The Political Report – August 27, 2022

Gallup: “After hitting a record low in July, President Joe Biden’s job approval rating is up six percentage points to 44%, his highest in a year.”

“While this uptick represents a significant improvement on the heels of several policy successes for Biden, he still remains underwater overall, with 53% of Americans disapproving of his job performance.”

Amy Walter: “Earlier this cycle, a seasoned Democratic strategist argued that his party’s success in the midterms wouldn’t be predicated on policy successes but by turning out the 2018/2020 coalition of anti-Trump voters. This strategy, however, of trying to turn the midterms from a referendum on the party in charge to the party out of power has rarely succeeded…”

“But, at this point, Democrats are getting help flipping the script thanks to the Supreme Court and Trump. For the first time in history, warnings by Democrats about a rollback of abortion rights aren’t theoretical. Poll after poll continues to show that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is widely unpopular…”

“The more Trump is in the news, the more dangerous the political climate for the GOP. While neither Biden nor Trump are popular, Trump is the more polarizing.”

ABORTION REFERENDUMS. A new poll from UC Berkeley shows a ballot measure to amend California’s constitution to explicitly enshrine the right to abortion and contraceptives passing by a landslide margin, with 71% of voters saying they support it and just 18% opposed. The numbers are similar to those from other recent surveys, reinforcing just how popular abortion rights are and pointing the way for other states to take similar action.

Two already are: Like their counterparts in the Golden State, Democratic lawmakers in Vermont voted to place an amendment on the November ballot to guarantee “personal reproductive autonomy,” while activists in Michigan, who gathered a record number of signatures, are very close to qualifying a similar measure there. While we don’t have polling from either state yet, there’s every reason to think majorities are in favor of both of these amendments, particularly since conservative Kansas recently rejected an attempt to write abortion rights out of its constitution by an 18-point margin.

The different approaches to actually putting a constitutional amendment before voters in California and Vermont compared with Michigan are also important to take note of. In most states, only the legislature can refer amendments to the ballot, and often supermajorities are required to do so. Others require lawmakers to pass the same amendment twice, in successive sessions separated by an election, before voters can weigh in. Only in around a third of states can voters themselves collect signatures to place amendments on the ballot—a very useful tool in states with recalcitrant Republican majorities in the legislature.

At the moment, Democratic lawmakers have sufficient numbers without needing any GOP votes to send an abortion rights amendment to voters in almost a dozen states. Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, and Rhode Island could all do so right away (though likely not in time for this year), while Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York—which require passage in two sessions—would take a little longer.

Voters could also move forward themselves in several Republican-controlled states, including Arizona, Florida, Montana, and Ohio. (Data even suggests that Missouri and Nebraska could be amenable as well.) Activists can do the same in Colorado, where Democrats hold the legislature but aren’t likely to reach the two-thirds supermajority needed to amend the state constitution. Colorado and Florida present further obstacles, though: In most states, only a simple majority of voters is necessary to amend the constitution, but in Colorado, 55% support is needed, while in Florida, the threshold is 60%.

Democrats have every reason to move forward as soon as possible: Not only would the adoption of amendments like these further protect abortion rights, there’s a good chance they would also energize turnout. It may be too late for 2022, but Democrats should jump at this clear-cut opportunity to identify as the party that will defend the right to an abortion.

MICHIGAN ABORTION REFERENDUM. A proposal to enshrine abortion rights in the Michigan Constitution gathered enough valid signatures to make the November ballot, the Detroit News reports. The “Reproductive Freedom for All” ballot measure turned in 752,288 signatures in July, a record number that exceeded the state-mandated signature tally of 425,059.

If the recent Kansas referendum is any indication, this is a massive win for all Michigan Democrats running in November.

SWING DISTRICT HOUSE POLLING. Take a look at these Arizona swing districts:

  • An internal poll shows Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) in a dead heat with challenger Jevin Hodge (D), 47% to 47%.
  • An internal poll shows Kirsten Engel (D) just ahead of Juan Ciscomani (R) in the district being vacated by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), 49% to 47%.

A good observation from Playbook: “It’s still early in campaign season, and it’s worth noting neither polling memo includes Biden’s approval ratings. But if Republicans aren’t running away with these evenly split swing seats, it’s hard to see them flipping a lot of deep-blue districts in a huge red wave.”

Both districts have a similar partisan lean as New York’s 19th congressional district which Pat Ryan (D) won earlier this week.

A grand total of 14 members of the House members—eight Republicans and six Democrats—have lost renomination this cycle, a figure that FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich notes is the highest since 1992.

