The Political Report – August 17, 2022

We’ve only had two states on our primary election calendar yesterday: Wyoming and Alaska. In Wyoming, as expected, House Jan. 6 Committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R) lost to her Trump-endorsed challenger Harriet Hageman by 66 to 29%.

It’s hard to believe, but Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney just two years ago was the third-ranking member of the GOP leadership and a strong contender to become the first Republican woman to serve as speaker. But Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump and subsequent service on the Jan. 6 committee has made her a pariah among national Republicans, and every poll shows her badly losing renomination to Hageman. Three other Republicans are on the ballot, but they’re unlikely to have much of an impact; the winner should have little trouble prevailing in November in this dark red state.

Politico: How Team Trump systematically snuffed out Liz Cheney’s reign in Congress.

ALASKA AT LARGE CD. There’s far more suspense to the north, though, in the instant-runoff special election to replace Rep. Don Young, the Alaska Republican who died in March after 49 years in office. However, we’re almost certainly not going to know who won the three-way race among a pair of Republicans (former reality TV show star Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich III) and former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola until at least Aug. 31.

That’s because mail-in ballots postmarked by Tuesday will be counted if they’re received through the end of the month. In the very likely event that no one wins a majority, election officials would then use the ranked-choice process to reallocate the third-place finisher’s votes to the two remaining candidates.  

Palin, who sports Trump’s endorsement, earned first place in the June top-four primary by taking 27%, while Begich snagged 19%. Independent Al Gross notched third in that campaign with 13%, but he dropped out soon afterwards and backed Peltola, who took 10%. Former state Interior Department official Tara Sweeney, a Republican who finished just behind with 6%, registered last week to run as a write-in candidate, but she said her main focus would be advancing to the November election for a full term (more on that below).

Things have gotten quite nasty in the homestretch between the two Republicans. Begich went up with a negative spot late in the campaign attacking Palin’s record as governor and taking her to task for abruptly resigning back in 2009 and spending the ensuing 13 years as a celebrity. (The ad featured photos of Palin’s 2020 appearance on The Masked Singer where the one-time vice-presidential nominee performed “Baby Got Back” disguised as a pink and blue bear.)

Palin quickly responded by castigating Begich, who is the rare Republican member of Alaska’s prominent Democratic family, for supporting relatives like former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. The former governor, though, has attracted negative press for avoiding many public events while making frequent trips out of state, something her detractors have been happy to highlight.

Peltola is hoping that the GOP infighting will give her an opening to convince Palin and Begich’s supporters to rank her second, especially since Republicans haven’t done much to attack her. National Democrats, however, have also avoided devoting resources to help the former state representative in a state Trump won 53-43. Peltola would be the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress as well as the first Democrat to represent the state in D.C. since Mark Begich’s 2014 defeat.

All three of those people, as well as Sweeney and 18 others, will also be on the ballot again Tuesday in the aforementioned top-four primary for a full two-year term. Just like in June, everyone will compete on one ballot, and the four candidates with the most votes will advance to the general election. It would be a huge surprise, though, if Palin, Begich, and Peltola didn’t all continue on; Sweeney also looks likely to go forward because her nearest opponents in the June race either didn’t file to run again or dropped out after poor showings.

Sarah Palin’s former in-laws held a political fundraiser at their Alaska home Monday — for her main opponent, the Daily Mail reports.

New York Times: “Several voters said Ms. Palin had abandoned Alaska, after she resigned from the governor’s office in 2009 amid ethics complaints and legal bills. But Ms. Palin’s support remains strong among other Republicans, including conservative women who have followed her political rise and have seen themselves in her struggles as a working mother.”

“Some Alaskans see her status as a far-right celebrity as an asset, as did a few callers into ‘The Mike Porcaro Show,’ a conservative talk radio program. They argued that Ms. Palin would be able to bring attention to Alaska in a way that a lesser-known newcomer to Congress would not.”

ALASKA GOVERNOR and U.S. SENATOR. Alaska also will hold statewide top-four primaries for governor and Senate. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, former independent Gov. Bill Walker, and former Democratic state Rep. Les Gara have all vastly outraised the other seven candidates, so they each look set to advance. The big question seems to be whether the fourth spot will go to Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce or state Rep. Christopher Kurka, two Republicans who are each positioning themselves to the right of the ardently conservative governor.

Finally, there isn’t much of a question that the general election for Senate will feature an intra-party battle between Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Trump’s choice, former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka. Pat Chesbro, who is a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Planning Commission, is the most prominent Democrat in the race, while none of the other 16 candidates have done much to stand out in the battle for the last slot.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) put out a final video in a Republican primary she’s likely to lose:

“America cannot remain free if we abandon the truth. The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious, it preys on those who love their country, it is a door Donald Trump opened to manipulate Americans to abandon their principles, to sacrifice their freedom, to justify violence, to ignore the rulings of our courts and the rule of law.”

NBC News: “She is likely to finish the race with a substantial unspent war chest, reflecting both the ease with which she raised money from anti-Trump donors across the country and the futility of dumping millions of dollars into a lost cause. Three weeks ago, she still had $7.4 million in the bank in a state where TV ads are cheap.”

