The Political Report – August 18, 2022

A pretty good predictor in the midterm elections is a president’s approval rating. With Joe Biden’s approval still at historic lows — though starting to tick back up — it’s generally safe to assume that Republicans are well-positioned for a good year. The general economic pessimism won’t help Democrats either.

And yet it’s impossible to deny the idea that this year might be different. Here’s why:

  • Democrats are outperforming on the generic congressional ballot relative to Biden’s job performance.
  • Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Democrats in two special congressional elections have significantly outperformed expectations.
  • Kansas voters turned out in stunning numbers to reject a GOP attempt to ban abortion.
  • High profile Republican candidates are struggling around the country, including in Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
  • Donald Trump is endorsing questionable candidates, continuing to deny he lost the 2020 election and strongly hinting that he’ll run again in 2024.

We’re going to face a deluge of new polls in the coming weeks. With real data of individual races, the trajectory of this cycle may begin to crystallize. But I suspect it will be harder this year to build polling turnout models that accurately reflect the mood of voters.

First Read: “Trump is dominating everything right now.”

“It’s unlike any previous midterm cycle we can remember — when it’s usually the sitting president getting all of the scrutiny.”

ALASKA AT LARGE CD. “With voting complete in Alaska’s special U.S. House race on Tuesday — the state’s first ranked choice election — Democrat Mary Peltola was leading Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III in early returns with the most first-place votes, but the winner won’t be known until the last ballots are counted later this month,” the Anchorage Daily News reports.

“Once the last ballots are counted — if no candidate crosses the 50% threshold needed to win under the state’s new ranked choice voting system — the candidate in last place will be eliminated and the second-place votes of that candidate’s supporters will be redistributed.”

Washington Post: “Where this goes from here, nobody knows. But Peltola far over-performed the primary results in June, in which she took just 10 percent of the vote.”

With 150,000 ballots tabulated early Wednesday, which the Associated Press estimates represents 69% of the total vote, former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola leads with 38% as two Republicans, former reality TV show star Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich III, grab 32% and 29%, respectively; the balance is made up of write-in votes.

The Last Frontier allows mail-in ballots postmarked by election day to be counted if they’re received through the end of the month, so these margins may shift: State election officials say they plan to have updated results on Aug. 23 and Aug. 26, with final numbers on Aug. 31. After all the votes are tabulated, officials will conduct an instant runoff to reallocate the third-place finisher’s votes to the two remaining candidates.

No matter what, though, Peltola, Palin, and Begich will all be on the ballot again in the November instant-runoff election for a full two-year term along with one other competitor. (This special election only had three candidates because independent Al Gross dropped out shortly after taking third in the June special top-four primary.)

With respect to the normal House race for the full two year term, the results of the House race so far closely resemble the special tallies: Peltola is in first with 35%, Palin second with 31%, and Begich third at 27%. Another Republican, former state Interior Department official Tara Sweeney, leads Libertarian Chris Bye 4-1 for fourth, but the AP has not called the final spot in the general.

WYOMING AT LARGE CD. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney lost Tuesday’s Republican primary 66-29 to Trump-backed attorney Harriet Hageman.

Trump and his allies made defeating Cheney a top priority, and his “Bachelor” style endorsement process eventually resulted in him supporting Hageman, who had placed third in the 2018 primary for governor. (Politico relays that Trump’s team originally considered backing her in a prospective rematch against Gov. Mark Gordon.) House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Club for Growth went on to fall in line behind Hageman, a one-time Trump skeptic who now embraces the Big Lie.

Cheney’s defeat makes her the eighth House Republican to lose renomination this year compared to four Democrats so far. The Wyoming result also means that at least eight of the 10 Republicans who voted for impeachment will not be going back to Congress next year because of primary losses and retirements: Only California Rep. David Valadao and Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse advanced through their respective top-two primaries, though Valadao still has to win his competitive general election against Democrat Rudy Salas.

