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The Political Report – December 16, 2022

A new Monmouth poll finds just 18% of Americans expect that GOP control of the House will change Washington for the better.  Another 21% say it will change for the worse, but 51% say much won’t change because of the switch in House leadership.

A new Quinnipiac poll finds Donald Trump with a 31% favorable rating, while 59% have an unfavorable opinion of him — the lowest favorability rating he’s received since July 2015.

Among Republican voters, 70% have a favorable opinion of Trump, while 20% have an unfavorable opinion of him —  the lowest since March 2016.

Inside Elections: “Ultimately, not only did a Red Wave fail to materialize, but Republicans barely cleared the lowest of bars they had set for themselves at the beginning of the cycle: winning back the House of Representatives.”

“The GOP needed a net gain of five seats to win back the majority. While the party did net nine seats, in the five closest GOP wins in the country, the victorious Republican candidates outpaced their Democratic opponents by a combined 6,670 votes.”

This really underscores just how narrow the new Republican majority in the House really is.

We’ve seen two new polls this week that show Donald Trump trailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

Wall Street Journal poll shows DeSantis leading Trump, 52% to 38%.

USA Today poll shows DeSantis over Trump, 56% to 33%.

The key thing to note is that Trump only trails DeSantis if you offer Republican voters just those two choice. Trump still leads the GOP field if you include other potential candidates. And there could easily be a half-dozen or more candidates.

If that reminds you of what happened in 2016, you’re not wrong. Trump won the Republican presidential nomination even though he never got the majority of Republican voters.

But there is one important difference, as Steve Shepard notes: DeSantis is a much stronger candidate than anyone Trump faced in the primaries in 2016.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: “Surely there’s some political calculation behind Sinema’s decision—maybe a conviction that she stands a better chance at winning reëlection as a third-party candidate than as a Democrat—but the timing is especially confusing: mainstream Democratic candidates in Arizona won races for both governor and senator last month, and running as a Democrat right now puts you in a better position in Arizona than it has in a very long time.”

“But beneath the basic Sinema-ness of her exit—the faintly lunar atmosphere of self-actualization combined with spry political opportunism—there is a political mystery here. Why is she the only one?”

John Podhoretz: “The defeat of the Republican senatorial candidate Herschel Walker in a December runoff election in Georgia closes the circle on the most decisive rejection of the influence of any individual politician in our lifetimes. That politician is not Herschel Walker but Donald Trump. The question that now faces the Republican Party is whether its toxic romance with Trump will poison the well for the GOP for a generation or whether it can, as they say in the literature of addiction and recovery, break the cycle of abuse and begin to heal.”

“What happened in Georgia from Election Night in November 2020 until the runoff Walker lost in December 2022 was the perfect distillation of what happened across the country during the same period inside the party Trump has commandeered for his own personal use.”

Kentucky Governor. The biggest question looming over next year’s Republican primary is whether former Gov. Matt Bevin gets in before filing closes on Jan. 6, and at least one would-be rival believes the answer will be yes. State Auditor Mike Harmon, who was the first notable candidate to launch a bid against Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear, tells the Lexington Herald Leader he’s 90-to-95% sure Bevin runs, explaining, “Multiple times I’ve heard people say he’s polling.”

Harmon continued, “I can’t say for sure ‘oh, yes, he’s getting in.’ But I’ve had some conversations with different people and it’s my belief he’s going to.” We could be in suspense for a while longer: Bevin in 2015 launched his ultimately successful bid on the very last day possible, and he only kicked off his failed 2019 re-election campaign days before the deadline.

If Bevin does dive in, he would be joining a crowded contest where it takes just a simple plurality to win the nomination. There’s no obvious frontrunner, but there are arguably two candidates who may qualify for that distinction: Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who has Donald Trump’s endorsement, and self-funder Kelly Craft, who is Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations. In addition to Harmon the field also includes state Rep. Savannah Maddox, who is an ally of Rep. Thomas Massie; state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles; and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck.

There was some speculation that the legislature could pass a bill to require primary candidates win at least 40% to avoid a runoff, which was the law until 2008, but key lawmakers tell the Herald Leader there’s no real energy behind this idea. “We did not talk about it at the (House GOP caucus) retreat, and I’m the chairman of [the] elections committee,” said state Rep. Kevin Bratcher.

Louisiana Governor. Attorney General Jeff Landry on Wednesday unveiled an endorsement from Rep. Clay Higgins, a fellow far-right politician with a base in Acadiana, for next year’s all-party primary. Higgins is the first member of the state’s congressional delegation to take sides as everyone waits to see if another Republican, Sen. John Kennedy, enters the contest next month. Another one of his colleagues, Rep. Garret Graves, also has been considering running for governor, though he hasn’t shown much obvious interest since he learned he’d be in the majority.

Arizona U.S. Senator. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) told CBS News that “some Democratic senators are privately urging him to run against Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who announced last week that she would leave the Democratic Party and become an independent.”

Said Gallego: “There have been some senators that have encouraged me to run. There are some senators, some of Sen. Sinema’s colleagues, that are encouraging me to run.”

“Gallego did not identify the senators who have prodded him to jump into the Senate race, but he believes those senators would ‘absolutely’ support him if he decides to launch a Senate bid next year.”

Washington Governor. Democratic incumbent Jay Inslee has yet to say if he’ll seek a fourth term as governor two years from now, though the Seattle Times notes that he has $1.5 million on hand if he goes for it.

Inslee’s 2020 win made him the Evergreen State’s first three-term chief executive since Republican Dan Evans secured re-election in 1972, but no one has ever served longer than that. The paper wrote back in September that plenty of Democrats doubted Inslee would try to make history, though his campaign consultant didn’t rule it out at the time.

