The Political Report – December 10, 2022

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has long been one of the most unreliable Democrats in the chamber, announced Friday morning that she was switching her party registration to independent but planned to continue to caucus with the Democrats. Sinema did not say if she would seek re-election in 2024, though she wrote in her piece for the Arizona Republic explaining her move that “there are sure to be others vying for your support. I offer Arizonans something different.”

Frustrated Democrats spent the last year talking about waging a primary challenge to the senator in this swing state, and Rep. Ruben Gallego very much had not ruled out the idea. Sinema said Friday that “criticism from outside entities doesn’t really matter to me,” though several polls also showed her with terrible ratings with Democrats, Republicans, and independents in Arizona.

Sinema’s move comes days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock won his runoff in Georgia, an outcome she says “delighted her.” Assuming Sinema keeps her word then Democrats will still hold a 51-49 majority in the new Senate, though the Arizonan told Politico that, when it comes to determining how many seats each party holds, “I would just suggest that these are not the questions that I’m interested in.”

Sinema is also the first sitting senator to drop their party affiliation since 2009, when Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter left the GOP to become a Democrat. (Specter went on to lose his new party’s primary the next year.) The Arizona Republic says that the last time a member of the state’s delegation switched parties was when Democratic Rep. Bob Stump decided to run for a fourth term as a Republican in 1982; Stump, unlike Specter, was accepted by his new faction and retired in 2002 after two decades in the GOP caucus. 

A new CNN poll finds “only 35% of U.S. adults say that things are going well in the country today, with 65% saying things are going badly. That, however, marks a modest improvement from surveys this summer and fall, when fewer than 3 in 10 said things were going well.”

“The share who now say things are going very badly is 19%, down from 34% in CNN’s polling this summer and 26% in October. The positive shift in mood is most evident among Democrats, 58% of whom now say things are going well, up from 47% in October.”

Indiana U.S. Senator and Governor. Howey Politics writes that former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is indeed serious about waging a potential bid to succeed Sen. Mike Braun, a fellow Republican who is leaving D.C. to run for Daniels’ old job as chief executive. Brian Howey relays that Daniels will “gather his braintrust in Florida” soon after he finishes his stint as president of Purdue University at the end of this year. Several other prominent Republicans are also eyeing Braun’s seat, though, and a Daniels ally acknowledges, “He’s got to make a decision quickly.”

At least one would-be rival may be running before then, as Rep. Jim Banks tells Politico he’ll spend “the next few weeks” deciding on a Senate bid and would have an announcement in early 2023. Daniels himself about a decade ago described Banks, who was a state senator at the time, as the future of the GOP.

A Daniels Senate bid would be a surprise because Politico’s Adam Wren relayed back in June that, while both Daniels and his wife were open to the idea of him running for governor again, neither of them wanted to go to D.C.

There’s no word about any change of heart from Cheri Daniels about them relocating to Washington, but the Purdue president no longer seems at all open to returning to the governor’s office. This week his old boss, George W. Bush, joked about the idea while at an event on campus: Daniels, writes Howey, in response “shook his head no and formed an ‘X’ with his index fingers to an applauding crowd.”

Daniels will be 75 on Election Day, which would make him one of the oldest people to be elected to their first term in the Senate. However, one of his backers told Howey, “He’s too valuable to just be serving on corporate boards.” Daniels himself has bragged about his workout regime, telling Wren over the summer that he’d done 101 pushups that morning.

Daniels has been largely insulated from Trump-era GOP politics during his 10 years leading Purdue, which he likened to a “vow of political celibacy,” and a comeback would test whether he still has any staying power with hardline primary voters. Daniels himself, though, already seemed to be moving in a different direction than his party even before he left elected office.

In 2010 Daniels, who was considering a White House bid at the time, famously said the next GOP president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues” so they could concentrate on solving fiscal issues like the deficit, a pitch that did not go over well with prominent politicians like then-Rep. Mike Pence.

