The Political Report – January 9, 2023

A new CBS News poll found that most Republican voters expect the party to follow Donald Trump’s policies and 2020 views, if not the former president himself.

The results indicate 35% of Republicans think party loyalty to Trump is “very important,” and another 30% called it “somewhat important.”

William Saletan: “Last Tuesday, the Congressional Leadership Fund, which calls itself ‘the independent super PAC endorsed by Kevin McCarthy’—that’s lawyer-speak for McCarthy’s super PAC—cut a deal to get right-wing support for his speakership bid. Under the deal, CLF agreed that it will no longer ‘spend in any open-seat primaries in safe Republican districts.’ Nor will it ‘grant resources to other super PACs to do so.’”

“That’s a big deal. CLF spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars in the 2022 elections. It can still support Republican incumbents against right-wing challengers, and in swing districts, it can oppose troublemakers in Republican primaries. But in safe red districts where a Republican incumbent isn’t running, CLF will yield to extremist candidates and their funders.”

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) “will once again lead his caucus’ campaign arm,” Politico  reports. “The second-term senator successfully defended Democrats’ majority last cycle under difficult circumstances, with the party even picking up one more seat in the chamber. Still, Peters had initially turned down entreaties to do the job again.”

“Donald Trump issued his latest attack against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), encouraging Republicans to pose primary challenges against the Kentucky Republican and any GOP lawmaker who votes with him,” the Washington Examiner reports.

“Trump also repeated racist comments he has previously made toward McConnell’s wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.”

“Gov. Andy Beshear’s hotly contested re-election in Kentucky is one of three red-state governor’s races this year, but the only one with a Democratic incumbent,” Axios reports.

“Democrats say they have a playbook that’s perfect for this moment, after helping Gov. Laura Kelly win in deep-red Kansas for a second time last year. But they concede that abortion might not be the X factor that it was last cycle.”

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. Friday was the last day for candidates to file to run for office in Kentucky this year, and former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin spent the day trolling the political world about his plans before finally passing on a rematch against Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear. Bevin, who famously launched his successful 2015 campaign on the last day possible, kept everyone guessing for months if he’d do the same thing and enter the crowded May 16 primary.

The former governor, to the frustration of Republicans who remember his chaotic four years in office, narrow 2019 defeat, and controversial final pardons, began Friday with some cryptic tweets implying he’d try again. Bevin then announced an afternoon press conference at the state Capitol, the same building where filing was taking place in the secretary of state’s office, after which he’d be “proceeding down the hall.”

With about an hour to go before the deadline Bevin delivered a 20-minute speech that appeared to be his campaign kickoff. However, the Republican instead took the hall that led out of the buildinggot into a van, and drove away―all without actually saying that he wasn’t going to run. It was only at 4 PM local time that the secretary of state’s office door closed and it became 100% clear that Bevin wouldn’t be coming back, though one person joked, “Bevin’s coming in the window!”

So, who is running in the Republican primary for governor? Twelve contenders, ended up filing, and the notable names are:

  • State Attorney General Daniel Cameron
  • former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft
  • State Auditor Mike Harmon
  • Somerset Mayor Alan Keck
  • State Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles

While there was some speculation over the preceding weeks that Papa John’s founder John Schnatter or another Republican could get in late, there were no surprises in the end. It’s far too early to designate a frontrunner for this primary, where it takes a simple plurality to win, especially since no one has released any polling here in months.

However, both Cameron and Craft have some big advantages. The attorney general, who would be Kentucky’s first Black governor, has an endorsement from Donald Trump; Cameron is also close to his former boss, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Craft and her husband, coal billionaire Joe Craft, have together been some of the GOP’s most influential donors, and she outraised all of her intra-party rivals during the final quarter of 2022 without doing any major self-funding. Craft has also spent considerably more than her opponents, and she has the personal wealth to throw down more.

Quarles, for his part, finished last year with the largest war chest in the race, though he brought in little during the last quarter. Keck, meanwhile, leads a small community of 12,000 people in heavily conservative southern Kentucky, though this appears to be the first time he’s sought higher office.