But Cheney didn’t show any regret about what happened to her once promising career in Republican politics. She proclaimed in her concession speech that “now, the real work begins” and pledged she “will do whatever it takes to ensure Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office.”

“The great and original champion of our party, Abraham Lincoln, was defeated in elections for the Senate and the House before he won the most important election of all. Lincoln ultimately prevailed, he saved our union, and he defined our obligation as Americans for all of history….This primary election is over. But now the real work begins.” — Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), in her concession speech.

“This is a wonderful result for America, and a complete rebuke of the Unselect Committee of political Hacks and Thugs. Liz Cheney should be ashamed of herself, the way she acted, and her spiteful, sanctimonious words and actions towards others. Now she can finally disappear into the depths of political oblivion where, I am sure, she will be much happier than she is right now.” — Donald Trump, reacting to Cheney’s loss.

“Hours after her resounding primary defeat in Wyoming, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) said early Wednesday that she was ‘thinking’ about running for president in 2024, the clearest acknowledgment yet that she is considering a bid for the White House that would test the viability of her conservative, anti-Trump platform,” the New York Times reports.

Said Cheney: “That’s a decision that I’m going to make in the coming months. But it is something that I am thinking about.”

Mark Barabak: “The resounding defeat of Liz Cheney was more than the rejection of a brave and principled individual. It was the repudiation of values and a worldview that have shaped the Republican Party for well over a generation.”

“It was also a thickheaded denial of reality and the stone-cold fact that President Trump lost the 2020 election and schemed and lied to deny it, sacrificing safety and the country’s stability on the altar of his infinite ego.”

ALASKA U.S. SENATOR. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and her fellow Republican, former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka, advanced through the top-four primary as expected, though the AP has not yet called the other two spots for the November instant-runoff general election. Murkowski holds a 44-40 edge over her Trump-backed foe as of Wednesday morning, while Democrat ​​Pat Chesbro, who is a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Planning Commission, is well behind with 6%. A pair of little-known Republicans, Buzz Kelley and Pat Nolin, are taking 2% and 1%, respectively.

“In a primary race largely seen as a referendum on former President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was narrowly leading Trump-backed challenger Kelly Tshibaka in early results after voting concluded Tuesday,” the Anchorage Daily News reports.

“Both candidates, along with third place finisher Democrat Pat Chesbro… are expected to advance to the November general election under Alaska’s new voting laws that eliminated partisan primaries.”

ALASKA GOVERNOR. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy will face former Democratic state Rep. Les Gara and independent former Gov. Bill Walker in the fall, but it remains to be seen who will be the fourth general election candidate. Dunleavy is in first with 42%, while Gara and Walker are grabbing 22% each. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce holds a 7-4 edge for fourth over state Rep. Christopher Kurka in a race where both Republicans are each positioning themselves to the right of the ardently conservative governor.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz (R) is on video telling a voter he owns two houses, the Daily Beast reports. “The problem with that answer is Oz—legitimately—owns far more than two houses. In fact, according to public records, Dr. Oz owns 10 properties.”

WYOMING GOVERNOR. Gov. Mark Gordon didn’t come close to losing his Republican primary, but he still scored an unimpressive 62-30 victory over Brent Bien, a retired Marine colonel who campaigned against the incumbent’s pandemic health measures. Gordon should have no trouble in the fall against the Democratic nominee, retired U.S. Bureau of Land Management employee Theresa Livingston.

WYOMING SECRETARY OF STATE. Chuck Gray, a Trump endorsee and 2020 election fraud conspiracist, won the Republican primary for Wyoming secretary of state last night. And since no Democrats ran for the position, Gray’s victory means he’ll be overseeing the elections in 2024.

FLORIDA U.S. SENATOR. The University of North Florida’s newest survey finds Democratic Rep. Val Demings leading Republican Sen. Marco Rubio 48-44, which is actually better for the Democrats than the tie that two different pro-Demings polls recently showed.

