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The Political Report – January 15, 2023

CNN: “While nearly a dozen 2024 campaign operatives and advisers who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity insisted that Trump’s political appeal is more limited than ever, most said they still wouldn’t want their horse to be first in the race after him. Their reasons vary.”

“Some worry about sustainability, wanting to saturate the airwaves just before the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire instead of burning through cash to build name ID while Trump is pummeling them on his Truth Social platform without distraction. Others are hesitant to subject themselves to the concentrated attacks they would no doubt face from the former president and other potential rivals if they were next to jump in, unsure if the earned media in a two-person field would work for or against them.”

Kellyanne Conway: “Shrugging off Mr. Trump’s 2024 candidacy or writing his political obituary is a fool’s errand — he endures persecution and eludes prosecution like no other public figure.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) “is enjoying the status of the “unquestioned head of state Republicans, with enormous political capital to burn, a proven ability to win over swing voters and a successful history of pushing priorities through the Republican-controlled Legislature,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) told NBC News he is “overwhelmingly humbled” by people who have included him on a shortlist of potential 2024 candidates.

Said Youngkin: “We’re bringing people together and getting things done. My sense is that’s what Americans are looking for. That’s what Virginians are looking for.”

The new House Democratic leaders are embarking on a fundraising trip across the country, Punchbowl News reports.

This early tour could help assuage doubts in Democratic circles over whether the new leadership team will be able to come close to matching Pelosi’s mega fundraising hauls.”

Mississippi Governor. Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley announced Thursday that he would challenge Republican Gov. Tate Reeves in this November’s election to lead Mississippi, a move that gives Democrats a prominent candidate in a tough state.

This will be the first gubernatorial contest since voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment in 2020 to require a second round of voting three weeks later for any statewide general election contests where no one earns a majority of the vote, a rule that replaced the infamous Jim Crow-era electoral system the state previously used.

Presley is the second cousin of Elvis Presley (their grandfathers were brothers), and the candidate touted his connection to the King of Rock and Roll in a biographical kickoff video that also highlighted his roots in the rural “no stoplight town” of Nettleton and his current role regulating utility companies. Presley, who has described himself as “pro-life” and a supporter of the Second Amendment, further used his opening message to declare, “We’ve got a state filled with good people but horrible politicians—and that includes our governor. Tate Reeves is a man with zero conviction and maximum corruption.”

The Democrat continued blasting Reeves by saying, “He looks out for himself and his rich friends instead of the people that put him into office. And he’s been caught in the middle of the largest public corruption scandal in state history.” That scandal involving the misuse of welfare money during the administration of Republican Phil Bryant is part of the reason that Reeves may draw an intra-party opponent ahead of the Feb. 1 candidate filing deadline, though no one has announced yet.

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 in 2020. 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.”

Presley will still very much have his work cut out for him in November even if the scandal intensifies, though he’s long demonstrated crossover appeal in conservative areas. Presley, who endorsed George W. Bush in 2004 when he was mayor of Nettleton, was decisively elected three years later to represent northern Mississippi on the three-member Public Service Commission. The Democrat has never come close to losing re-election, and he went unopposed in 2019 even as Reeves was carrying his constituency 55-44; Donald Trump won 61-38 there the following year.

A victory for Presley this fall would make him only the second Democrat to be elected governor in over 30 years, and the first to win in the 21st century. Republicans took control of the governor’s office for the first time since Reconstruction in 1991 when Kirk Fordice unseated incumbent Ray Mabus (whose cousin recently became engaged to Presley), and the only contest they’ve lost since then came in 1999 when Democrat Ronnie Musgrove edged out Mike Parker 49.6-48.5.

The Democratic-led state House, though, had to vote to make Musgrove the winner because the 1890 state constitution required statewide candidates to win both a majority of the statewide vote and a majority of the 122 districts that make up the lower chamber. (In a remarkable development, each candidate won 61 seats). Republican Haley Barbour outright defeated Musgrove 53-46 four years later, and his party has had firm control since then: The closest Democrats have come to reclaiming the governorship came in 2019 when Reeves outpaced then-Attorney General Jim Hood 52-47.

Democrats worried before Election Day that state House Republicans, who had gerrymandered their map after taking control in 2011, would not allow Hood to become governor if he won the most votes but failed to take the requisite 62 districts, but this rule is no longer in effect following the passage of the aforementioned 2020 constitutional amendment, which was itself prompted by a federal lawsuit over the system. It’s now possible, however, that enough voters will select a third-party option on Nov. 7 to force the top two vote-getters into a Nov. 28 runoff.