Harmon, finally, has announced all the way back in July of 2021, but he’s been a terrible fundraiser throughout his long campaign. Harmon last quarter brought in just about $3,000, which is about as much as another rival, Republican-turned independent-turned-Republican Eric Deters, took in. Deters, a suspended attorney who was charged in October with menacing behavior towards his nephew, has pledged to self-fund over $1 million, but he’s thrown down just $70,000 so far.

Beshear, who is Kentucky’s only Democratic statewide elected official, will be in for a tough fight no matter what in a state that Trump took 62-36. We haven’t seen any surveys testing him against any of these Republicans, though a September poll from the Democratic firm Garin-Hart-Yang showed him with a strong 62-36 approval rating. Beshear also finished last year with $4.7 million on-hand, which was considerably more than any of his opponents had available.

COLORADO 3RD DISTRICT. Associated Press: “In her relatively short time in Washington, she has built a national profile with a combative style embracing everything from gun ownership to apocalyptic religious rhetoric.”

“Constituents… in the Republican-leaning 3rd Congressional District laud Boebert for defending their rights, but cringe at her provocations, contributing to an unexpectedly tight race last year that she won by just 546 votes out of more than 300,000 cast.”

SOUTH CAROLINA 1ST DISTRICT. A federal court struck down South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District on Friday, ruling that Republican lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Black voters when they redrew it. The three-judge panel concluded that legislators had violated the Constitution in packing too many African Americans into the neighboring 6th District, illegally letting race predominate when drawing their new map without serving a compelling government interest.

The legislature now has until March 31 to devise a remedial plan. However, the court rejected similar claims of racial gerrymandering by the plaintiffs, who are backed by the NAACP, regarding the 2nd and 5th districts, limiting the scope of the decision.

The 1st District had seen competitive elections under the previous map in recent years: Democrat Joe Cunningham won a 51-49 upset in 2018 before losing by that same margin to Republican Nancy Mace in 2020. However, the GOP engaged in defensive gerrymandering in order to insulate Mace from future challenges, shifting the 1st from a district that had backed Donald Trump by a 52-46 margin to one that would have given him a wider 53-45 edge.

They did so by moving Black voters—who reliably vote for Democrats—from the 1st into the already dark blue 6th District, a Voting Rights Act-protected seat that already was home to a Black majority and has long sent Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Black Democrat, to Congress. (Due to population loss, the 6th had to add a significant number of new residents and now has a Black plurality, despite GOP packing.) As a result, Mace comfortably won re-election in the 1st by a 56-42 margin last year.

But despite this latest ruling, a revised map may not significantly improve Black voters’ ability to reliably elect their preferred candidate—almost certainly a Democrat—in a second one of the state’s seven districts, even though nearly two-sevenths of South Carolina’s population is Black. That’s because the court’s ruling hinged on the 14th Amendment rather than the Voting Rights Act; while the latter can require states to draw districts that empower Black voters to elect their chosen candidates, the former mandates only that map-makers don’t let race predominate over other factors without justification when crafting lines.

Republicans may therefore try to continue to pursue their partisan ends of drawing a map that favors Republicans in six of the state’s seven districts, simply by convincing the court that a future map does not overly rely on race. Nevertheless, if this ruling survives a likely appeal, it could see the 1st District become somewhat less favorable toward Republicans. But given the Supreme Court’s deep hostility toward minority voting rights in recent redistricting rulings, this decision could get overturned.

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) “is weighing a campaign launch for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) seat — potentially even before her veteran Democratic colleague announces her plans for 2024,” Politico reports.

“Fresh off a bruising battleground reelection win, the third-term Porter is now considering a bid for what is likely to be an open Senate seat in deep-blue California as a next step… Feinstein is widely expected to retire after her current term, but she isn’t making any firm moves yet ahead of what’s expected to be an official announcement within the next couple months.”

NEW YORK SUPREME COURT. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul nominated Hector LaSalle, an appeals court judge, to fill the vacant post of chief judge on New York’s highest court just before the holidays, but her decision was immediately met with fierce resistance by state senators in her own party, 14 of whom have already publicly come out against the choice.