The governor, who signed a bill the next year banning state contracts from going to groups like Planned Parenthood that provided abortion services, was hardly a moderate himself, but he continued to insist that some sort of change was needed. Daniels used his 2011 speech to CPAC to tell the crowd, “The public is increasingly disgusted with a steady diet of defamation.” He also tried to make his truce comments more palatable by declaring,

“Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers. King Pyrrhus is remembered, but his nation disappeared. Winston Churchill set aside his lifetime loathing of Communism in order to fight World War II. Challenged as a hypocrite, he said that when the safety of Britain was at stake, his ‘conscience became a good girl.’ We are at such a moment. I for one have no interest in standing in the wreckage of our Republic saying ‘I told you so’ or ‘You should’ve done it my way.'”

Daniels ended up sitting out the 2012 White House contest and became president of Purdue right after leaving office early the next year. The GOP a few years later would nominate Trump, who very much enjoyed feeding America a “steady diet of defamation” and very much didn’t agree with Daniels that the deficit was “the new red scare” that needed to be immediately addressed.

The Purdue president in August merely said of MAGA’s master, “I don’t talk about him. Haven’t up to this point. It’s not the day to do that.” Daniels, though, didn’t seem particularly happy with the direction of the GOP, telling WTHR, “I think both parties have come to be dominated by their fringe. Extreme left. Extreme right.”

Daniels in a separate interview with Wren that month also described the Jan. 6 attack as, “[a]wful and inexcusable,” though he continued to argue that leftists also have “behaved in a way that’s inimical to free institutions.” Wren used that interview to ask, “Can your brand of conservatism still win in the current environment?” to which Daniels responded, “I don’t know. I’ve been in isolation and quarantine for 10 years. In one way I think about it, maybe I haven’t been infected by the viruses that are running around on both sides.”

The same cannot be said about his potential intra-party rival Banks. The congressman voted to overturn Joe Biden’s win hours after the Jan. 6 attack, and while he initially called for a bipartisan commission to investigate the riot, he quickly reversed himself and told colleagues to oppose the plan. A few months later House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy picked Banks and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan as two of his nominees for the Jan. 6 committee; Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected them both, saying their “statements and actions” disqualified them.

Howey Politics writes that Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch “is expected” to announce sometime next week that she’ll seek the Republican nomination to replace termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Sen. Mike Braun has publicized an internal from Mark It Red that shows him beating Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch 47-10 in a potential 2024 GOP primary, with self-funding businessman Eric Doden at 5%. Doden is the only one of this trio who has announced he’s campaigning in the contest to succeed termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb, though Braun has filed paperwork ahead of what Howey Politics says will be a Dec. 12 kickoff. Howey also recently relayed that Crouch will be entering the race “in mid-December.”

While Howey Politics reported last week that Gov. Eric Holcomb had no interest in running for the Senate seat held by his fellow Republican and potential successor, Mike Braun, the governor himself refused to dismiss the idea when asked Wednesday. Holcomb instead said he was concentrating on the upcoming legislative session, which will last through April, adding, “There’ll be time for me to think about the future in the future. But it would be next to irresponsible for me to take my eye off the job that I’ve got.”

Holcomb actually campaigned for the Hoosier State’s other Senate seat in 2015 after his boss, Dan Coats, retired, but he struggled to raise money or gain traction in the primary. Holcomb ended up dropping out in early 2016 when Gov. Mike Pence appointed him to fill the vacant lieutenant governor’s post, and he later became the party’s successful nominee for governor after Pence himself dropped out to serve as Donald Trump’s running mate.

However, while Holcomb now isn’t closing the door on seeking the job in D.C. he originally campaigned for several years ago, Howey’s sources were skeptical he could even win a GOP primary now. They pointed to Holcomb’s decision to veto a bill to ban trans girls from playing in girls’ sports, which the legislature overrode, as well as some of the pandemic health measures he adopted in 2020. Howey also relayed that Holcomb seems to be “burnishing his credentials for a private sector or sports position once he leaves office in 2025” rather than considering another election.

Nebraska U.S. Senator B. Outgoing Gov. Pete Ricketts confirmed Tuesday that he wants Gov.-elect Jim Pillin to appoint him to succeed their fellow Republican, outgoing Sen. Ben Sasse. Sasse will resign Jan. 8, which is three days after Pillin takes office, and everyone in Nebraska politics seems sure that the new chief executive will select Ricketts: Rep. Don Bacon even responded to Ricketts’ announcement by tweeting, “We look forward to hazing the junior member of the delegation.”