This is the first independent survey we’ve seen since winter, and quite a departure from the 46-34 Rubio advantage UNF had in February. The New York Times’ Nate Cohn notes that the school obtained its sample by emailing a list of registered voters, which he calls a “​​pretty unusual design.”

I suspect that this poll is an outlier. But it is actually on trend, with a group of recent polls showing a relatively close race. Given the rightward drift of Florida, I would not be getting my hopes up that this is a Democratic pick up. But it is a strong indication that this is a seat Republicans will have to fight to hold on to.

FLORIDA GOVERNOR. The University of North Florida finds Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried beating Rep. Charlie Crist 47-43 in next week’s Democratic primary, which makes this the first poll to give her the edge all year. Crist quickly responded by releasing a Change Research survey that gave him a 47-37 advantage, which is only a little larger than the 42-35 Crist lead that Fried’s own internal from Public Policy Polling showed just last week. An early August St. Pete Polls survey for Florida Politics had Crist up 56-24.

UNF also takes a look at the general election and has Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis outpacing Crist and Fried 52-40 and 50-43, respectively.

NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR. Saint Anselm College also surveyed the general election for governor, and it finds Republican incumbent Chris Sununu beating Democratic state Sen. Tom Sherman 48-29. An early July Sherman internal from Public Policy Polling put the governor’s lead at a smaller, though still wide, 43-33. The school looks at the Sept. 13 GOP primary as well, but it shows Sununu with a huge 68-6 lead over perennial candidate Karen Testerman.

NEW HAMPSHIRE U.S. SENATOR. Saint Anselm College gives us a rare look at the Sept. 13 Republican primary to take on Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, which is the last competitive Senate primary in the nation.

Donald Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general who lost the 2020 nomination for New Hampshire’s other Senate seat, posts a 32-16 advantage against state Senate President Chuck Morse. Bitcoin millionaire Bruce Fenton and former Londonderry town manager Kevin Smith are far back with just 4% each, while author Vikram Mansharamani notches 2%; a 39% plurality remains undecided with less than a month to go.

This is the first poll we’ve seen here since April, when the University of New Hampshire had Bolduc beating Smith 33-4. Prominent national groups haven’t taken sides here, but Bolduc so far has not run a particularly impressive campaign two years after his 50-42 loss. The frontrunner had a mere $70,000 in the bank at the end of June, and he spent last year accusing Gov. GOP Chris Sununu of being a “Chinese communist sympathizer” with a family business that “supports terrorism.”

Bolduc also has ardently embraced the Big Lie, saying at a recent debate, “I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying Trump won the election, and damn it, I stand by [it].” He has plenty of company, though, as Morse is the one GOP candidate who acknowledged that Joe Biden is the president when asked Tuesday if the 2020 election was stolen. Bolduc would also prefer this be the last New Hampshire Senate election in history: Both he and Fenton have called for repealing the 17th Amendment, which gave voters the right to elect their senators in 1913.

Bolduc’s many rivals, though, have considerably more resources available as they try to get their names out in the final weeks of the campaign. Fenton finished the second quarter with a $1.63 million war chest, though almost all of that was self-funded. Morse and Mansharamani had $980,000 and $790,000, respectively, with Smith holding $350,000.

NEW HAMPSHIRE 1ST CD. Saint Anselm College shows 2020 nominee Matt Mowers edging out former White House staffer Karoline Leavitt 25-21 in his bid for a rematch against Democratic incumbent Chris Pappas. Former TV reporter Gail Huff Brown and state Rep. Tim Baxter are well behind with 9% and 8%, respectively, with former Executive Councilor Russell Prescott clocking in at 2%. The lead still goes to unsure, though, as 33% did not select a candidate.

