated state legislatures have broken out now that the Supreme Court has made what has long been a theoretical argument a reality.”

Cook Political Report: “It’s clear the abortion issue has swiftly galvanized Democrats. What’s less clear is whether it will override independent voters’ inflation concerns in the context of partisan races.”

“The final results of upcoming special elections in Minnesota’s 1st CD (August 9, Cook PVI of R+8), Alaska’s At Large seat (August 16, R+8) and New York’s 19th and 23rd CDs (August 23, R+2 and R+9) will be much better gauges of the post-Dobbs landscape heading into the fall.”

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate nominee, will hold his first public rally next week since suffering a near-deadly stroke four days before the May 17 primary election, the Washington Post reports.

Dan Pfeiffer: “Modern politics is a battle for attention. Therefore, campaigns need to communicate 24-7 and aim to dominate the political conversation.”

“The Fetterman Campaign is always on offense. They are constantly putting out content that amplifies their message and puts Dr. Oz on the defensive. They never let up. Every day brings more videos, ads, and social media posts hammering Oz and amplifying the positive Fetterman message. When political news breaks, the campaign treats it as an opportunity to communicate on his terms.”

“The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on Tuesday ordered a Republican candidate to stop urging voters to replace government-issued pens at polling stations,” the Arizona Republic reports.

“In a cease and desist letter, the County Attorney’s Office told Maricopa County Board of Supervisors candidate Gail Golec (R) to immediately retract social media posts.”

Said Deputy County Attorney Joseph La Rue: “As you well know, theft of any sort is unlawful. Moreover encouraging theft of the fast-drying ink pens specifically recommended for election day voting is a deliberate attempt to interfere with election administration.”

“Republicans are now putting money behind their claims that Colorado and Washington are potential Senate pickup opportunities this fall,” Politico reports.

“The National Republican Senatorial Committee is launching ads this week in the two blue states, a sign that the GOP is seeking to expand the map of Senate battlegrounds this year as Democrats remain on defense over soaring consumer prices — and as polling shows GOP candidates struggling in some other top battlegrounds.”

Philip Bump: “All the discussion in this country about the need for a third party — that is, an alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties — ignores that we already have a lot of political parties. In fact, in the states that report voter registration by party, 1 out of every 42 voters is already registered with a third party… The 3.3 million third-party members in the reporting states make up 1 in 64 voters nationally.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) said “his investigators found just one dead voter after thoroughly reviewing findings from a partisan review of the 2020 election that alleged 282 ballots were cast in the name of someone who had died,” the AP reports.

“The finding by the Republican attorney general, who is running for U.S. Senate in Tuesday’s primary, further discredits the review conducted last year.”

“A recount of votes in the GOP primary for Colorado secretary of state shows what election officials knew to be true from the first round of counting: Tina Peters (R), an election denier, did not come close to winning her primary election,” the Denver Post reports.  “The results reiterated what county clerks initially reported: Peters lost the election by more than 88,000 votes.”

“Peters, the Mesa County clerk and recorder who sought the GOP nomination for secretary of state, ran a campaign focused on casting doubt about the state and country’s election systems and claimed without evidence that the 2020 presidential election and following elections were ‘stolen,’ including her own.”

WISCONSIN GOVERNOR. “There is something slightly odd but perfectly logical about former President Donald Trump’s trip to Waukesha on Friday in his effort to influence the outcome of Wisconsin’s GOP primary for governor,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

“The odd part is that Milwaukee’s Republican suburbs have been a recurring political disappointment for Trump at election time.  They symbolize lost ground for his party in the Trump Era.”

“The logical part is that Waukesha is still where the votes are for Republicans.”

Wealthy businessman Tim Michels said just one month ago that “[w]hen politicians are shocked to find themselves losing, they go negative out of desperation,” but you can probably guess what he’s now doing days ahead of Tuesday’s Republican primary. Yep, the Trump-endorsed candidate is airing his first attack ad against former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, whom Michels’ narrator dubs “the ultimate Madison insider” and a “[p]ro-China, pro-amnesty, anti-Trump politician.”

Kleefisch and her allies went on the offensive in early July, with the former lieutenant governor arguing that Michels “pushed for years to raise our gas tax while getting rich from massive government contracts.” That prompted Michels to put out a statement bemoaning that “it is sad that the former Lieutenant Governor has decided to go negative by falling in line with politics as usual.”

