The Political Report – January 7, 2023

As House Republicans are in chaos, President Biden’s average approval rating ticked up to its highest level — 43.5% — in more than a year.

Gallup: “Coming off several challenging years, Americans enter 2023 with a mostly gloomy outlook for the U.S. as majorities predict negative conditions in 12 of 13 economic, political, societal and international arenas.”

Evan Coren: “In the 2022 midterms a swing of only 6,647 votes combined across the closest House races would have resulted in a Democratic majority in the House.”

“That is 6,647 votes out of over 107 million votes cast in the 2022 midterm. Meaning a movement of 0.006% of votes would have changed control of the House.”

“Due to those 6,647 vote we ended up with the current House Republican majority that is unable to unite around a Speaker.”

MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR. It remains to be seen if Gov. Tate Reeves will face serious intra-party opposition in the August Republican primary, but one familiar foe sounds like he very much wants to give it a shot. Former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., who lost the 2019 nomination to Reeves, says he’s “strongly considering” a rematch ahead of the Feb. 1 filing deadline. A few other Magnolia State notables, as we’ll discuss, also have made noises about a primary challenge, though no one has committed to anything yet.

Reeves last time beat Waller, who is the son and namesake of a Democratic governor from the 1970s54-46 after a runoff campaign where Reeves used his massive financial advantage to run ad after ad portraying his opponent as too liberal. Reeves in particular went after the former justice for supporting a gas tax to repair the state’s damaged infrastructure and backing Medicaid expansion. Waller was pissed with the “misrepresentations of my positions” and refused to endorse his party’s nominee in the general election, though that wasn’t enough to stop Reeves from defeating Democratic foe Jim Hood 52-47 in the contest to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. Phil Bryant.

Waller told Mississippi Today this week, “In a lot of ways, the issues I ran on in 2019 are more dire, more pronounced now. So many people in this state are hurting or frustrated, and the response [from the governor] just isn’t there.” Waller also said that, despite rumors he was thinking about campaigning as an independent, he’d seek the Republican nomination again if he ran.

Waller also brought up a major scandal that has roiled Mississippi involving the misuse of welfare money during the Bryant administration. Perhaps most notably, text messages show that Bryant advised retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre how to get the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to fund his proposed volleyball arena at the University of Southern Mississippi. Other messages show that Favre spoke to Reeves about getting state money for the project during the new governor’s first weeks in office.

Reeves, writes Mississippi Today, also “faced a barrage of criticism from voters after his office abruptly fired the attorney who was investigating the breadth of the misspending.” Waller argued that this scandal shows that “[c]orruption is so apparent and out of control, and most Mississippians I know are sick of it … Money intended for poverty-stricken children and others being diverted to cronies and personal friends is outrageous.”

Waller isn’t the only Republican who has talked about running. State House Speaker Philip Gunn reportedly has been thinking about taking on the governor for years, and he once again didn’t rule out anything in November when he announced he would not seek re-election to the legislature. Secretary of State Michael Watson also confirmed just before Christmas that he was considering a bid for the top job. A runoff would take place if no one managed to win a majority of the vote in the first round of the primary.

So, why does Reeves have so many fellow Republicans at least considering taking him on? The incumbent, whom longtime political analyst Sam Hall once said “notoriously lacks strong people skills,” has a long history of feuding with powerful members of his party including Gunn, and that very much hasn’t changed since he won the governorship.

However, even Reeves’ many intra-party critics acknowledge that he will have access to plenty of money. The governor himself has also positioned himself as a hard-right anti-abortion crusader, saying at his kickoff Tuesday, “We had the opportunity to accomplish what I believe to be the most significant win in the conservative movement in my lifetime. Mississippi led the way in overturning Roe v. Wade.”

The only notable Democrat who has been seriously talked about in this dark red state is Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, who once again didn’t rule out the idea this week. “I can tell you this, whatever I do next in my career will continue to be focused on improving the lives of average Mississippians who can’t write a $1,000 campaign check, and who need state officials with some real backbone to stand up for them, their families and their communities,” said the commissioner.