Mowers has the backing of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and he finished June with a modest $820,000 to $670,000 cash-on-hand edge over Leavitt. Biden carried both the old and new version of this eastern New Hampshire constituency 52-46 (the court-drawn congressional map made only tiny changes to both of the state’s districts after Sununu thwarted efforts by his fellow Republicans in the legislature to make the 1st considerably redder), while Pappas defeated Mowers 51-46 last time.

NEW HAMPSHIRE 2ND CD. Saint Anslem finds a hefty 65% undecided in the GOP primary to go up against Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster. Former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns leads Keene Mayor George Hansel just 12-10 while another 8% goes to Lily Tang Williams, who was the 2016 Libertarian Party nominee for Senate in Colorado. (She earned 4% against Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet.)

Hansel has the backing of Sununu, and he ended the last quarter with a $300,000 to $130,000 cash-on-hand edge over Williams, with Burns holding $100,000. Biden would have prevailed 54-45 here.

NEW YORK 10TH CD. Rep. Mondaire Jones has launched the first negative TV spot of next week’s Democratic primary against attorney Dan Goldman, a self-funder who is the only other candidate with the resources to air television ads; Jones’ team tells Politico that he’s putting $500,000 into this late effort.

The commercial frames the crowded contest as a straight-up choice between “conservative Dan Goldman” or “progressive Mondaire Jones.” The narrator goes on to contrast the two, saying, “Dan Goldman has dangerous views on abortion; Mondaire Jones is 100% pro-choice, the best record in Congress.” She goes on to argue that Goldman “profited off gun manufacturers” and “made money off FOX News,” while the 17th District congressman stood up to the NRA and Republicans.

The spot doesn’t go into detail about its charges against Goldman, but Politico provides some background. The candidate last month sat down for an interview with Hamodia’s Reuvain Borchardt and was asked, “Should there be any limitation whatsoever on the right to terminate a pregnancy at any point in the pregnancy?” Goldman responded, “I do think, generally speaking, I agree with the break-point of viability, subject to exceptions.”

Goldman later said he “would not object” when Borchardt inquired if he’d be alright with a state law that would ban abortion if “there is a perfectly healthy fetus, and the mother just decides after viability that she wants to terminate the pregnancy.” However, the candidate then had a conversation with an aide who was also present at the interview, and Borchardt writes that “from that point forward Goldman’s responses switched from a post-viability limitation to no limitations at all.”

Jones and Goldman’s other rivals were quick to go on the attack after the article was published, while Goldman himself insisted he’d “misspoke” and “unequivocally support[s] a woman’s right to choose.”

As for this ad’s charges that Goldman “profited off gun manufacturers” and “made money off FOX News,” the New York Daily News recently explained that he has stock in, among many other companies, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, and News Corp. A spokesperson said, “Dan does not manage his money … It is handled by a broker, and is designed to mirror the S&P 500.”

NEW YORK 19TH CD SPECIAL ELECTION. DCCC Analytics has dropped an internal showing Republican Marc Molinaro edging out Democrat Pat Ryan 46-43 in next week’s special election. The last poll we saw was a late July Triton Polling & Research survey for Molinaro’s allies at the right-wing Freedom Council USA, and it gave their man a larger 50-40 advantage.

PENNSYLVANIA 8TH CD. Democratic incumbent Matt Cartwright is out with an internal from GQR Research that shows him defeating Republican Jim Bognet 52-46 in their rematch for a northeastern Pennsylvania constituency that would have supported Trump 51-48. The only other poll we’ve seen here was a late June survey for Bognet and the NRCC that put the Republican ahead 46-45.

Cartwright held off Bognet 52-48 last cycle as Trump was prevailing in the old 8th District 52-47, a win that made him one of just seven House Democrats to hold a Trump district. The congressman has taken to the airwaves early for 2022, and Politico’s Ally Mutnick relays that he’s already spent $415,000 on TV for the general election. Bognet, by contrast, on Tuesday began running his first spot since he won the May primary, a joint ad with the NRCC that ties Cartwright to Scranton native Joe Biden.

