The Political Report – October 16, 2022

New York Times: “Heading into the final weeks of the midterm campaigns, Republican candidates locked in close races have twisted themselves into political contortions as they puzzle out how to handle their party’s most powerful figure — and its most controversial — while toggling between the debate stage and the rally stage.”

“The challenge confronting Republican contenders across the country is how to win over moderate and independent swing voters without alienating the party’s base of Trump loyalists — or the former president himself. Mr. Trump often views politics in deeply personal terms and is known to respond in kind to acts of defiance, even when retribution could jeopardize an election for his party.”

Jonathan Bernstein: “Moving from around 37.5% to his current level is a significant change. I’m not quite willing to declare it an iron law of politics, but a 40% approval level is a key marker, with presidents below that level vulnerable to both nomination challenges and third-party candidacies. Below 40%, party actors tend to believe that the president is in big trouble for re-election and that they should consider a different candidate.”

“Why 40%? First of all, there are real costs to attempting to dislodge an incumbent president. Also, political participants tend to be optimists about their own party’s situation. A president at 40% approval is going to have some recent polls out there that are a bit higher, and it’s easy for optimists to cherry-pick those and make excuses for the lower ones…”

“That’s how party actors think. And we’ve seen the results — there were calls in the spring and early summer for Biden to drop out of the 2024 race, but far fewer such comments in the last couple of months.”

Charlie Cook: “A diagram of the direction of the 2022 campaign would look like a zigzag. Democrats faced near gale-force headwinds into June, but that moderated considerably in the first half of the summer, with the most optimistic of Democrats having visions of retaining majorities in both the House and the Senate.”

“In recent weeks, though, those winds in Democrats’ faces have partially returned, almost ensuring that the party will lose its House majority and turning the Senate into something closer to a fair fight, with Democrats still possessing a slight edge. With Vice President Kamala Harris presiding over the Senate, no net change works out just fine for Democrats; Republicans have to actually gain a seat in order to reach majority status.”

AP-NORC poll: “More U.S. adults are now feeling financially vulnerable amid high inflation — a political risk for President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats one month before the midterm elections.”

“Some 46% of people now call their personal financial situation poor, up from 37% in March… That’s a notable downturn at a particularly inopportune moment for Biden, given that the share of Americans who felt positive about their finances had stayed rock steady over the last few years — even during the economic turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

ALASKA CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION REFERENDUM. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy used a Tuesday forum to announce that he will vote “yes” on next month’s referendum to hold a state constitutional convention, which pro-choice activists fear would be used to get rid of Alaska’s abortion rights protections.

The constitutional convention question automatically appears on the ballot every decade in the Last Frontier, and the Anchorage Daily News says that Dunleavy appears to be the first governor in state history to publicly support a “yes” vote. Former Democratic state Rep. Les Gara and former independent Gov. Bill Walker, who are challenging him in the instant-runoff general election, both said at the event they were casting their ballots for “no.”

Voters ten years ago rejected holding a constitutional convention 69-31, but this contest has attracted far more attention especially now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. The Alaska Supreme Court in 1997 recognized that the state’s governing document protects the right to an abortion, and since it takes two-thirds of both the state House and Senate to put a constitutional amendment proposal on the ballot, it would be tough for anti-abortion forces to undo that ruling under the current system. Indeed, while two state Senate committees last year advanced an anti-choice amendment, it failed to receive a floor vote in either chamber.

However, abortion isn’t the only issue ahead of next month’s vote. Convention YES, the group backing a convention, has argued that change is needed because of gridlock in state government. Senate Republicans and their one Democratic ally currently hold a 14-6 supermajority while the House is run by a coalition of Democrats, independents, and a few Republicans, and the two chambers have come into conflict a number of times in recent years.

Perhaps the most high-profile source of tension has been over how much money to deal out from the Permanent Fund dividend, the payment that goes to people who have lived in Alaska for a full year and plan to remain indefinitely. Former Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who chairs Convention YES, declared last month, “Our group will emphasize the fact that in the last decade the execution of the Legislature, the process of the Permanent Fund, the activities of the court system, the failure of the education system, have all created an environment where we need to go back and have a constitutional convention.”