This year’s unlucky bunch are:

  • GA-07: Carolyn Bourdeaux (D)
  • IL-06: Marie Newman (D)
  • IL-15: Rodney Davis (R)
  • MI-03: Peter Meijer (R)
  • MI-11: Andy Levin (D)
  • MS-04: Steven Palazzo (R)
  • NC-11: Madison Cawthorn (R)
  • NY-10: Mondaire Jones (D)
  • NY-12: Carolyn Maloney (D)
  • OR-05: Kurt Schrader (D)
  • SC-07: Tom Rice (R)
  • WA-03: Jaime Herrera Beutler (R)
  • WV-02: David McKinley (R)
  • WY-AL: Liz Cheney (R)

This list, as large as it is, almost certainly won’t increase as the year’s remaining primaries conclude, however. That’s because none of the members of the all-Democratic House delegations in DelawareMassachusettsNew Hampshire, and Rhode Island have any primary opposition whatsoever.

The only other state that has yet to go to the polls is Louisiana, which holds its all-party primary on Nov. 8. The one member of the six-person delegation who faces any notable intra-party opposition at all is Republican Rep. Clay Higgins, whose main foe in the 3rd District is prosecutor Holden Hoggatt. It would still be a surprise, though, if Higgins fails to take the majority he needs to win outright, and it’s even more unlikely that the congressman would fail to advance to a runoff if there is one.

While this cycle’s 14-member casualty rate is the highest of the 21st century, it still falls well short of the 19 who went down in 1992. That year, just like 2022, saw many maps dramatically change during redistricting, especially since the number of majority Black and Hispanic seats nearly doubled thanks to amendments to the Voting Rights Act made a decade earlier.

Several House members also struggled after getting caught up in the House banking scandal, while a general anti-incumbent climate also placed more in danger. Not coincidentally, 1992 was the year that Ross Perot scored almost 20% of the vote as an independent presidential candidate, a figure no unaligned contender has ever come close to matching since.

Altogether, according to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, 14 House Democrats and five Republicans lost renomination that year, with four falling to fellow incumbents. However, while continuing voter anger at the status quo helped propel Republicans to their first House majority in 40 years the next cycle under Newt Gingrich, each party’s base didn’t exactly take out their frustration on their representatives: Just four House members were unseated in the 1994 primaries, while even fewer got tossed during each of the next three elections.

The two redistricting cycles that followed were also their respective decade’s high-water mark for incumbent primary defeats: Eight members fell in 2002, while another 13 went down in 2012. But the 2020 elections may well have represented the height of base anger in the 21st century because redistricting wasn’t a factor that year, so any defeated members were rejected by the same electorate that had only recently sent them to D.C. That cycle saw eight House members (five Republicans and three Democrats) lose renomination to non-incumbents, the same number as this year.

Things will likely be calmer in 2024 as members get the chance to become acquainted with their new constituencies, though mid-decade redistricting will take place in North Carolina and possibly several more states. There’s also no telling what kind of votes or events might provoke the particularly volatile GOP electorate.

Still, even a fairly quiet year could still result in some high-profile upsets. In 2014, for instance, only four House members lost renomination―but one of them was Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

NEW YORK 10TH CD. Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who narrowly lost Tuesday’s Democratic primary to attorney Dan Goldman by 26-24 but has not yet conceded, didn’t rule out running on the Working Families Party ballot line in this dark-blue district in November, telling the Washington Post that she is “currently speaking with WFP and my community about how we can best represent the needs of this district.”

Political observers speculated even before Tuesday’s Democratic primary that Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou could run in the general election as the Working Families Party’s nominee, and the WFP isn’t ruling out the idea. The party’s spokesperson instead merely told the Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max, “Haven’t made any decisions on that yet.” Niou herself doesn’t appear to have said anything about continuing her campaign in a constituency Biden would have taken 85-15.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY (MD) EXECUTIVE. County officials have finished their recount of the July 19 Democratic primary, and incumbent Marc Elrich has defeated self-funding businessman David Blair 39.2-39.18―a margin of 32 votes. Blair, who lost to Elrich by 77 ballots four years ago, conceded on Wednesday. Despite his very close call, Elrich should have no trouble in November in a dark blue suburban D.C. county that hasn’t elected a Republican executive since the 1970s.

Blair, who spent around $5 million on his second campaign, argued that Elrich had done a poor job making the county more affordable or dealing with crime; the challenger also benefited from $900,000 in spending by a super PAC funded in part by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz as well as developers and business groups. Bethesda Magazine wrote last month that Elrich, whose “political base among civic and neighborhood groups often made him an outlier in three terms on the County Council on planning and development issues,” also clashed repeatedly with business groups.

The incumbent, for his part, focused on his work during the pandemic while also accusing Blair and County Council Member Hans Riemer, who took third with 20%, of supporting policies that were “very Koch brothers [and] Reaganesque—like let the private sector solve everything.”

