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The Political Report – January 12, 2023

The latest Economist/YouGov survey finds President Biden’s net approval is now positive, 46% to 45%.

Cook Political Report on this year’s Louisiana Governor’s race: “Attorney General Jeff Landry is off to an early lead in the GOP primary, and Republicans start with the edge in being able to flip this open seat. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has been a unicorn, and finding another candidate who can build a unique coalition like he did may not be possible.”

“We are being cautious with a Lean Republican rating until the field fully begins to take shape. However, that rating could move further in the GOP’s direction over the next few months.”

Cook Political Report on this year’s Kentucky Governor’s race: “After eking out a win in 2019 over unpopular Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, Gov. Andy Beshear starts out with the edge to win a second term. Given the state’s heavy red lean, Republicans still have an opportunity, but they must first get through their own crowded primary.”

“Beshear starts with strong approval ratings and faces only nominal primary opposition.”

NEW YORK 3RD DISTRICT. Nassau County Republican leaders will call on Rep. George Santos (R-NY) to resign Wednesday for fabricating his biography to win his congressional seat, Politico  reports. Said one person familiar with the announcement: “They’ll issue a rebuke of him for running as a complete liar in an effort to resuscitate the image of the party.”

Politico: “The GOP conference is now deliberating over how to handle a member who’s been publicly ridiculed as a fraudster, including whether Santos should receive committee assignments. Some members are openly pushing to sideline him until internal investigations can dig through his campaign finances, and even basic biographical information.”

VIRGINIA STATE SENATE. Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Virginia Democrats appeared to flip a key state Senate seat in Virginia Beach on Tuesday night, expanding their edge in the chamber to 22-18 and making passage of new abortion curbs less likely in the session that starts Wednesday.”

Virginia Beach Councilman Aaron Rouse beat his Republican opponent, Navy veteran Kevin Adams, 50.4-49.6 in the contest for the state Senate seat that Republican Jen Kiggans gave up after unseating Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria in November. Rouse’s win increases the Democrats’ edge to 22-18 and ends self-described “unapologetically pro-life” Democrat Joe Morrissey’s status as the crucial vote in a chamber where Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears can break ties.

This contest took place under the old lines for the 7th District, a seat that neither party had a firm hold on. While the district moved hard to the left during the last presidential election, veering from a skinny 47.1-46.9 edge for Hillary Clinton to a wide 54-44 win for Joe Biden, Republican Glenn Youngkin took it 52-48 in the 2021 governor’s race. Rouse may have an easier time later this year, though, as redistricting not only renumbered this seat (it’ll become the 22nd) but also increased Biden’s margin of victory to 59-39. Both Rouse and Adams said last year that they’d seek the 22nd when it first goes before voters in November.

The rest of the state Senate will also be up for a new four-year term this fall, while every member of the GOP-controlled state House, who serve two-year terms, will also go before voters. Morrissey himself faces serious intra-party opposition in the Democratic primary from former Del. Lashrecse Aird. Progressives had feared that an Adams win would position Morrissey to be the key vote in determining whether Youngkin’s proposed 15-week abortion ban became law, but Rouse’s victory very much changes the math, unless Republicans can make further headway in November.

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. California Rep. Katie Porter announced Tuesday that she would enter the 2024 top-two primary for U.S. Senate even though her fellow Democrat, longtime incumbent Dianne Feinstein, has not yet confirmed that she’ll retire. Porter said hours later, “If the senator decides to run for another term… I will still be in this race.”

Porter, a progressive favorite who has raised massive amounts of money in recent years to defend her competitive Orange County seat, is the first major candidate from either party to launch a bid to replace Feinstein. Almost everyone expects the senator to step aside amid serious questions about her cognitive health, but, because of the vast cost of running statewide in California, Porter may not be the only contender who feels it’s better to get started now rather than wait for Feinstein’s decision.

Porter, who did not mention Feinstein in her kickoff, also launched her campaign by releasing a November poll from David Binder Research arguing that she’s positioned to outpace several of her Democratic colleagues should they run. Under California law all the candidates run on one ballot and the top-two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election:

  • Rep. Katie Porter (D): 30
  • Rep. Adam Schiff (D): 29
  • Rep. Barbara Lee (D): 9
  • A Republican Candidate: 9
  • Rep. Ro Khanna (D): 6

The poll also finds Porter defeating Schiff 37-26 in a showdown, while another 19% of respondents say they wouldn’t vote; the firm shows that Republicans support Porter 25-5 when forced to choose between the two Democrats, though most of them say they’ll sit the race out.