Campbell in particular has also taken an interest in making it easier for conservatives to get their favored judges appointed. Currently, a nonpartisan body nominates several contenders and leaves the governor to choose between them, which limits the influence of Dunleavy and any likeminded chief executives.

Convention YES has in its corner the conservative Alaska Family Council, and several GOP legislators as well as the Alaska Independence Party, which wants a vote on whether the state should secede from the United States. The state GOP, though, failed to pass a motion in July to back the “yes” side.  

The chair of the rival and far better funded Defend Our Constitution, former Attorney General Bruce Botelho, meanwhile likewise argued, “We just don’t know what is in Pandora’s box and there’s no reason to open it.” The group has the backing of a number of organizations and individuals who oppose a convention for diverse reasons including the state Democratic Party, the Alaska Libertarian Party, the Alaska Miners Association, labor groups, the state teachers union, Native leaders, and Vic Fischer, who is the only surviving delegate from the state’s only convention in 1955, which was a few years before statehood itself.

Democrats outside Alaska have also taken an interest in this referendum. Defend Our Constitution has hauled in $2.8 million through the first week of October, with much of that coming from the deep-pocketed progressive group Sixteen Thirty Fund and the National Education Association. Bloomberg writes that the “no” campaign has used its resources to run commercials that warn that a “risky” convention could endanger “Alaskans’ rights to hunting and fishing, privacy, public land access, and guns.” Convention YES, by contrast, has raised just $21,000 so far.

If “yes” overcomes this financial deficit next month, voters would likely select delegates in 2024 for the convention. The draft constitution would need to be approved in a statewide referendum before it could go into effect, a campaign that would likely take place in 2026.

Two other states, Missouri and New Hampshire, also have constitutional convention questions on their ballots, but those elections have attracted far less attention. In Missouri, where the GOP state government has passed a near-total abortion ban, progressives are the ones urging a “yes” vote, but there’s been little organized activity on either side. The New Hampshire campaign, meanwhile, has been an even more low-profile affair.

P.S. A total of 14 states have constitutional convention questions automatically appear on the ballot after a set number of years. Rhode Island, which is one of those states, was the last to vote “yes” in 1984, and voters two years later approved what remains America’s youngest state constitution.

ARIZONA GOVERNOR. “In the homestretch of Arizona’s high-stakes contest for governor, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has refused to debate her Republican opponent, MAGA firebrand Kari Lake, while also maintaining a low-key campaign schedule and facing being outspent on the airwaves in the closing weeks of the race,” NBC News reports.

“As Lake barnstorms the state, some supporters, including Democrats and anti-Lake Republicans — a key constituency Hobbs needs to win over in a state where voter registrations are essentially split into thirds among Democrats, Republicans and independents — have expressed concern.”

ALASKA GOVERNOR. The Associated Press has rounded up the fundraising numbers, which cover the period spanning Aug. 7 to Oct. 7, for all four candidates competing in the instant-runoff contest:

  • Mike Dunleavy (R-inc): $600,000 raised, $920,000 cash-on-hand
  • Bill Walker (I): $460,000 raised, $470,000 cash-on-hand
  • Les Gara (D): $400,000 raised, $520,000 cash-on-hand
  • Charlie Pierce (R): $8,000 raised, $6,000 cash-on-hand

The candidates, unlike in past cycles, are allowed to accept unlimited donations because a federal court last year struck down a 2006 ballot measure that capped donations at $500 a year and the legislature adjourned this spring without adopting a new law. Dunleavy himself took in $100,000 from his brother, while a supporter named Robert Penney threw down the same amount.

NEVADA GOVERNOR. The Nevada Independent reports that Everytown for Gun Safety will spend $3.6 million against Republican Joe Lombardo.

OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR. Republican incumbent Kevin Stitt is airing his first negative ad against Democrat Joy Hofmeister, an offensive that comes as the governor has been on the receiving end of huge amounts of negative spending from outside groups. The spot, like GOP attacks of yesteryear, links Stitt’s opponent to national Democrats, with the narrator arguing Hofmeister would aid Biden in “crushing the oil and gas industry.”

Stitt may have extra incentive to win re-election because, as News 4 reports, he’s spent his entire tenure “working on plans to build a lavish, new, private Governor’s mansion” and that construction will begin in 2023. The station adds that, when it contacted a dozen GOP lawmakers to ask about their thoughts, not one knew about Stitt’s initiative.