VIRGINIA STATE SENATE. Next week we have the special election to succeed Republican Jen Kiggans, who gave up her state Senate seat after unseating Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria in November, and new campaign finance reports show both candidates bringing in hefty amounts. Republican Kevin Adams outraised Democrat Aaron Rouse by a small $990,000 to $980,000 margin through Dec. 29, while Rouse enjoyed a $210,000 to $150,000 cash-on-hand advantage.

The special will take place under the old lines for the 7th District, a Virginia Beach-based constituency that Joe Biden won 54-44 but Republican Glenn Youngkin carried 52-48 in the 2021 governor’s race.

INDIANA GOVERNOR. While we’ll need to wait until Jan. 18 for campaign finance reports for all the 2024 hopefuls, GOP Sen. Mike Braun announced he raised $1.5 million during the final 40 days of 2022 and transferred that same amount from his Senate campaign. Braun, who has pledged not to self-fund, says he finished the year with $2.9 million on hand.

Businessman Eric Doden, who launched in 2021, also says he has $2.8 million available after bringing in a total of $3.4 million through the end of last year, though there aren’t any other details yet to show if that includes his own money. The third declared Republican contender, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, has not revealed her new numbers yet, though she already had $2.5 million on hand at the end of June.

CHICAGO MAYOR. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is airing a spot attacking one of her eight rivals, Rep. Chuy Garcia, as an ally of “crypto crooks” and “indicted pols” in what Politico says is the first negative TV ad from anyone ahead of the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary. The commercial comes as AdImpact reports that the incumbent has reserved about $2.3 million on advertising, which represents 85% of the total that’s been deployed so far.

Lightfoot’s spot features animations of Garcia speaking with former crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, who is shown with an “INDICTED” sign hanging around his neck, as the narrator declares, “Chuy secretly talked with this crypto crook who stole his customer’s life savings, then spent a fortune to re-elect Garcia.” (Bankman-Fried, whom we don’t believe has been directly attacked in a TV ad before now, is also depicted throwing up his hands before gold coins shower down on the congressman.) The ad goes on to connect Garcia to former Illinois state House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is awaiting trial for corruption.

Garcia’s congressional campaign, the Chicago Tribune explained last month, received $2,900 in contributions from Bankman-Fried last June, while Bankman-Fried’s PAC spent another $151,000 on fliers for the congressman’s uncontested primary. Garcia’s spokesperson said he donated the $2,900 to charity and argued he “has been a strong advocate for the regulation of speculative industries, including the crypto industry.”

Two of Lightfoot’s other opponents, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, are also airing spots. Vallas’ two ads (here and here) focus on crime and argue the current leadership is failing Chicago. Johnson’s message, meanwhile, declares he has a plan to “improve public schools for all our kids” and increase public safety.

Jill Lawrence: “Key victories for Senate and governor, new House leaders and the primary calendar shakeup advanced by President Joe Biden all reflect the reality that centrists in battleground states and districts are the party’s majority makers, as former Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls them. She needed them and didn’t care if they got elected by attacking her. ‘Just win, baby,’ she would say.”

“As a strategic matter, it’s no secret why moderates are crucial. The Pew Research Center classifies only 6 percent of Americans and 12 percent of Democrats as ‘progressive left.’ ‘Democratic mainstays,’ the largest group in the party and the country, are older loyalists with ‘a moderate tilt on some issues,’ in Pew’s phrase.”

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. Doug Ducey, whose tenure as governor ended on Monday, said before Christmas he was “not running for the United States Senate” and that “it’s not something I’m considering.” And just like two years ago, Ducey’s fellow Republicans are not taking this seemingly unequivocal statement as final: Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who is another Republican on Donald Trump’s shit list, instead told The Hill, “I hope that he’ll get in.”

Former state Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, who narrowly lost last year’s primary to succeed Ducey, may be more interested in campaigning for the Senate seat held by Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema. Vox’s Christian Paz writes that Taylor Robson “told me she is not ruling out running for statewide office again,” though it’s not clear if the former regent said anything about the Senate in particular.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Ruben Gallego released late-December numbers from Public Policy Polling showing a tight race whether or not Sinema runs. The survey found Republican Kari Lake, who continues to deny her loss to now-Gov. Katie Hobbs, edging out Gallego 41-40, with Sinema grabbing 13%. When the incumbent is left out, however, it’s Gallego who leads Lake 48-47. The congressman has made it clear he’s likely to run, while NBC reported last month that Lake is trying to recruit Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb rather than campaign herself.

