The Political Report – December 9, 2022

“Donald Trump’s support in the Republican Party has not collapsed, and perhaps it never will. But a look at the major polls taken since Election Day suggests that the ice is shifting beneath his feet,” the New York Times reports.

“The data also shows Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida gaining ground in hypothetical 2024 matchups, even though he has yet to declare his intentions.”

“And it underscores the careful line any presidential hopeful must walk with Republican voters; whatever they might think about Trump’s third bid for the White House, there’s little evidence of a clear anti-Trump majority that wants to repudiate him altogether.”

“Trump still controls the Republican Party with everyone I talk to, whether it’s people in county parties or just conservatives at the bar or guys at the gym. People are ignoring the media, the influencers, and it’s just Trump’s to lose. South Carolina is Trump country. People like Trump a lot here. And they like DeSantis. They just think he’s the future, but Trump is the present.”— GOP strategist Wes Donahue, quoted by NBC News.

New York Times: “In state after state, the final turnout data shows that registered Republicans turned out at a higher rate — and in some places a much higher rate — than registered Democrats, including in many of the states where Republicans were dealt some of their most embarrassing losses.”

“Instead, high-profile Republicans like Herschel Walker in Georgia or Blake Masters in Arizona lost because Republican-leaning voters decided to cast ballots for Democrats.”

New York Times: “It quickly had Republican fingers pointing every which way: at Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader accused by detractors of abandoning or belittling embattled Republican Senate candidates; at Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who many feel badly mismanaged the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm; and at Mr. Walker himself, for hiding and lying about his past, only to see the details stream out steadily over the course of his campaign.”

“But for a handful of Republicans, newly emboldened by re-election or retirement to say so aloud, the biggest culprit was Mr. Trump. In increasingly biting terms, they slammed him for promoting flawed candidates, including Mr. Walker, dividing his party and turning many swing voters against the G.O.P. for the third election cycle in a row.”

“My greatest fear is that we’re going to end up in a 1964 division… I can imagine a Trump-anti-Trump war over the next two years that just guarantees Biden’s re-election in a landslide and guarantees that Democrats control everything.”— Newt Gingrich, quoted by the New York Times.

Sean Hannity opened his Fox News show by calling on Republicans to use all legal means available to exercise their right to vote.

Said Hannity: “It’s time now for Republicans to start paying a little bit of attention and embracing the voting system that we have and not the one that they wish that they had. They need to accept the rules as they are, not as they want them to be.”

He added: “This is the system. This is the current reality. Do I think it’s the best system? No, I think it’s bad. Now, Democrats have embraced the system. Republicans have not – to their own detriment. They ignore this reality.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General: The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Chris Brennan takes a look at what could be a crowded 2024 contest to serve as attorney general of this major swing state, a post that Democrat Josh Shapiro will hold until he resigns to become governor. Shapiro will be able to nominate a successor for the GOP-led state Senate to approve, but there’s little question that the new attorney general will be someone who agrees to not run in two years.

On the Democratic side, former state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale tells Brennan that he’s interested in running; DePasquale was last on the ballot in 2020 when he lost to far-right Rep. Scott Perry 53-47 in the Harrisburg-based 10th District. The paper also reports that former Philadelphia Public Defender Keir Bradford-Grey, Bucks County Solicitor Joe Khan, and state Rep. Jared Solomon are all thinking about it. A PAC began fundraising for Bradford-Grey all the way back in April, though she hasn’t publicly committed to anything.

Finally, Brennan mentions outgoing Rep. Conor Lamb, who lost this year’s Senate primary to John Fetterman, as a possibility. Lamb recently drew attention when he announced he had accepted a job at a prominent law firm in Philadelphia, which is at the opposite side of the commonwealth from his suburban Pittsburgh base, while adding, “I hope to return to public service one day, perhaps soon.” Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, who is running for re-election in 2023, is also name-dropped as a possible contender.

On the Republican corner, Brennan relays that former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain being recruited to run for attorney general by unnamed people even though his last bid went very badly. McSwain initially looked like a strong candidate for governor this year before Donald Trump castigated his appointee for not doing enough to advance the Big Lie and urged Republicans not to vote for him. McSwain’s main ally, conservative billionaire Jeff Yass, later urged him to drop out in order to stop QAnon ally Doug Mastriano, but he didn’t listen: McSwain took a distant third with just 16%, while Shapiro went on to beat Mastriano in a landslide.