Pillen, who benefited from $1 million in support from Ricketts during his competitive primary, has set a Dec. 23 application deadline for anyone interested in being appointed. Whoever gets the gig will be up in 2024 for a special election for the remaining two years of Sasse’s term at the same time that GOP Sen. Deb Fischer’s seat will be on the ballot for the regularly scheduled contest.

California U.S. Senator. Politico’s Jeremy White reports that three prominent House members are privately considering running for the Senate seat held by fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who has faced serious questions about her cognitive health all year and has not yet announced her 2024 plans: Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, and Katie Porter. It would be a surprise if Lee, who will be 78 on Election Day, ran statewide, though White says she’ll spend the holidays thinking about what to do.

Rep. Adam Schiff previously confirmed that he’s thinking about running in the top-two primary as well; however, the list of potential candidates certainly goes far beyond these four names. Former Sen. Barbara Boxer told White, “They’re starting to call me to get ready for what is a massive campaign―truly, massively expensive and hard-fought,” adding, “It will be a very crowded field.”

Feinstein herself hasn’t announced her own plans, and while it would be a surprise if she sought another term, White writes that “people who know her say she bridles at being backed into a corner.” So far, he says, Feinstein’s would-be successors have “avoided overt positioning,” though California political observers predict they’ll become far more obvious about their intentions before much longer. Boxer herself acknowledged, “Anyone who’s interested in this, with full respect to Sen. Feinstein, should start securing the support they need.”

There’s also the possibility that Feinstein resigns early and allows Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint her successor. The governor two years ago picked Alex Padilla to replace Vice President Kamala Harris but pledged to choose a Black woman if he got to fill the other Senate seat. White notes that Newsom vetted Lee last time and writes she “has long been seen as a top contender to win an appointment” to succeed Feinstein.

West Virginia Governor. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito has endorsed Del. Moore Capito, who just happens to be her son and namesake, in the 2024 Republican primary to succeed termed-out Gov. Jim Justice.

Texas U.S. Senator. The Dallas Morning News’ Gromer Jeffers relays that the idea of Rep. Colin Allred challenging GOP incumbent Ted Cruz “is creating buzz among Democrats,” though there’s no word on Allred’s level of interest.

Louisiana Governor. Republican Sen. John Kennedy said Tuesday about his timeline for deciding on a bid for governor, “I’m trying to let everything settle in my gut, and it’s just a hard decision. If it is after the first of the year, it won’t be very far after the first of the year.”

State Secretary of Transportation Shawn Wilson said Wednesday that he’d formed an exploratory committee for a potential bid to succeed his boss and fellow Democrat, termed-out Gov. John Bel Edwards. Wilson, who would be the first African American elected statewide since Reconstruction, added that he plans to decide by early next year if he’ll run.

Pennsylvania U.S. Senator. The Associated Press’ Marc Levy writes that some Republicans have talked about the idea of state Treasurer Stacy Garrity running against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, though there’s no word if she’s interested in the idea. Garrity was elected statewide in 2020 when she unseated Democratic incumbent Joseph Torsella 49-48 even as Joe Biden was pulling off his own close win.

For now, though, almost all the attention has surrounded self-funder Dave McCormick, who is reportedly considering another try months after losing the primary for the other Senate seat to Mehmet Oz. Levy says that some Republicans believe “the Senate field will be frozen until McCormick makes up his mind,” though not everyone is convinced he’d be a sure bet to capture the nomination this time around.

Any wait could last a while: McCormick is set to publish a book in March, and many politicians-turned-authors promote their tomes in order to get some attention before a campaign launch.

“Donald Trump’s attacks on fellow Republican David McCormick contributed to the former hedge fund manager’s loss in Pennsylvania’s Senate primary. Now, as McCormick considers running again for the Senate, Trump’s derision may not be such a liability,” the AP reports.

“While McCormick, 57, has not said whether he will challenge three-term Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in 2024, he is taking steps signaling a campaign may be in the works, including attending recent receptions with influential GOP strategists and donors. McCormick also plans to publish a book in March — Superpower in Peril: A Battle Plan to Renew America — that could raise his profile.”