The poll was conducted days before The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey reported that Sinema’s office had a 37-page guide for staffers that includes tasks that “appear to go right up to the line of what Senate ethics rules allow, if not over.” Among other things, Brodey writes that Sinema requires her subordinates perform personal tasks for her, including arranging massages and buying groceries on their own dime, which she later reimburses them for.

The Senate’s ethics handbook, though, specifies that “staff are compensated for the purpose of assisting Senators in their official legislative and representational duties, and not for the purpose of performing personal or other non-official activities for themselves or on behalf of others.” Sinema’s spokesperson told Brodey that “the alleged information—sourced from anonymous quotes and a purported document I can’t verify—is not in line with official guidance from Sen. Sinema’s office and does not represent official policies of Sen. Sinema’s office.”

NEW YORK 17TH DISTRICT. Former Rep. Mondaire Jones told NY1 before Christmas that he was not ruling out seeking the Democratic nomination to take on the new Republican incumbent, Mike Lawler. Jones unsuccessfully decided to run in New York City last year in order to avoid a primary against DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney, who himself went on to lose to Lawler, but he made it clear a future campaign would take place in the area he’d represented. “I’ve also learned my lesson, and that is home for me is in the Hudson Valley,” Jones said.

NEW YORK 3RD DISTRICT. At this point in the George Santos saga, his entirely fictional life story is almost beside the point: When he’s called on any of his lies, he just lies some more—it’s pathological. But that same reckless behavior is also why the new Republican congressman-to-be is in serious legal jeopardy, at the localstatefederal, and, amazingly, international levels. And because of that, he’s exceedingly unlikely to serve out a full term. So what happens if he resigns?

In short, there would be a special election, but in a break with past practice, we’d immediately know when it would take place—and it would happen quickly. Governors in New York previously had wide latitude over when to call elections to fill vacant posts, both for Congress and state legislature, and disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo notoriously abused this power, frequently delaying specials when it suited him.

But in 2021, as state law expert Quinn Yeargain explains, lawmakers finally passed legislation to correct this problem, which Cuomo signed shortly before resigning. Now, Gov. Kathy Hochul would be required to call a special election within 10 days of Santos’ seat becoming vacant, and that election would have to take place 70 to 80 days afterward. This law has already come into play multiple times, including for two congressional special elections that took place last year.

One thing hasn’t changed, though: There still would be no primaries. Instead, as per usual, nominations for Democrats and Republicans alike would be decided by small groups of party insiders. The actual election would, however, be hotly contested. While Joe Biden would have carried New York’s 3rd District, which is based on the North Shore of Long Island, by a 54-45 margin, according to our calculations, Republican Lee Zeldin almost certainly won it in last year’s race for governor. Santos dispatched Democrat Robert Zimmerman 52-44 after Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi left the seat open to pursue his own unsuccessful gubernatorial bid.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. State Rep. Savannah Maddox announced days before Christmas that she was dropping out of the packed May Republican primary to face Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

An unnamed GOP source soon told the Lexington Herald Leader they believed Maddox’s departure means that Papa John’s founder John Schnatter “could get in the race, since he’s got the resources and with Savannah not in the race it could open up a lane.” Schnatter, who resigned as board chairman in 2018 after news broke that he’d used racist language, has not taken any obvious steps toward running ahead of Friday’s filing deadline.

Self-funder Kelly Craft, meanwhile, is not waiting until the field fully takes shape to go up with the first TV campaign ad of the contest, which the paper says ran for $114,000 from Dec. 27 to Jan. 3. Craft uses the message to tout her roots growing up on a farm in Barren County in the south-central party of the state, and she goes on to tout how she went on to become ambassador to the United Nations. The ad shows photos of Craft with Donald Trump, who is supporting Attorney General Daniel Cameron for the GOP nod.  

MARYLAND 5TH DISTRICT. Veteran Rep. Steny Hoyer told CNN Sunday that he hadn’t ruled out seeking re-election in 2024 even though he’s no longer part of the Democratic leadership. “I may. I may,” the incumbent said about waging another run.

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

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