The Political Report – January 13, 2023

Gallup: “Americans’ party preferences were evenly divided in 2022, with 45% of U.S. adults identifying as Republican or saying they were Republican-leaning independents, and 44% identifying as Democrats or saying they were Democratic-leaning independents.”

NEBRASKA U.S. SENATOR-B. Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen (R) confirmed widespread expectations Thursday when he announced former Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) is his pick to fill Nebraska’s vacancy in the U.S. Senate, the Omaha World-Herald reports.

Ricketts will replace Sen. Ben Sasse (R), who officially resigned Sunday to become the next president of the University of Florida. Ricketts’ appointment will take effect immediately. 

Senator Ricketts 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. Fishcher’s contest will be referred to as A race and Rickett’s will be the B race.

CALIFORNIA 47TH DISTRICT. Former Rep. Harley Rouda, a Democrat who represented about two-thirds of this constituency from 2019 to 2021, announced Wednesday that he would run for the seat that Democratic incumbent Katie Porter is giving up to campaign for the Senate.

The only other declared candidate so far is former Orange County Republican Party chair Scott Baugh, who narrowly lost to Porter last cycle. This constituency, which includes coastal Orange County and Irvinesupported Biden 54-43, but this historically red area contains plenty of voters who are open to backing Republicans who aren’t named Donald Trump.

Rouda and Baugh previously faced off in the 2018 top-two primary to take on longtime Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the old 48th District in what turned out to be an expensive and consequential contest. Rouda and another first-time Democratic candidate, Hans Keirstead, spent months competing against the Putin-loving congressman, and it looked likely that one of them would advance to the general election. But everything changed just before the filing deadline when Baugh, who had previously served in the state Assembly in the 1990s, unexpectedly jumped in and threatened to lock Democrats out of the general election.

Baugh, though, was hardly running as a favor to Rohrabacher. The two Republicans used to be friends, and when Baugh began raising money in 2016 for a campaign, Rohrabacher initially took it in stride and said he was “just laying the foundation for a race for Congress when I am no longer a member … but I don’t know when that’s going to be.” Their relationship publicly collapsed, however, after Baugh refused to actually say he wouldn’t use that cash against the congressman.

Baugh didn’t run for anything in 2016, but he used the money he’d amassed that year for his last-second bid against Rohrabacher two years later. Democratic outside groups scrambled to make sure this nasty intra-party fight didn’t end up hurting their own chances to flip the seat, and the DCCC and House Majority PAC spent about $1.8 million on an effort mostly aimed at attacking Baugh. The DCCC, which supported Rouda, also made an effort to promote a third Republican, little-known candidate John Gabbard, to further splinter the vote.

This expensive undertaking proved to be just enough to avoid a disaster for Democrats in a contest where Rohrabacher, who was in no danger of being eliminated, grabbed first with 30%. Rouda edged out Keirstead 17.3-17.2, while Baugh was right behind with 16%; Gabbard finished with 3%, which may have been enough to hold back Baugh. Rouda went on to score a 54-46 victory over Rohrabacher, who never seemed to take his general election seriously.

Baugh unexpectedly turned down a rematch with Rouda in 2020, and Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel instead stepped up to take on the new congressman. Steel proved to be a much tougher foe than Rohrabacher, and she managed to secure enough voters who’d turned against Trump but still favored Republicans down the ballot: Biden took the 48th 50-48, but Steel unseated Rouda 51-49.

Rouda quickly began running against Steel again, but that was before redistricting scrambled California’s map at the end of 2021. Rouda and Porter initially both planned to run for the new 47th District, and while Rouda had represented considerably more of the redrawn constituency than his former colleague, Porter went into 2022 with a massive financial edge and a national progressive base that allowed her to bring in far more. Rouda soon announced he wouldn’t run for anything that cycle, and Porter went on to beat Baugh 52-48 after a very expensive battle.

A spokesperson for state Sen. Josh Newman, though, said that his boss didn’t plan to run for Congress, while colleague Dave Min didn’t initially respond. The two Democrats both announced last month that they would campaign for re-election in the same constituency after redistricting placed them in the same seat (only half of the California state Senate is up each cycle), but observers have speculated for a while that one of them could run for Congress instead if Porter sought a promotion.

Min, for his part, competed against Porter in the 2018 top-two primary to take on GOP Rep. Mimi Walters in the old 45th District, but Porter outpaced him 20-18 for the crucial second general election spot. Min two years later won his spot in the state Senate by unseating another Republican incumbent, John Moorlach, 51-49.