FiveThirtyEight: “In your typical midterm election with an unpopular Democratic president, you’d expect Republicans to be flying high. But the evidence is mounting that the national political environment right now actually leans toward Democrats.”

“Up until mid-June, special elections for the U.S. House during the Biden presidency were pointing to a national political environment that was neutral or a little bit Republican-leaning. On average, Republicans did 2 points better in those elections than you’d expect based on the districts’ FiveThirtyEight partisan leans.”

“That all changed, though, starting in late June — immediately after the Supreme Court issued its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, overturning the constitutional right to abortion. There have been four first-past-the-post special House elections since that decision, and Democrats have outperformed their expected margins in those elections by an average of 9 points.”

NEW YORK 23RD CD. Politico: “He had the backing of the third-highest Republican in the House, but Carl Paladino came up short in his bid for an open House seat in New York. He’s about four points down to state GOP Chair Nick Langworthy in the bid for the open 23rd district.”

“But this is really a tough one for House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and a blow to her hope of playing kingmaker both in New York and Washington.”

A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll finds Joe Biden leading Donald Trump in a one-on-one rematch by four points among registered voters, 46% to 42%.

But in a three-way race with Rep. Liz Cheney on the ballot as an independent, Trump would suddenly vault to an 8-point lead over Biden, 40% to 32%.

In that scenario, Cheney trails with just 11% of the vote. The problem for Biden is that nearly all of Cheney’s votes come at his expense — and there are enough of them, in theory, to put Trump over the top.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) has quietly put together a team of top GOP advisors to help her ensure Donald Trump doesn’t ever get back in the White House, CNBC reports.

“Cheney is using some of Trump’s own consultants and allies, including those from the powerful Koch network, to try to keep the former president from winning a second term in the White House. Some of them appear to have used limited liability companies that shroud their identity from the public.”

ARIZONA ATTORNEY GENERAL. Abe Hamadeh (R) “has built his campaign for attorney general around cleaning up elections in Arizona. Yet as a teenager, he boasted to an online message board about voting before he was legally allowed to and altering his mom’s ballot,” the Phoenix New Times reports.

“The posts were among thousands Hamadeh made to an online message board beginning in 2007. When he wasn’t bragging about altering ballots, he was offering antisemitic and sexist rants, backing Sheriff Joe Arpaio and arguing that voting should be limited to college graduates who pass intelligence tests.”

MICHIGAN 10TH CD. The first two polls of the race in Michigan’s open 10th Congressional District since the state’s primary earlier this month have dropped one right after the other, and they tell very different stories. Former Judge Carl Marlinga, the Democratic nominee, publicized an internal poll from Target Insyght on Wednesday afternoon showing him with a 47-45 edge on Republican John James, while the following day, local tipsheet MIRS News released a survey it commissioned from Republican pollster Mitchell Research that had James in front 47-38. Donald Trump would have carried the redrawn 10th, based in Macomb County just to the north of Detroit, by a slender 50-49 margin.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel “rallied major donors Wednesday to get behind the GOP’s efforts to flip the Senate — a plea that comes amid rising concerns in the party over its candidates’ lagging fundraising totals and its overall prospects,” Politico reports.

“The Supreme Court’s June decision nixing Roe v. Wade, McDaniel said, triggered a gusher of online donations for the opposition.”

“Donald Trump’s super PAC is hosting a candlelight dinner with the former president at one of his New Jersey golf courses next month,” Forbes reports.  “The price to attend: $100,000 per person.”

MONTANA 1ST CD Former Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke was and is the target of at least 18 investigations into his conduct during his brief tenure as a member of Donald Trump’s cabinet, and now one has concluded that he engaged in wrongdoing: The inspector general of the Interior Department, where Zinke served as secretary from 2017 to 2019, released a report on Wednesday concluding that Zinke had made statements to investigators “with the overall intent to mislead them” and violated his “duty of candor” as a government officials.

At issue was a request by two Connecticut tribes, the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot, to build a casino, an endeavor that required the approval of the federal government. The casino was to be built in East Windsor, a few miles from an MGM-operated casino just over the border in Springfield, Massachusetts. Zinke neither signed off on the request nor rejected it, but instead “returned” it to the tribes, claiming it was “premature and likely unnecessary.”

That refusal to act prompted the tribes to file a lawsuit and also led members of Congress from Connecticut to ask that Zinke’s inaction be investigated. They charged that Zinke and his staff had been improperly influenced by lobbyists for the Nevada-based MGM, which naturally opposed the project. The investigation ultimately turned not on the question of MGM’s influence but about whether Zinke had been truthful in explaining to investigators why he had “returned” the tribes’ request

The inspector general determined he had not been, pointing out, for instance, that Zinke claimed he had not discussed his decision with anyone outside of the Interior Department, even though he had—including with Republican Dean Heller, who at the time represented Nevada in the Senate. Zinke, who is seeking to return to Congress in Montana’s new 1st District, disputed the report’s findings, claiming they were “wrong.”