Another Republican, state Rep. Craig Williams, says he’s considering even though he’s focused right now on being an impeachment manager as his party tries to remove Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner from office. (Solomon will be one of the Democrats defending Krasner at his January trial before the state Senate.) Brennan also mentions as possibilities former U.S. Attorney Scott Brady; state Rep. Natalie Mihalek; York County District Attorney David Sunday; and Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli.

The attorney general became an elected office in 1980, and Republicans had an iron grip on the job until Democrat Kathleen Kane finally broke their streak in 2012. Kane resigned in disgrace four years later, but Shapiro held the seat for his party even as Donald Trump was narrowly carrying the state and prevailed again in 2020.

Montana Redistricting: Montana’s bipartisan redistricting commission gave its approval to a new map for the state House on Thursday, with the panel’s tiebreaking independent member voting in favor of a proposal put forth by Democratic commissioners while the body’s two Republicans voted against it. While Republicans are still all but assured of retaining control of the 100-member House, Democrats will have a strong chance of rolling back the GOP’s supermajority, which currently stands at 68 seats. (An interactive version of the plan can be found on Dave’s Redistricting App.)

The map isn’t quite done yet, however: Members of the public will now have the chance to offer feedback, which the commission may use to make further tweaks. Once that task is complete, the panel will work on a map for the upper chamber, which will involve uniting pairs of House districts to create single Senate districts (a process known as “nesting“). The commission will then vote to send final maps to lawmakers, who will have 30 days to propose additional adjustments. Commissioners, however, are not obligated to make any revisions based on comments from legislators.

Once all of this is done, Montana will finally become the last state to finish regular redistricting this decade. It waited so long due to arcane provisions in its state constitution, a delay that very likely was unconstitutional. Despite this apparent violation of the “one person, one vote” doctrine, no one brought a lawsuit challenging these procedures prior to the 2022 elections, so they remained in place. However, in the coming decade, such a challenge could very well succeed.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Two Democrats and one Republican have so far announced that they’ll run in next year’s statewide race for a 10-year term on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which will be a high-stakes contest even though the Democratic majority on the seven-member body is not at risk. The post these candidates are running for became vacant in September when Chief Justice Max Baer died at the age of 74 just months before he was to retire because of mandatory age limits.

Baer’s absence was felt just before Election Day when one Democratic justice, Kevin Dougherty, sided with his two GOP colleagues against the remaining three Democratic members in a high-profile case over whether to count mail-in ballots that arrived on time but had missing or incorrect dates. This deadlock meant that election authorities were required to “segregate and preserve any ballots contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes,” a decision that Democrats feared could cost them crucial contests.

Democrats, after scrambling to encourage any impacted voters to cast new votes (one woman even immediately flew home from Colorado at her own expense to make sure she would “not be silenced by voter suppression”), got something of a reprieve when Senate nominee John Fetterman and other Democrats pulled off decisive wins. Still, the ruling was a troubling reminder that, even with a 4-2 Democratic edge on the state’s highest court, Republicans could still have their way on major cases.

Baer’s seat still remains unfilled, since either outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf or his successor, fellow Democrat Josh Shapiro, would need to have his nominee confirmed by the GOP-run state Senate. It’s not clear whether Republicans would assent to anyone chosen by Wolf or Shapiro, though any acceptable appointee would almost certainly be someone who agreed not to run next year.

That likely explains why two Democratic members of the Superior Court from opposite sides of the state, Beaver County’s Deborah Kunselman and Philadelphia’s Daniel McCaffery, have already launched campaigns ahead of the May primary. (The Superior Court is one of two intermediate appellate courts in the state and hears most appeals.) The only Republican in the running right now is Montgomery County President Judge Carolyn Carluccio. A win would be a boon to Republicans but, barring more unexpected vacancies, the soonest they could actually retake the majority would be 2025.

Philadelphia Mayor: State Rep. Amen Brown revealed Friday that he’d enter the May Democratic primary for mayor of Philadelphia … at a New York City cigar bar full of several prominent Republicans. Brown’s announcement was actually made by prominent developer Marty Burger, who has reportedly predicted the state representative will have $5 million in super PAC support, at the Pennsylvania Society’s annual Manhattan gathering.  