New Hampshire State House and Secretary of State. The new members of New Hampshire’s state House convened for the first time on Wednesday and voted to hold a special election for Strafford District 8 (usually referred to locally as Rochester Ward 4), a replay of the November contest that ended in a tie between Democratic state Rep. Chuck Grassie and Republican challenger David Walker. The election hasn’t been scheduled yet, but Grassie said he believes it will take place on Feb. 21. With this seat vacant, the GOP has a tiny 201-198 edge in the gigantic 400-person chamber.

The vote came about shortly after the state GOP fired off a premature tweet congratulating “Rep. David Walker,” which set off speculation that the chamber’s narrow GOP majority would instead try to seat him as the winner despite the tie. That errant tweet may, however, have been fatal to such a gambit: As a spokesperson for the state Democratic Party argued, “There’s a very real case to be made that accidentally tweeting this too early derailed the entire @NHGOP strategy to take this seat. Incredible.” Still, the special almost didn’t happen, as supporters defeated a motion to halt consideration of the resolution calling for a special election by just a 193-187 margin.

Republicans, though, had much more luck earlier in the day on other key votes, beginning with the speakership election that saw Sherman Packard win another term 205-184; a total of 10 Democrats were absent while a few others sided with the GOP. Then, by a 237-175 margin, lawmakers also chose to keep Republican Secretary of State David Scanlan in his post and turned aside former Democratic state Sen. Melanie Levesque in a vote in which the state Senate (where Republicans hold a 14-10 advantage) also got to participate.

Scanlan became New Hampshire’s chief elections official early this year when incumbent Bill Gardner, who had held the post since 1976, resigned and transferred his powers to his deputy. (Gardner was nominally a Democrat but in recent years had regularly sided with the GOP on voting matters.) Scanlan will be up for another two-year term after the 2024 elections.

The votes for both House speaker and secretary of state were conducted via secret ballot, making it difficult for Democrats to punish deserters. However, at least one Democrat, state Sen. Lou D’Alessandro, was open in his support for Scanlan, just as he was for Gardner four years ago.

“Democrats are trying to stop outside groups from forming a bipartisan presidential ticket in 2024, warning voters that the effort is political malpractice,” Axios reports.

“A third party could hand the presidency to Donald Trump, warns a new report from Third Way.”

From the report: “If a third-party candidate blew past historic precedent and managed to win enough Electoral Votes to keep any candidate from getting to 270, then the outcome would be decided in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans and where Donald Trump would prevail.”

Pennsylvania State House. Democratic state Rep. Joanna McClinton was sworn in as majority leader of the Pennsylvania state House on Wednesday and immediately scheduled special elections in three vacant seats held by her party, but Republicans called the moves “illegal” and one unnamed “top GOP source” suggested to Spotlight PA’s Stephen Caruso that the dispute might end up in court.

At issue is uncertainty over which side can—for the moment—claim the majority. Democrats won 102 seats in November compared to 101 for the GOP, but the Democrats’ total included state Rep. Tony DeLuca, who died a month before the election yet still won in a landslide. On Wednesday, two more House Democrats also vacated their positions because they both won higher office last month: Summer Lee will soon represent Pennsylvania’s 12th District in Congress while Austin Davis will become lieutenant governor.

That leaves Republicans with a nominal 101-99 advantage, though DeLuca, Lee, and Davis are all likely to be succeeded by fellow Democrats, since all three represented neighboring districts in the Pittsburgh area that respectively would have voted for Joe Biden by 26, 62, and 17 points. The question is when the necessary special elections will take place, and who’s in charge until then.

Outgoing Republican Speaker Bryan Cutler sought to set the special for DeLuca’s seat on Nov. 30—the last day of the 2022 legislative session—for Feb. 7, but Democrats said that he lacked the authority to order an election that wouldn’t take place until the next session. The Department of State (which is run by an appointee of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf) agreed and rejected the writ, saying Cutler had acted prematurely since DeLuca’s seat did not actually become vacant until Dec. 1.

In turn, McClinton, who is set to replace Cutler as speaker next year, issued her own order scheduling the specials for all three seats, though she also chose that same date of Feb. 7. (Lee and Davis resigned after Cutler announced his intentions for the DeLuca race.) So far, however, Republicans don’t appear to have filed a lawsuit.

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

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