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. Multiple media outlets reported Wednesday that longtime Rep. Barbara Lee told the Congressional Black Caucus she planned to run for the Senate seat held by her fellow Democrat, incumbent Dianne Feinstein, but Lee herself did not commit to anything when reporters asked about her 2024 plans. “What I said was that I’m very sensitive and honoring Senator Feinstein,” said Lee, who represents a heavily Democratic bastion that’s home to Oakland and Berkeley. (Joe Biden performed better in Lee’s new 12th District than he did in any of California’s other 51 House seats.)

Lee, who has long been a national progressive favorite, told Politico in a separate interview she’d say what she’s doing “when it’s appropriate,” adding, “I’m not really doing anything except letting colleagues know that there’ll be a time to talk about the Senate race.” The congresswoman also did not reveal if she was willing to challenge Feinstein if the 89-year-old incumbent surprised the political world and ran again. Rep. Katie Porter, a fellow Democrat who represents an Orange County seat, launched a bid on Tuesday and currently has the field to herself.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) endorsed Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) in her newly-announced bid for U.S. Senate in California.

NBC News: “Warren’s marks the first major endorsement in the burgeoning primary battle for the California seat— still currently occupied by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Porter officially announced her intention to seek the seat on Tuesday, even though Feinstein has not yet said if she is running for a sixth term.”

Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) announced a $1.3 million money bomb in the first day since she announced her U.S. Senate campaign, The Hill reports.

NEW YORK 3RD DISTRICT. Prominent Nassau County Republican officials held a press conference Wednesday calling for GOP Rep. George Santos to resign only for the scandal-drenched freshman to immediately say, “I will not.” The state Conservative Party, which usually backs Republicans in general elections, also told Santos to get lost; Nick Langworthy, the 23rd District congressman who still leads the state GOP, later said he supported the Nassau County party’s anti-Santos declaration.

Still, while there was no reason to think Santos would heed the calls for his departure, his former allies used their gathering to make it clear just what they thought of him. Nassau County GOP chair Joseph Cairo, whose community forms three quarters of the 3rd District (the balance is in Queens) even said that the freshman congressman had personally lied to him about being “a star on the” volleyball team at Baruch College, an institution Santos never attended.

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, who was elected to the neighboring 4th District last year on the same night as Santos, said he “will not associate with him in Congress and I will encourage other representatives in the House of Representatives to join me in rejecting him.” The county GOP even added that it would direct any constituent calls from Santos’ district to D’Esposito, while county Executive Bruce Blakeman called the 3rd District congressman “a stain on the House of Representatives.”

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, though, showed no interest in pressuring Santos to resign or trying to organize two-thirds of the House to expel him. (The last time this happened was 2002, when Democratic Rep. James Traficant of Ohio was ejected by his colleagues three months after he was found guilty on corruption charges.) McCarthy instead said, “The voters elected him to serve,” adding, “Is there a charge against him? In America today, you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

While McCarthy did declare that Santos, who backed him last week in each of the 15 speakership votes, would not be assigned to any of the top House committees, he made it clear that he’d get to sit on some panels. The speaker, when reminded how Santos had lied about his biography, responded, “Yeah, so did a lot of people here, in the Senate and others, but the one thing I think, it’s the voters who made that decision. He has to answer to the voters and the voters can make another decision in two years.”

ABC7NY reported last week that serial liar George Santos told Republican leaders he wouldn’t run again before he was even sworn in, though the congressman doesn’t appear to have committed to anything publicly. Santos is the last person anyone should believe for anything, of course, though given how many different investigations he’s facing, he’ll be lucky if he’s even in a position where he can choose to retire.

Nassau Republican Party Chair Joe Cairo, whose county forms about three-quarters of the new 3rd (the balance is in Queens), said late last year that his organization “will not support George Santos in 2024,” and talk has already begun about which Republicans could run instead. City & State mentions state Sen. Jack Martins, Nassau County Comptroller Elaine Phillips, and former Assemblyman Mike LiPetri as possibilities, though none appear to have said anything publicly. Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, though, said he wouldn’t run.

On the Democratic side, much of the talk has concerned people who ran in last year’s primary to replace Democrat Tom Suozzi, who gave up this seat to unsuccessfully challenge Gov. Kathy Hochul in the primary. Jon Kaiman, a former Suffolk County deputy executive who lost to Robert Zimmerman 36-26, says he’s thinking about giving it another shot, though he also said he might run for local office.

Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan, who came in third with 20%, tells City & State the only election he was concentrating on was his re-election bid this fall, which isn’t a no. Activist Melanie D’Arrigo, who finished just behind with 16%, likewise said she hadn’t thought about whether to run again. The story also says that Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, who did not run for Congress last year, is considering, though there’s no quote from him.

Zimmerman, who lost to Santos 54-46, doesn’t appear to have addressed the possibility of running again, though plenty of Democrats would prefer a new face after what happened last time: Zimmerman’s spokesperson told City & State that their boss was focused on “holding Santos accountable.” Finally, Suozzi hasn’t said anything about a comeback, though he let the world know exactly what he thought about Santos just before he left office when he published a New York Times op-ed titled, “A Con Man Is Succeeding Me in Congress Today.”

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. The Democratic firm Blueprint Polling has released numbers showing conspiracy theorist Kari Lake, who was the 2022 Republican nominee for governor, leading Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego 36-32 as independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema grabs 14%. None of these people have said they’ll be running for the Senate in 2024, though Gallego has been hiring staff for a likely campaign. The firm says this poll was done “with no input or funding from any candidate, committee, or interest group.”

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. Wealthy businessman Perry Johnson, a Republican who failed to make the Republican primary ballot for governor last year, confirms he’s interested in running for this open seat but has no timeline for deciding. Johnson spent $7 million of his own money last cycle before election authorities disqualified him after he and several other GOP contenders fell victim to a fraudulent signature scandal, and he unsuccessfully sued to try to get his name included. The ever-modest Johnson then began talking about a 2024 run for president after he decided to pass on a write-in effort.

Former Rep. Fred Upton, who was not on the 2022 ballot for anything by choice, meanwhile didn’t quite dismiss a Senate campaign but sounds unlikely to go for it. The Republican noted he was 69 in his interview with MSNBC’s Andrew Mitchell (the relevant portion begins at the 4:45 point) and said he was “probably not a candidate.” Mitchell responded by noting he hadn’t ruled it out, to which Upton replied, “I’m glad to be out of the Congress this last week, haven’t thought about my future quite yet … I guess you could say I’ve not ruled it out, but I’m really probably most inclined not to do so.”

For the Democrats, Rep. Elissa Slotkin on Tuesday publicly confirmed for the first time she was “seriously considering” running to succeed retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow, though she also didn’t have a timeline to decide. Attorney General Dana Nessel, however, played down the possibility she’d run, declaring she believes she could “do the most good” in her current post. “That’s where I intend to stay,” said Nessel.

MARYLAND U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin tells Politico he’ll decide “probably in February or March” if he’ll seek a fourth term.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. Former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, who currently has the airwaves to herself ahead of the May Republican primary, is running a new ad focused on combating fentanyl.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore, a Democrat who is considering entering this year’s race for governor, tells LaPolitics’ Jeremy Alford, “I expect to have a decision in the next few weeks or sooner.” Alford also writes that state Democratic chair Katie Bernhardt “sounds as serious as serious can get and will have something to say in a week or so.” Bernhardt last week did not rule out a bid last week after her name was included in an unreleased poll.

James Carville: “Well, right now it’s pretty clear that he intends to run, but you can always change your mind. And I think the age issue is going to be huge. I’ll point out that Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, all resigned their posts. All of them are younger than Biden would be at the end of his second term, probably younger than mid-second term…”

“He’s got to consider the age issue because everybody else considers it. I’m 78, I’m like, ‘Do I think I could do this job seven years from now?’ Couldn’t do it, couldn’t have done it seven years ago. And it’s something that he’s going to have to deal with. And it’s not a gotcha question…”

James Carville: “I’d say DeSantis would be slightly overestimated. Underestimated, I’d say Brian Kemp. Now, Cruz, Cotton, Josh Hawley, maybe. DeSantis, he’s out in front for a long time. And you know in politics, the longer that you’re hanging out there, people start to smell odors.”

“And trust me, the Cruz, Hawley, Cotton tripartite pack, they don’t like DeSantis… And DeSantis, unlike a Bill Clinton or even a George W. Bush, he’s not a people person, and it’s well-documented. And that counts in politics, particularly if you’re going to be out there for a long time and you have a lot of party leaders and things that you need for these primaries. That’s a skill that he does not possess. You don’t have to be a hell of a fellow, a good old boy, to be effective at governance, but it does help. And he’s no such thing.”

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

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