(The tribes did eventually receive approval but the new casino remains on hold, as both the Mashantucket Pequot and the Mohegan said they needed to concentrate on their existing casinos, which saw a steep dropoff in business during the height of the pandemic.)

MICHIGAN 8TH CD. The independent expenditure arm of the DCCC has released its first TV ad of the November general election, beating their counterparts at the NRCC to the airwaves.

The DCCC’s spot attacks former Homeland Security official Paul Junge, the Republican nominee in Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, on the number one issue of the midterms: abortion. The commercial, however, avoids the word. Instead, a series of female narrators castigates Junge: “I thought I’d always have the right to make my own health care decisions,” the voiceover says. “But if Paul Junge gets his way … I won’t.” Saying that Junge opposes abortion even in the case of rape or incest, the narration continues, “I couldn’t imagine a pregnancy forced on me after something horrible like that. But thanks to Paul Junge, I have to.”

Junge is challenging five-term Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee, who saw his district in the Flint and Tri-Cities areas take on some new turf and grow a bit redder in redistricting. It also changed numbers: Biden won Kildee’s old 5th by a 51-47 margin, but the redrawn 8th would have backed the president just 50-48. This part of the state has also moved sharply to the right on the presidential level over the last decade—in 2012, Barack Obama won the 5th District by more than 20 points—which is why it’s a prime target for Republicans this year.

Democrats know this as well, which is why they’re stepping in to aid Kildee. We don’t yet know how much the DCCC is spending in this initial foray, but we will soon: Any group that makes an independent expenditure on behalf of a federal candidate must file a report with the FEC detailing its spending within 48 hours—and from Oct. 20 onward, within 24 hours. Those filings are all made available on the FEC’s website.

That site will get plenty of clicks, because from here on out, we can expect hundreds of millions of dollars more in independent expenditures on House races, from official party organizations like the DCCC and NRCC, massive super PACs like the Democrats’ House Majority PAC and the GOP’s Congressional Leadership Fund, and a whole bevy of groups large and small. But with the parties themselves now going up on TV, we can consider this the beginning of the end of the midterms.

TENNESSEE 5TH CD. Democratic state Sen. Heidi Campbell has publicized an internal from FrederickPolls that gives her a 51-48 lead over her Republican rival, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, in a newly-gerrymandered constituency that Democrats are very pessimistic about holding. Democratic incumbent Jim Cooper decided to retire here after the GOP legislature transmuted his seat from a 60-37 Biden district to a 54-43 Trump constituency by cracking the city of Nashville, and no major outside groups on either side have reserved any ad time here.  

LOS ANGELES MAYOR. A new UC Berkeley/Los Angeles Times poll finds Rep. Karen Bass has built a double-digit lead in the Los Angeles mayor’s race over Rick Caruso, 43% to 31% with 24% undecided.

Key finding: “Bass has consolidated support among liberal and Democratic voters, picking up the lion’s share of those who went for other candidates in the primary.”

LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF. UC Berkeley, polling for the Los Angeles Times, finds former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna leading conservative Sheriff Alex Villanueva 31-27 in the November nonpartisan primary to serve as the top lawman for America’s most populous county. This is the first survey we’ve seen since early June, when Villanueva outpaced Luna 31-26.

Villanueva made history in 2018 when he became the first Democrat to hold this office in 138 years, but while he still identifies as “​​a Democrat of the party of JFK and FDR,” he’s established a very different image in office. Villanueva instead has become a Fox News regular who, among many other things, has raged against the “woke left.” The sheriff’s department also has been at the center of numerous scandals, including allegations that deputies have organized themselves into violent gangs.  

Luna, for his part, changed his voter registration from Republican to no party preference in 2018 before becoming a Democrat two years later. The county Democratic Party has endorsed the former Long Beach police chief for the general election after declining to back anyone for the first round, and all five members of the Board of Supervisors are also in his corner; Luna also has the endorsement of Eric Strong, a progressive who took third with 16%. The challenger has faulted the incumbent for having “mismanaged” the department and argued that he’ll “modernize” it.

Despite his second-place showing, however, UC Berkeley finds that Luna is a blank slate to most voters. Respondents give Luna a 31-11 favorable rating, but a 59% majority says they don’t have an opinion of the challenger. Villanueva, by contrast, is underwater with a 30-39 score, though 31% still weren’t sure how they feel about him.

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

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