Brown himself delivered his pitch to an actual smoke-filled room alongside Burger to a gathering that the Philadelphia Inquirer writes included George Bochetto, a failed 2020 U.S. Senate candidate who next month will serve as the state House Republicans’ attorney as they try to remove Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner from office; former state GOP chair Val DiGiorgio; and former GOP state House Speaker John Perzel. The paper notes that the informal kickoff was also attended by former Democratic state Sen. Vince Fumo who, like Perzel, served time in prison after being convicted of corruption charges.

The paper previously noted that Brown, who was first elected in 2020, “angered progressives as a rookie by introducing legislation for new mandatory-minimum jail sentences for some gun crimes.” The state representative’s re-election campaign faced a big obstacle this year when a trio of voters tried to get him thrown off the ballot for failing to meet residence requirements and not disclosing mandatory information about his finances, but a court ruled that Brown could remain listed because he “merely committed a mistake resulting from the lackadaisical attitude he routinely displays toward serious matters.”

Brown went on to win renomination just 40-38 after he received support from a super PAC funded by conservative mega donor Jeff Yass. Brown said last month that, while “many people have reached out to me about my political aspirations and future in government and city politics,” Yass isn’t one of them.

Brown is the ninth notable Democrat to join the primary to succeed termed-out Mayor Jim Kenney, and it’s possible he’ll be the last. That’s because, as we recently wrote, campaign donation limits reset at the start of each calendar year, so anyone who jumps in after Dec. 31 would miss out on the chance to take in contributions in 2022. It only takes a simple plurality to win the Democratic nod in a dark blue city that last elected a Republican mayor in 1947.

Wisconsin State Senate: State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, an election conspiracy theorist who was recently banned from attending the GOP caucus’ private meetings after she supported an unsuccessful primary challenge to Speaker Robin Vos, announced Monday that she would compete in the special election to succeed former Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling.

Brandtjen will take on fellow state Rep. Dan Knodl, who also represents one-third of this constituency (Wisconsin “nests” three Assembly districts in each Senate district), in the Feb. 21 partisan primary. The Democrat who serves the balance of Darling’s old 8th District, state Rep. Deb Andraca, is not running, though prospective contenders have until Jan. 3 to submit their paperwork. The general election will be April 4, which is the same day as the statewide contest for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Indiana Governor: Former state Education Superintendent Jennifer McCormick says she could decide in “early 2023” whether to seek the Democratic nomination for governor. McCormick, a former Republican who left the party in 2021, formed an exploratory committee last month.

On the Republican side, Politico relays that Attorney General Todd Rokita is indeed thinking about running to succeed termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb in addition to the Senate seat that Mike Braun is giving up to run for governor. We’ve gotten some decidedly mixed signals about what Rokita is leaning toward doing over the last few weeks: Unnamed insiders predicted to the Indianapolis Star that Rokita would just seek re-election rather than seek a promotion, while Howey Politics’ sources suggested that the attorney general was interested in campaigning to succeed Braun.

We still haven’t heard anything from Rokita himself, though, to shed some light on his thinking. Rokita, who previously served four terms in the House, ran for the Senate in 2018 but took second to Braun in the primary.

IN-Sen, MT-Sen, OH-Sen: Politico surveys some of the prospective GOP Senate candidates and gives us some new information about a few.

The story reports that unnamed Republicans in Indiana are “looking at” fielding Jennifer-Ruth Green, an Air Force veteran who was the party’s nominee last month for the 1st District, for the open Senate seat. There’s no word yet if Green, who lost an expensive contest to Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan 53-47, is interested in a statewide bid herself.

Over in Montana, Rep.-elect Ryan Zinke says of a potential campaign against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, “I’m gonna make the decision after we get this budget through … If it happens, it happens.” Zinke didn’t say anything more of his timeline except, “There’s plenty of time.”

Finally, Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson expressed interest in taking on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown by saying, “Once we get our momentum going there [in the House], I do plan to take a look at it.” Davidson, a hardliner who was elected in 2016 to replace former Speaker John Boehner, spent months last year flirting with a primary challenge to Gov. Mike DeWine only to eventually pass on the idea.

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

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