LaSalle, who was named to the Appellate Division by disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014, has compiled what City & State described as one of the “most conservative” records of any appellate judge in the state. Progressives have raised serious alarms over his hostility toward criminal defendants, labor unions, and especially reproductive rights: A group of law professors have pointed to a 2017 decision LaSalle signed on to that helped shield a network of so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (which try to dissuade women from getting abortions) from an investigation by the state attorney general.

At stake is more than LaSalle’s promotion, though: The seven-member top court, known as the Court of Appeals, has for several years been in the grips of a reactionary four-judge majority that has ruled against victims of police misconduct, workers seeking compensation for injuries on the job, and tenants who’d been overcharged by their landlords. Most notoriously, this quartet—all appointed by Cuomo—struck down new congressional and legislative maps passed by Democratic lawmakers last year on extremely questionable grounds and ordered that a Republican judge in upstate New York redraw them.

Leading this coalition was Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who unexpectedly announced her resignation last year. That vacancy has given Hochul the chance to reshape the court, but instead she’s tapped someone who appears poised to continue DiFiore’s legacy. But while judicial confirmations in New York are normally sleepy affairs, a large number of senators—who’d be responsible for voting on LaSalle’s nomination—immediately denounced the choice.

That chorus of opposition hit a crucial threshold shortly before the New Year when state Sen. Mike Gianaris, a member of leadership, became the 11th Democrat to say he would vote against LaSalle. With 42 Democrats in the 63-member upper chamber but only 28 still open to Hochul’s pick, the governor would now have to rely on the support of Republicans to confirm LaSalle. None, however, have yet come out in favor.

There’s no definite timeline for confirmation hearings or a vote on LaSalle’s nomination, but if Hochul were to withdraw his name, she’d be able to choose from a list of six other candidates vetted by the state’s Commission on Judicial Nomination. A coalition of progressive groups previously endorsed three individuals on that list while calling three others, including LaSalle, “unacceptable” (a seventh option was unrated). If instead LaSalle were voted down by the Senate, the entire process would start over again, with the commission once again reviewing potential candidates.

NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE HOUSE. The New Hampshire Bullet reported over the holidays that Feb. 21 will indeed be the date for special election for Strafford District 8 (usually referred to locally as Rochester Ward 4), which will be a replay of the November contest that ended in a tie between Democratic incumbent Chuck Grassie and Republican challenger David Walker. Republicans currently enjoy a tiny 201-198 edge in New Hampshire’s 400-person lower chamber.

Seriously, why does such a small state like New Hampshire have a legislature that is almost as large as the U.S. House of Representatives?

WEST VIRGINIA 1ST DISTRICT. Former Del. Derrick Evans, who served 90 days in prison for his participation in the Jan. 6 riot, used the second anniversary of the attack to announce he would challenge Republican Rep. Carol Miller for renomination in this safely red seat. “Carol Miller has had five years to leave her mark on Washington,” Evans said of the incumbent, who actually took office four years ago, “But instead, she’s left the car door open with the keys in the ignition.”

Evans two years ago live-streamed himself at the Capitol yelling at police officers, “You go tell your liberal mayor to go kiss rocks!” A short time later he told his audience, “We’re in! Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” Evans resigned from the legislature days later after only about a month in office, and later told his judge that he was a “good person who was unfortunately caught up in a moment which led to me breaking the law.”

Unsurprisingly, Evans isn’t at all apologetic about what he did. He launched his exploratory committee last month by declaring he was “held captive by the illegitimate Biden regime as a Jan. 6 political prisoner” until October, adding, “I am proud to know that the liberal mainstream media is going to label me as an ultra MAGA election denier.”

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. Attorney General Jeff Landry is using what will likely be his last days as the only Republican in the race to reveal that he has more than $5 million on-hand, while his allied PAC has an additional $1.5 million available. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser is set to announce Tuesday that he’s joining the October all-party primary, while state Treasurer John Schroder’s declaration is scheduled for two days afterwards. Another Republican, state Rep. Richard Nelson, says he’ll reveal his own plans in “next few weeks.”

Louisiana political observers are also waiting to see if Rep. Garret Graves will get in now that he knows he won’t need to go up against Sen. John Kennedy, who recently declined to run. The GOP congressman, though, doesn’t appear to have said much since the November elections about his interest in this race, and he didn’t respond to The Advocate’s questions on Thursday.

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

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