INDIANA 2ND CD. A few familiar Republicans have already filed ahead of Wednesday’s deadline to replace the late Rep. Jackie Walorski on the ballot―including one politician plenty of party members would like to forget. That candidate is former Attorney General Curtis Hill, who, as we’ll explain, narrowly lost renomination in 2020 after multiple women accused him of sexual assault.

Hill isn’t the only new arrival, though. Former state Rep. Christy Stutzman, who is the wife of former 3rd District Rep. Marlin Stutzman, also joined the contest for the 2nd on Monday. The field also includes businessman Rudolph Yakym, who served as Walorski’s campaign finance director during her winning 2012 bid and entered this race with an endorsement from the congresswoman’s husband, Dean Swihart. Attorney Tiernan Kane also is in, while state Rep. Curt Nisly announced last week.

Hill is likely the most prominent person on this list, though not entirely in the way he’d like. He made history in 2016 when he became the first African American Republican to be elected Indiana attorney general (Democrat Pamela Carter’s win back in 1992 made her the first Black woman to be elected attorney general in any state), and he was quickly mentioned as a potential candidate for higher office. Everything changed in July of 2018, though, when four women accused Hill of groping them at a party that had taken place a few months earlier.

Hill’s fellow Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, called for the attorney general to resign, but he refused to go anywhere and even announced his re-election campaign the following year. Hill avoided criminal charges, but he still faced disciplinary proceedings in front of the state Supreme Court. In May of 2020, the justices finally ruled that Hill had “committed the criminal act of battery,” and that they would suspend his law license for a month with an automatic reinstatement afterwards.

Indiana is one of a few states where nominees for attorneys general are chosen through a convention rather than a primary, and Hill returned to office just before ballots were sent out to delegates. Ultimately, though, former Rep. Todd Rokita dispatched the incumbent 52-48, and he went on to prevail in the fall; Rokita, rather than Hill, is now a prominent potential candidate to succeed Holcomb in 2024.

And just like in 2020, primary voters will not be deciding on Hill’s fate. Instead, local Republican precinct committeemen will hold a pair of caucuses to pick their nominees for the Nov. 8 special and for the full two-year term: However, because those two contests will take place using slightly different boundaries (92% of the new 2nd’s denizens live in the old district), some committeemen will only be able to participate in one caucus. The existing version of this North-central Indiana constituency supported Trump 59-39, while the revamped district would have backed him 60-38.

NEW YORK 12TH CD. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday backed Rep. Jerry Nadler over fellow incumbent Carolyn Maloney in their Aug. 23 Democratic primary, which makes Schumer the first member of New York’s congressional delegation to take sides.

PENNSYLVANIA 10TH CD. Democrat Shamaine Daniels has released an internal from Public Policy Polling that gives her a 44-41 edge over Republican incumbent Scott Perry in a poll that went into the field the day that Perry revealed the FBI had just seized his cell phone. Daniels had less than $60,000 on hand at the end of June for this 51-47 Trump constituency, and it remains to be seen if last week’s developments will give her a big fundraising lift.

FLORIDA 7TH CD. Last week, an outside group called American Liberty Action launched what Florida Politics says is a $700,000 campaign aimed at stopping state Rep. Anthony Sabatini in the Aug. 23 Republican primary, an amount that represents most of the outside money that’s been spent here. The spot tears into Sabatini for being the one GOP nay vote against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ budget, with the narrator proclaiming, “Sabatini tried sabotaging funding to remove illegals from Florida and secure elections from fraud.” The ad also labels him a “[l]ongtime registered Democrat.”

The far-right state representative, who has a terrible relationship with the chamber’s leadership, countered by saying he’d cast his no vote because the budget was $13 billion more than what DeSantis proposed. WESH also notes that Sabatini became a Republican all the way back in 2015.

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

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