The only one who would comment on the record was state Rep. Logan Phillips, who lost renomination earlier this year to a Stitt-backed candidate. Phillips didn’t hide his disgust for his intra-party adversary, saying, “That is absolutely insane. It just shows exactly how out of touch this governor is with the current situation in Oklahoma.” He continued, “We have schools that were held to 0% increase, and now he’s going to build a mansion because the mansion is not fancy enough for him. That is inappropriate.”

OREGON GOVERNOR. Joe Biden will be making a campaign appearance on Friday to help support Oregon Democrat Tina Kotek. Biden has made relatively few campaign appearances for candidates nationally this year, though the unusual dynamic in Oregon, where former Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson’s well-funded campaign as an independent is likely preventing Kotek from consolidating support among Democrats, could make a Biden appearance particularly helpful. Recent polls have found Kotek modestly trailing Republican Christine Drazan with Johnson much further behind but still taking a significant share of the vote.

The GOP firm Clout Research is responsible for one of those surveys, as its new numbers show Drazan leading Kotek 44-38 as Johnson takes 11%; last month it had Drazan up 39-35, with Johnson at 16%. This is the best showing for Drazan in any poll, but there are a few big caveats. Clout asked a few issue questions before the horserace it didn’t pose last time, including, “In a Post-Covid world, do you have more trust – or less trust – in Oregon state leaders and local leaders to make the right decisions to help the state grow and thrive, and to improve your life and your family’s life?”

It then followed up, “If you learned that the candidate you were supporting for govenor [sic] of Oregon had no chance to actually win the election, would you change your vote to a candidate with a chance to win, or would you still support your chosen candidate, even if it means your vote might be wasted?” While respondents said they “would stick with loser” by a 66-34 margin, this might help explain some of the decline for Johnson between the two surveys.

IOWA 2ND CD. Rep. Ashley Hinson is the latest Republican to run a transphobic commercial in the general election, which opens with a local news anchor saying, “The district’s new policy allows students to keep their transgender identity confidential even from their parents.” Hinson jumps in, “Government employees helping kids change gender and keep it secret from their parents? That’s what happens when no one stands up to the radical left.” She continues by saying that Democrat Liz Mathis “supports this madness, I don’t.”

Hinson is one of several Iowa Republicans who have attacked the local Linn-Mar School District, which adopted policies this year designed to protect trans students. Iowa Starting Line’s Nikoel Hytrek recently wrote that the district “allows students to create Gender Support Plans and go by their preferred name and pronouns and potentially to use the school facilities that match their identity.” Hytrek continues, “For students in seventh grade and up, their privacy is prioritized, so a teen’s decision on their gender identity is their own and does not have to be forcibly shared with their family, who in some cases may not approve.”

While multiple trans students told Hytrek these policies helped them feel protected and accepted, they did not appreciate Hinson and her allies targeting the district. The congresswoman, who has two children in the district, isn’t stopping, though, arguing at a recent debate, “I stand for parents. I’m one of you.” Mathis, who argued that Linn-Mar is trying to protect students, responded by saying of the Republican, “She has taken this issue, and she has set fire to it. And it’s just against any parental right that I have ever seen.”

2024. “A top aide to Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton is leaving the senator’s office to expand his political operation, a move that comes as Cotton takes steps to prepare a 2024 presidential bid,” Politico reports.

“Former President Donald Trump and a host of other Republicans are preparing to run for the White House in 2024. But the party’s most prominent megadonor wants nothing to do with the fight,” Politico reports.

“Republican benefactor Miriam Adelson has told would-be GOP presidential candidates that she doesn’t intend to get involved in the party’s 2024 primary… With prospective candidates already maneuvering to win over donors, Adelson’s decision takes off the board the party’s most sought-after funder.”

FLORIDA 27TH CD. The Congressional Leadership Fund’s opening commercial uses a tactic Republicans have deployed against Miami-area Democrats for decades and accuses Democrat Annette Taddeo of “huddling with the Miami chapter of a socialist group that supports the Cuban communist regime,” an allegation that’s accompanied by footage of Fidel Castro and an image of Che Guevara. After on-screen text warns that “Annette Taddeo supports Bernie’s plan,” the narrator warns, “The revolution won’t be televised, but Taddeo’s socialist ideas will.” The commercial ends with a clip of Taddeo herself saying, “This election will determine if we become a socialist dictatorship.”