Schiff, who like Porter also has a massive national donor base, has said he’s interested in seeking a promotion should Feinstein retire, though he hasn’t committed to anything yet. Schiff may be able to wait a while, because he held a giant $20.6 million to $7.7 million cash-on-hand edge over Porter in late November. Lee, who is another prominent progressive, has not yet revealed anything about her own plans, though Politico recently reported that she “intends” to get in.

Khanna, for his part, responded to Porter’s launch by saying he was focused on the serious flooding hitting California. (An unnamed Schiff ally also brought up the storms to bash the timing of Porter’s launch, telling the Los Angeles Times, “It’s f-cking crazy that she would announce in the middle of a natural disaster. There are 15 people dead. I think there potentially could be more.”) Khanna said later in the day he planned to make up his mind by the end of March and would take Lee’s decision into account. He told the Washington Post, “I do have a respect for her and the cause of seeing representation for an African American woman, and that is something I would factor in, candidly.”

More names will likely surface soon, especially if Feinstein steps aside. CNN and the Los Angeles Times have already mentioned several other Democrats as possible contenders:

  • U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra
  • Attorney General Rob Bonta
  • Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis
  • Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell
  • former Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell

Porter, for her part, is no stranger to tough races, though this will be the first time she’s competed statewide. Porter, who was a law student of future Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and later worked for now-Vice President Kamala Harris, first sought elected office in 2018 when she campaigned to unseat Republican Rep. Mimi Walters.

Walters’ Orange County constituency, then numbered California’s 45th Congressional District, had backed Hillary Clinton 50-44 after previously supporting Mitt Romney 55-43, but the incumbent very much believed Donald Trump’s toxicity wouldn’t harm other Republicans in this historically conservative area. Porter got past several Democratic opponents in the top-two primary, and she quickly emerged as a strong fundraiser.

Walters, though, continued to deny she was in trouble: In September, she even asked the NRCC not to spend money on her behalf, a request the committee was happy to honor. Walters proved to be just as oblivious after Election Day when early vote totals showed her ahead and she started calling colleagues to campaign for the NRCC chair position. Porter, though, quickly took the lead as more ballots were processed and won 52-48 when all was said and done.

The new congresswoman quickly became known in D.C. for using a whiteboard to grill Trump administration personnel and corporate executives at hearings, and her prominence and massive fundraising helped deter serious Republicans. Porter won 53-47 as Joe Biden was taking her seat 55-43, but she faced a tougher challenge two years later after redistricting left her with a new constituency, now numbered the 47th, that was largely new to her. Porter in 2022 went through a difficult battle against former Orange County Republican Party chair Scott Baugh, and this time, national GOP groups spent millions to try to sink her.

Republicans bet that the 47th, which had favored Biden 54-43, would snap back to the right with Trump gone, and they were somewhat right: The GOP did considerably better at the top of the ticket here, with Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux reporting that Republican Brian Dahle edged out Gov. Gavin Newsom 50.3-49.7 in this seat. Porter, though, hung on and turned in another 52-48 win months before she kicked off her Senate bid.

Failed Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker (R) “closed the year — after his November general election and December runoff — with more than $5 million in cash on hand,” NBC News reports.

“While those still in office use their leftover cash to fund their political organization and gear up for the next bid, those who lose still have broad leeway in how they can use their leftover money. While they can’t use the money on personal expenses, they can transfer cash to other candidates, PACs or political parties, donate the money to charity, or use the money for another campaign or political purpose.”

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WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. Retiring Justice Pat Roggensack on Monday endorsed Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow over former Justice Dan Kelly, the other conservative contender and Roggensack’s old colleague, ahead of the Feb. 21 nonpartisan primary. Candidate filing closed last week and as expected, the contest for this 10-year term will also include two liberal-aligned candidates: Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell and Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz.

The two contenders with the most votes will advance to the April 4 general election, and, since each side is fielding two candidates apiece, either progressives or conservatives could snag both spots in the second round of voting. Roggensack and her allies currently form a 4-3 right-wing majority, but a win for Mitchell and Protasiewicz would give progressives a huge win in this crucial swing state.

Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, who is one of the two liberals running in the Feb. 21 nonpartisan primary, revealed she’d raised $924,000 during 2022, which is about $100,000 more than the fundraising record that former Justice Shirley Abrahamson set back in 2008. Protasiewicz, who is the first contender to announce her totals ahead of the Jan. 17 deadline, says that $756,000 of that came from the second half of the year, and she finished Dec. 31 with $730,000 on-hand.

John White: “The late political analyst Mark Shields was fond of classifying partisans into two types: those who seek converts and those who carry on crusades to root out heretics. Former President Trump is the ultimate heretic hunter. After Trump claimed the 2020 election was stolen, membership in the Republican Party required an oath of fealty to Trump’s ‘Big Lie,’ and anyone who believed otherwise was automatically labeled a RINO.”