Indiana Governor. Both Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Sen. Mike Braun announced Monday that they were entering the 2024 primary to succeed their fellow Republican, termed-out Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. The two join self-funder Eric Doden, a former Indiana Economic Development Corporation president who jumped in all the way back in May of 2021, in a nomination fight that could still grow further.

Politico’s Adam Wren reports that Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers, whose name we hadn’t previously heard mentioned, is considering seeking the top job; state Attorney General Todd Rokita and former Rep. Trey Hollingsworth also could campaign for either governor or to replace Braun in the Senate. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels, however, told Wren he’s “disinclined” to seek the governorship again, though he’s reportedly eyeing the Senate race.

We’ll start with a look at Crouch, who made her announcement hours before Braun. But the lieutenant governor, who would be the first woman to lead the Hoosier State, has been preparing for this campaign for years, and she predicts she’ll finish 2022 with $3 million on hand. She also says that she won’t self-fund, explaining that she’d financed her failed 1986 bid for Vanderburgh County auditor with money she didn’t have. “If I cannot convince Hoosiers that I am a good investment for them and for Indiana, then I don’t deserve to win,” she declared.

Crouch bounced back from that loss, which is her only electoral defeat, by winning the auditor’s job in 1994, and she went on to win more campaigns in the Evansville area. She was serving as a state House member in 2013 when then-Gov. Mike Pence appointed her state auditor months after his first choice abruptly resigned, and Crouch easily claimed a full term the next year. Her next promotion came in 2016 after party leaders chose Holcomb as the new gubernatorial nominee when Pence dropped out to become Trump’s running mate: Holcomb picked Crouch as his candidate for lieutenant governor, and their ticket went on to win in the fall.

Holcomb himself hasn’t said who he’d prefer to succeed him, but Indiana Legislative Insight editor Ed Feigenbaum argues that Crouch’s association with her boss could be a liability in a primary. Holcomb, as Howey Politics recently noted, has pissed off members of the party’s base over his 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. However, Feigenbaum argues Crouch could benefit if several hardliners run in the 2024 primary.

Braun, who supported NRSC chair Rick Scott’s failed effort to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, conversely may be a better fit for the party’s Trump-era electorate. The senator also made the case he’d be the clear frontrunner last week when he released an internal last week from Mark It Red showing him dispatching Crouch 47-10 in a primary, with Doden at 5%.

In a surprise, though, Braun said Monday that he would also not be self-funding even though he’d poured millions into his successful 2018 primary bid for the Senate seat he now holds, telling Wren he couldn’t finance his campaign even if he wanted to. It’s not clear why Braun, who is one of the richest members of Congress, feels he can’t repeat the strategy that propelled him to the nomination last time.

While Braun’s victory over Democratic Sen. Mike Donnelly instantly made him one of the Hoosier State’s most prominent politicians, he faces one lingering problem from that four-year-old contest: In June, an FEC audit concluded that he’d overstated how much he’d both raised and spent by $6 million, though it dropped an earlier and more serious claim alleging he’d taken $8.5 million in “apparent prohibited loans and lines of credit.” The FEC has not announced any penalties, and Braun is contesting the findings.

While retiring Rep. Trey Hollingsworth has hinted that he’s interested in campaigning for governor, one would-be Republican primary rival is going around saying he’ll instead have the congressman’s support. Politico’s Adam Wren overheard Sen. Mike Braun on Tuesday night telling other Hoosier State notables, “Trey is gonna support me. I had a conversation with him first.” While there’s also been talk that Hollingsworth could run for the Senate, Braun also said he might give him a place in his administration should he win.  

Montana U.S. Senator. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said Sunday he’d talk with his family “over the holidays” about whether he should seek a fourth term. The incumbent sounded like he anticipated running again, though, declaring, “People are going to come after me. They’ve come after me in the past, but that’s politics. And we’ll get through it and then hopefully be successful come November of 2024.”

Pennsylvania State House. Republican Bryan Cutler, whose term as speaker ended last month, filed a lawsuit last week arguing that Democrat Joanna McClinton did not have the authority to schedule special elections for a trio of Democratic-held state House districts. Cutler then held a swearing-in ceremony on Monday for the post of majority leader even though he says he doesn’t plan to put his name forward as speaker when the new legislature convenes on Jan. 3, something he says he did in response to McClinton getting sworn in for that same position last week.

At issue is which side can—at least for now—claim the majority. Democrats won 102 seats in November compared to 101 for the GOP, but only 99 of those Democrats will be taking the oath next month. That’s because state Rep. Tony DeLuca was re-elected a month after he died, while fellow Pittsburgh-area Democrats Summer Lee and Austin Davis resigned last week to prepare to assume their new roles as congresswoman and lieutenant governor, respectively.

No one can become speaker until the full chamber holds a vote in January, so until then the majority leader is the presiding officer who is tasked with scheduling any special elections. McClinton says she’s the majority leader because her party won the most seats on Nov. 8, and she picked Feb. 7 as the date for all three contests. Cutler, though, insists he’s in charge because Republicans will have more members come Jan. 3.

But regardless of how this dispute gets resolved, Democrats are favored to keep these seats since Joe Biden decisively carried all three districts. The most competitive is Davis’ HD-35, which supported the president 58-41; Biden also won DeLuca’s HD-32 and Lee’s HD-34 by margins of 62-36 and 80-19, respectively. With the stakes this high, though, GOP groups are looking at getting involved: The head of Commonwealth Leaders Fund, which is funded by Republican megadonor Jeff Yass, says his group is “evaluating opportunities.”

Allegheny County election officials say they plan to hold a trio of special elections in Democratic-held state House seats on Feb. 7, declaring, “While we await action by the Court, we will move forward with preparation and other work necessary to conduct the special elections, including confirming polling locations, scheduling poll workers and other administrative work.”

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

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