Former Trump aide Peter Navarro claimed that he has “circumstantial evidence” that Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is going to try and steal her election tomorrow with fraudulent absentee ballots.

Playbook: “When it comes to dealing with Donald Trump, plenty of Republicans have chosen sycophancy — backing him no matter what. Others pick their spots, delivering an occasional critique alongside heapings of praise. Others just keep their heads down and hope for the best. And then there’s Liz Cheney.”

“A three-term congresswoman from the least populous state in the union, Cheney walked into Congress the same month that Trump walked into the Oval Office. During his presidency, she voted with Trump more than 90% of the time.”

“Now she’s the Republican face of the anti-Trump movement, a position she has cemented as the vice chair of the Jan. 6 select committee, and it will likely cost Cheney her political career — at least for now.”

Wyoming state Rep. Landon Brown (R) to the AP: “I’m still hopeful that the polling numbers are wrong. It’ll be a crying shame really if she does lose. It shows just how much of a stranglehold that Donald Trump has on the Republican Party.”

TEXAS GOVERNOR. UT Tyler’s newest survey for the Dallas Morning News shows Republican incumbent Greg Abbott outpacing Democrat Beto O’Rourke 48-42 among likely voters.

PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR. Democrat Josh Shapiro has launched what Politico says is a $1 million ad campaign highlighting Republican Doug Mastriano’s ties to Gab, a white supremacist website whose users included Robert Bowers, the man charged with murdering 11 worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.

The narrator in one ad declares that “minutes before Jews were killed at this synagogue, the murderer posted his hate-filled plan” on Gab. She continues by saying that Mastriano “is paying thousands of dollars to this website to recruit supporters,” including “[p]eople who spread hate and violence that should scare all of us.” The other spot makes use of a news clip where a Pittsburgh Jewish leader says, “Doug Mastriano paid thousands of dollars for alt-right antisemitic extremists to be part of his campaign.”  

Last month, Media Matters reported that Mastriano spent $5,000 in April on “campaign consulting” from Gab, and that new accounts automatically followed him. Mastriano himself sat down for an interview weeks before his May primary with Gab founder Andrew Torba, who regularly traffics in antisemitic conspiracy theories; the soon-to-be Republican nominee gushed that Torba was “giving us a platform for free speech” and that he “​​liked that one meme” he shared.

Weeks later, when reporters started asking questions, Torba proudly said of the Mastriano campaign, “This isn’t a big tent. This is a Christian movement. Full stop.” He also told media outlets that his “policy is not to conduct interviews with reporters who aren’t Christian or with outlets who aren’t Christian, and Doug has a very similar media strategy where he does not do interviews with these people.”

In late July, after weeks of scrutiny, Mastriano put out a statement reading, “I reject antisemitism in any form” and that Torba “doesn’t speak for me,” though the Republican expressed no contrition for his relationship with him. Instead, Mastriano said, “Recent smears by the Democrats and the media are blatant attempts to distract Pennsylvanians from suffering inflicted by Democrat policies.” He also appears to have deleted his Gab account around that time even though he’d used it that very week.

FLORIDA U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Rep. Val Demings’ allies at EMILY’s List have publicized a poll from Change Research that shows her deadlocked 46-46 against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio, a release that came days after two progressive groups unveiled their own survey from Clarity Campaigns that found a 45-45 tie. We have not seen any independent polls of this contest since winter.  

NORTH CAROLINA U.S. SENATOR. NBC reports that Republican Ted Budd and the NRSC will launch a joint ad campaign for $750,000, which will make this Budd’s first TV commercial since he won the primary all the way back in May. Democrat Cheri Beasley, by contrast, has deployed $4.7 million since she won the nomination, though the NRSC has spent $6.3 million against her.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR, ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR, WISCONSIN U.S. SENATOR. “The Republicans’ Senate campaign committee has slashed its television ad reservations in three critical battleground states for the fall, a likely sign of financial troubles headed into the peak of the 2022 midterm election season,” the New York Times reports.

“The National Republican Senatorial Committee has cut more than $5 million in Pennsylvania, including its reservations in the Philadelphia media market.”

“Reservations in Wisconsin, in the Madison and Green Bay markets, have also been curtailed, by more than $2 million. And in Arizona, all reservations after Sept. 30 have been cut in Phoenix and Tucson, the state’s only two major media markets, amounting to roughly $2 million more.”

This is a clear admission that Donald Trump’s favored candidates aren’t worth the investment.

Goldmacher, however, noted that the figures were “a moving target,” and indeed, they moved rapidly. Less than two hours after his report first appeared, Politico’s Natalie Allison upped the combined sum to $13.5 million and added a fourth state, Nevada.

The biggest cut by far comes in Pennsylvania, where, per Politico, the NRSC canceled $7.5 million intended to help Mehmet Oz, who has been the subject of endless GOP hand-wringing about his prospects of holding this open seat. (The Times’ original number was $5 million.) Allison adds that the committee rescinded $3.5 million it had booked in Arizona, a contest that pits Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly against Republican Blake Masters.