Florida Politics’ Jesse Scheckner writes that Taddeo and several other local Democrats took part in a 2018 “panel discussion on expanding state and federal health care access” that was hosted by the Miami chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Scheckner adds that the Bernie Sanders “plan” the ad refers to was an effort to expand Medicaid, an idea that Sanders was hardly the first politician to back.

Taddeo herself was an ardent critic of the Vermont senator when he said that not “everything” Castro did was bad. “Saying a murderous dictator wasn’t so bad because of a literacy program is like saying ‘there were very fine people, on both sides,” she said during the 2020 presidential primaries.  

Taddeo, for her part, recently ran a commercial against Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar where she compared the GOP’s efforts to outlaw abortion to the laws communist dictatorships employed to restrict personal freedom. “This election will determine if we remain a beacon of freedom or we become a socialist dictatorship,” Taddeo said in material CLF repurposed for its own ad, though it didn’t include her next line, “MAGA Republican Maria Salazar supports government control over women’s health care decisions, even in cases of rape or incest.”

IDAHO ATTORNEY GENERAL. “Nearly 50 longtime Idaho Republicans, including a former governor and dozens of other past and current officeholders, on Tuesday endorsed the Democratic candidate for attorney general in November’s election,” the AP reports.

KANSAS ATTORNEY GENERAL. “Kris Kobach, the Kansan with a national reputation as a hardline provocateur on immigration and voter ID laws, is trying to rebrand himself as a calmer, steadier voice in his comeback bid for elective office,” the AP reports.

WASHINGTON SECRETARY OF STATE. The Democratic firm Strategies360, working for KOMO News, shows appointed Democratic incumbent Steve Hobbs deadlocked 38-38 with independent Julie Anderson, who beat out several Republicans in the August top-two primary. Hobbs last year became the first Democrat to hold this post since the 1964 elections when Gov. Jay Inslee picked him to succeed Republican Kim Wyman, who resigned to join the Biden administration to oversee election security.

MINNESOTA SECRETARY OF STATE and ATTORNEY GENERAL. SurveyUSA’s new poll for KSTP shows Secretary of State Steve Simon leading election denier Kim Crockett 42-40 as his fellow Democrat, Attorney General Keith Ellison, posts a similar 45-43 edge over Republican Jim Schultz; last month, the firm had Simon and Ellison ahead 42-38 and 46-40, respectively. These new numbers come from a larger poll that put Democratic Gov. Tim Walz ahead 50-40.

The last poll we saw of these two downballot races was a mid-September Mason-Dixon survey that had Simon up 48-40 as Ellison posted just a 46-45 edge. Since then, the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State and iVote have begun airing ads to boost Simon and highlight Crockett’s far-right views.

recent iVote commercial went after the Republican for having made “ugly remarks about Somalis, which got her suspended without pay from her job.” That line is a reference to Crockett’s 2019 comments where she said of Somali immigrants, “These aren’t people coming from Norway, let’s put it that way. These people are very visible.” The narrator then highlights how the state GOP chair had to apologize in May when Crockett showed an antisemitic campaign video to the party convention that depicted Holocaust survivor George Soros as a puppet master controlling Simon, who is also Jewish.

MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL and SECRETARY OF STATE. The downballot portion of EPIC-MRA’s new survey for the Detroit Free Press finds Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel up 43-39 over 2020 election-denying Republican Matt DePerno, which is a drop for Nessel from her 48-39 edge that the pollster found last month. Meanwhile, Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson holds a wider 47-37 over Republican Kristina Karamo, another Big Lie proponent, though that’s also somewhat of a decline from Benson’s 51-37 edge in September. Both Democratic incumbents have routinely led their far-right challengers in polls this cycle.

MICHIGAN GOVERNOR. “Michigan’s face-off on Thursday between incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon was marked by frequent accusations of lying from both sides, as the candidates tried to paint each other as untrustworthy on issues ranging from abortion to schools with just a few weeks left before Election Day,” Politico reports.

The Detroit News has five takeaways.

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

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