The anti-tax Club for Growth was all too happy to attack Kleefisch last month, but Michels himself insisted as recently as Monday that he was still taking the high road. “I’ve never had a negative ad run by my campaign in this race,” he said, explaining, “And the reason is we’ve never had a single piece of business by talking bad about the competition.” Michels added, “And the reason is, it’s just bad policy, and if you get a reputation of doing that in my industry … people immediately disrespect you.”

So why did Michels decide to court disrespect and try out some “bad policy” just days later? Kleefisch’s team, of course, told the Associated Press’ Scott Bauer that this about-face proves their candidate “has all the momentum.” Michels’ own spokesperson, though, also hinted that they felt the ads were doing them some real damage, arguing, “When your opponent does that for weeks on end, it can’t go unanswered forever.”

Unfortunately, we have almost no recent polling to indicate if either of the candidates campaigning to take on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers are going “negative out of desperation.” The one and only survey we’ve seen in the last month was a mid-July internal for a pro-Michels group that had him up 43-35, numbers that are quite dusty now.

Whatever the case, things may get a whole lot uglier on Friday when Trump, who has zero qualms about “talking bad about the competition,” holds his pre-primary rally in Waukesha County. We got a taste for Trump’s dislike of the former lieutenant last month when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Daniel Bice reported that Trump used his April meeting with Michels to bring up a 2019 picture of Kleefisch’s daughter going to her high school prom with the son of state Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn.

The elder Hagedorn went straight to the MAGA doghouse the next year when he provided the crucial vote to stop Trump’s attempts to steal the election, and Bice reports that he was upset about the photo of the two teenagers. Kleefisch, who has trashed the justice herself, responded by declaring, “I’m outraged my opponent would use a photo of my underage daughter for political ammunition in order to score an endorsement.” However, unnamed sources told Bice that Michels didn’t actually know about the picture before Trump himself raised the topic ahead of his “little rant” against Brian Hagedorn.  

INDIANA 2ND CD. Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski died Wednesday in a car crash along with two aides and another driver. Walorski, who was 58, had been in her north-central Indiana district and had just attended an event shortly before the collision.

Walorski was a three-term member of the state House when she launched her first bid for Congress in the 2010 cycle against Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly in the 2nd District. Barack Obama had carried that seat 54-45 as he was becoming the only Democrat to win Indiana’s electoral votes since LBJ’s 1964 landslide, but Republicans believed Donnelly would be vulnerable as the political climate worsened for his party.

Walorski, who had strong ties to tea party groups, decisively won her primary, but she faced a tough fight against Donnelly even in that red wave year. The congressman benefited from union support in an area where labor still held sway, and he went after Walorski for supporting a 23% national sales tax. Donnelly also enjoyed the backing of the NRA, which still was willing to endorse Democratic incumbents at the time, and he prevailed 48-47 under very tough conditions.

Walorski quickly announced that she’d run again in 2012, but she never got a rematch with Donnelly. The incumbent decided to campaign for the Senate after the GOP gerrymandered the 2nd, and this time, Walorski looked like the clear favorite. However, she still went through another tough general election against Brendan Mullen, an Army veteran who campaigned as a moderate. Walorski’s second campaign was another cliffhanger, but she came out on top 49-48. The narrow win came about as Mitt Romney was carrying the 2nd 56-42, though Donnelly was also prevailing here 50-45 as he was winning his Senate race.

Democrats were determined to target Walorski again, but they got dispiriting news when Mullen decided not to wage another bid in 2014. Walorski, who shed her old reputation as a hard-right culture warrior by adopting more establishment-oriented positions and emphasizing bipartisanship, also benefited from her seat’s continuing shift to the right.

While Democrats occasionally talked about putting this constituency into play, Walorski never came close to losing: Her closest re-election fight was in 2018, but she beat self-funder Mel Hall by a convincing 55-45. In 2020, Walorski easily won another term as Trump was taking her once-competitive 2nd District 59-39.

A special election will take place this year to succeed Walorski, though it’s not yet clear when it will be and how the GOP nominee will be chosen. Almost everyone expects the special to coincide with the Nov. 8 general election, but it’s up to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to set the date.

It will be up to the local GOP leadership to choose a new nominee for the special and regular two-year term, and Fox’s Chad Pergram explains that state law requires that any vacancy on the ballot “shall be filled by appointment by the district chairman of the political party.” The chair of the 2nd District Republican Party, though, was Zach Potts, a Walorski aide who was also killed in the collision.

“The fund affiliated with former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election paid $60,000 to a fashion designer known for styling Melania Trump’s wardrobe when the couple was in the White House,” USA Today reports.

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

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