“Among the excommunicated were former Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), nearly all those who voted to impeach Trump and anyone who testified before the Jan. 6 committee. Today, 65 percent of Republicans say their leaders should accept the premise that the 2020 election was stolen, and any prospective presidential nominee who believes otherwise stands little chance with 2024 primary voters.”

“Several Republicans are emulating Trump’s strategy of hunting heretics.”

INDIANA U.S. SENATOR and GOVERNOR. Mitch Daniels publicly acknowledged his interest in a Senate bid for the first time in an interview with reporter Dave Bangert, while the Republican also made it clear he wouldn’t campaign for his old job as governor. Daniels didn’t say much about when he expected to decide other than to tell Bangert, “I don’t generally dither too much.”

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. Former state Rep. Leslie Love tells Michigan Advance she’s considering seeking the nomination to succeed her fellow Democrat, retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow, saying she believes she’s the only Black woman who has been mentioned as a possible contender.

Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, though, sounds like she’ll be staying put. When NBC asked her Friday about this race, Benson responded, “My eyes are focused actually on 2024, not as a candidate, but as someone who will be working to protect the voice and the vote of every citizen in our state.” Abdul El-Sayed, who came in second during the 2018 Democratic primary for governor, himself told Politico he doesn’t “have any plans” to campaign, which isn’t quite a no.

Republican state Sen. Ruth Johnson, who is a former two-term secretary of state, tells the Detroit News that she’s considering a bid to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Rep. Lisa McClain also didn’t rule anything out, saying, “I will not close the door on opportunities to serve the entire state.” MLive.com relays that former Rep. Peter Meijer, who lost renomination last year, hasn’t closed the door on a Senate bid either.

Meanwhile, journalist Tim Skubick says that former Attorney General Bill Schuette, who was the GOP party’s 2018 nominee for governor, is “likely” to get in, though there’s no other information about his deliberations. Schuette was the nominee for Senate all the way back in 1990 against Democratic incumbent Carl Levin, a campaign he lost 57-41. Wealthy businessman Kevin Rinke, who took second in the 2022 primary for governor, additionally confirmed last week’s reports that he’s thinking about this campaign, and he says he’ll make up his mind within a month.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who would be Michigan’s first Black senator, publicly expressed interest for the first time on Tuesday. The Detroit News also mentions former Rep. Brenda Lawrence, who just completed her stint in Congress, as a possible contender.

Republicans will need to make it through yet another cycle without having Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller as a candidate for higher office. While Miller’s old chief of staff, Jamie Roe, said Thursday that the former congresswoman was “seriously considering” campaigning to succeed Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Roe the next day confirmed reports that she had decided to sit out the open seat race. Roe tweeted Miller “believes it’s time to pass to a new generation and stay doing a job she loves,” so this may be the last time she gets seriously talked about for Senate or governor.

Meanwhile, the Detroit News mentions state Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt as a possible GOP contender, while a Democratic strategist names newly elected Rep. Hillary Scholten as a possibility for his party, though there’s no word if either is considering. One Democrat who has made it clear she won’t run, though, is Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald.

PHILADELPHIA MAYOR. Former City Councilmember Allan Domb has launched an opening $590,000 TV ad campaign ahead of the packed May Democratic primary, and his first ad focuses on public safety. The only rival who has beaten Domb to television is businessman Jeff Brown, who has also received air support from a well-funded super PAC.

CHICAGO MAYOR. Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas has earned the backing of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, a police union led by prominent Trump supporter John Catanzara, ahead of the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has a terrible relationship with Catanzara, quickly sought to make his support a liability for Vallas in this dark blue city. A Lightfoot spokesperson responded to the news by saying that Vallas, who like the incumbent is a Democrat, should denounce Catanzara’s “history of hate-filled rhetoric” instead of “standing alongside him and (carrying) the shared MAGA values into City Hall.”

Almost all of the other candidates competing in this nine-way contest seemed to agree that, in the words of the Chicago Tribune, the FOP’s endorsement would at best be a “double-edged sword” for anyone who earned it. Catanzara, who defended the Jan. 6 rioters, said that the only other contender who sought his union’s backing was Willie Wilson, a wealthy perennial candidate who backed Trump in 2016 and challenged Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin four years later as the candidate of the “Willie Wilson Party.”

MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR. While the local media reported in October that state Auditor Shad White was considering challenging Gov. Tate Reeves in this year’s Republican primary, White announced this week that he would instead seek re-election.  

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. Republican state Sen. Sharon Hewitt tells the Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue that she’ll announce if she’ll run for governor within the week; O’Donoghue tweets, “I suspect she’s running, though she didn’t tell me that directly.” Another Republican legislator, state Rep. Richard Nelson, recently said that he was planning to get in himself but would reveal his final decision next week.

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

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