Meanwhile, $2.5 million was nuked in Wisconsin, where Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is trying to fend off Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes. Goldmacher reported that at least $2 million was sliced in the Madison and Green Bay media markets, which together are home to 36% of the state’s denizens. He added that some money was getting moved to the Milwaukee market, where another 41% of the state’s residents live, but said it was “significantly less than what had been canceled.”

Finally, Allison says that $1.5 million is coming out of Nevada, where Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is trying to win a second term against Republican Adam Laxalt. The Silver State was not on Goldmacher’s list, though the two reporters may have been relying on different sources: Allison cited the ad tracking firm AdImpact while Goldmacher said his information came from two unnamed “media-tracking sources.”

The NRSC is the first of the big four party-aligned campaign groups that compete in Senate races to cancel planned ad time (the other entities at this level are the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC on the GOP side, plus the DSCC and Senate Majority PAC for Democrats), so predictably, Republicans tried to spin the move as a minor affair.

Goldmacher relays that an unnamed source said some of the funds “would eventually be used to rebook advertising time in coordination with the Senate campaigns,” which can obtain cheaper advertising rates than third-party groups like the NRSC. Meanwhile, NRSC communications director Chris Hartline insisted the story was “false” but refused to say how much of the canceled airtime would be reinstated.

But even if the committee does rebook, it faces major restrictions on any coordinated buys with candidates. Whereas independent expenditures can be unlimited, coordinated expenditures are subject to state-by-state limits. In total, the NRSC is allowed to spend a total of $2.3 million across all three of those states, or less than a quarter of the canceled amount.

Goldmacher notes the NRSC could run “hybrid” ads to get around this and split the cost of commercials with candidates, but those come with their own complications. The biggest is that the campaigns would have to split the cost, which is quite the conundrum since most GOP Senate contenders have fallen victim to the same fundraising problems that have hurt the NRSC and other Republicans this cycle.

If the NRSC is hoping that its allies will step in to fill the void, it may be in luck. Indeed SLF, which started July with more than $40 million more in the bank than its counterparts at SMP, recently committed another $9.5 million to helping Oz in Pennsylvania, and it continues to have millions reserved in the other three states as well as in many others.

In Wisconsin, meanwhile, Johnson has benefited from a super PAC called Wisconsin Truth PAC funded by a set of local billionaires, Diane Hendricks and Dick and Elizabeth Uihlein, that just began airing ads against Barnes. And in Arizona, the NRSC’s backstop may be megadonor Peter Thiel, who spent $15 million to help Masters win this month’s primary. He has yet to open his checkbook for the general election, however, and has so far left another underfunded protégé, Ohio Republican J.D. Vance, out in the cold as well.

NEW HAMPSHIRE U.S. SENATOR. Jeremy Kauffman, who is running for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire as a Libertarian, called the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, as “the death of liberty.”

“Republican candidates in a New Hampshire Senate primary debate over the weekend raced to the right, casting doubt on the 2020 election and discrediting the FBI after the recent search of former President Donald Trump’s home,” NBC News reports.

ILLINOIS GOVERNOR. Illinois gubernatorial nominee Darren Bailey (R) “has held multiple events involving the gun store where the alleged Highland Park shooter acquired the semi-automatic rifle he allegedly used during a Fourth of July shooting spree,” Vice News reports.

“It is purely coincidental that the gun allegedly used in Highland Park came from the same store that has ties to Bailey’s campaign. But it throws Bailey’s push to further deregulate guns in Illinois, as well as his bellicose campaign rhetoric that gun ownership is a key check against tyranny, into stark relief.”

“Republicans used the ‘defund the police’ slogan after George Floyd’s murder to paint the Democratic Party as radical. But since the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago, a growing number of GOP candidates and lawmakers are rallying around their own calls to defund or abolish federal law enforcement agencies,” Axios reports.

“The new demands muddle a narrative embraced by Republicans long before the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of 2020 — that they are the party of law enforcement. They also show how much former President Trump has reshaped his party.”

“A lot of people have likened the situation that’s going on right now is, you know, they say we’re in a banana republic. I think that’s an insult to Banana Republics across the country. I mean, at least the manager of Banana Republic, unlike our president, knows where he is and why he’s there and what he’s doing.”  — North Carolina congressional candidate Bo Hines (R), trying to deride President Biden’s mental acuity while confusing the expression “banana republic” with the clothing store chain.

The NBA’s schedule for the coming season “will have all 30 teams playing on Nov. 7, the night before the midterm elections,” ESPN reports.

“The NBA is hoping teams use that night as an opportunity to encourage fans to get out and vote, plus amplify the need for civic engagement.”

“The Republican nominee for secretary of state in Arizona is a self-proclaimed member of the far-right extremist group the Oath Keepers who repeatedly shared anti-government conspiracies and posts about stockpiling ammunition on social media,” CNN reports.

Andrew Yang was interviewed on CNN by Jim Acosta about his new third party:

ACOSTA: : How does the Forward Party feel about Roe v Wade?

YANG: The Forward Party has a—not left or right- but “forward” stance on even the most divisive and contentious issues.

ACOSTA: What does that even mean?

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

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