California 47th District. Orange County Republican Chairman Fred Whitaker this week suggested that Katrina Foley, who is part of the historic new Democratic majority on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, could run to succeed Democratic Senate candidate Katie Porter, but Foley quickly said she wasn’t interested. Foley instead told City News Service, “I appreciate that I’m a formidable opponent for the district and just coming off a successful campaign, but I pledged to the voters to be their supervisor and work on their behalf.”

Whitaker also predicted the 2022 Republican nominee Scott Baugh, who previously led the county GOP, would not face any serious intra-party opposition in the top-two primary. “It’s wise to get behind one candidate early,” Whitaker argued.

Nebraska U.S. Senator-B. Gov. Jim Pillen announced Thursday that he was appointing his immediate predecessor and close ally, Pete Ricketts, to the Senate seat previously held by their fellow Republican, incoming University of Florida President Ben Sasse. Ricketts made it clear he’d be running in the fall 2024 special election for the final two years of Sasse’s term, a contest that will take place at the same time that his new colleague, GOP Sen. Deb Fischer, is up for a third term.

There was never any serious question that Pillen would choose Ricketts, a multi-millionaire who was his main political and financial supporter during last year’s close primary for governor. Ricketts spent over $1.3 million of his own money to fund a super PAC dedicated to attacking Trump-backed agribusinessman Charles Herbster, whom Ricketts has long had a terrible relationship with, as well as then-state Sen. Brett Lindstrom. Pillen beat Herbster 34-30 ahead of an easy general election win, which gave him the power to choose the new senator.

Ricketts’ appointment comes more than 16 years after he badly failed to win Nebraska’s other U.S. Senate seat. The Republican, who co-owns the Chicago Cubs along with his other family members, spent $11.6 million of his own money in 2006 on his campaign to unseat incumbent Ben Nelson, a conservative Democrat who at the time was incredibly popular in this red state.

Polls always showed Nelson far ahead at a time when the Bush administration proved to be a liability for Republicans, and the incumbent worked to portray his challenger as an out-of-touch rich guy. Ricketts himself didn’t help things by donning a red stocking cap in his commercials, a piece of headwear his opponents trashed as “goofy.” Nelson won in a 64-36 rout, which makes Ricketts the last Republican to ever lose a statewide general election in Nebraska.

Ricketts resurrected his political career in 2013 when he announced a bid for governor, saying he’d learned his lesson and this time would focus on raising money and traveling the state; the Republican acknowledged last time he’d come across as someone “trying to buy” a seat, and he pledged to keep the red cap away. Ricketts’ biggest test came in the following year’s primary when he edged out Attorney General Jon Bruning 27-25, and he went on to decisively win and hold the governorship against his Democratic rivals.

P.S. Ricketts’ appointment comes one day after the NPR affiliate WUFT reported that the University of Florida was spending $300,000 on a pool for the mansion that Sasse will live in, a decision school officials say was made before he was chosen for the post. Sasse famously won his 2014 primary after running commercials calling for the U.S. capital to be in Nebraska, a goal he never accomplished in his eight years in office.  

Louisiana Governor. Republican Rep. Garret Graves on Wednesday confirmed he was still considering whether to enter this fall’s all-party primary for governor and told radio host Brian Haldane he’d make his decision “very soon.” (The relevant portion begins at the 11:00 mark.) The congressman argued, “I think that the sentiment out there in the public for another candidate in this race is absolutely extraordinary,” and he said he’d take the next “several days” to talk to his family and supporters about his options.

On the Democratic side, columnist Jim Beam (yes, he’s written about sharing his name with that Jim Beam), suggests real estate developer AP Marullo as a possibility. Marullo, who recently commissioned an unreleased poll that does not appear to have included himself as an option, told Beam that he saw it as vital to find the “alternate best candidate” to take on Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry. Marullo recently purchased a prominent restaurant in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie that will reopen this year bearing his name.

West Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) said that he is “seriously considering” running for Senate in 2024.

Secretary of State Mac Warner, who runs West Virginia’s elections even as he’s helped spread election conspiracy theories, announced Tuesday that he was joining the 2024 primary to succeed his fellow Republican, termed-out Gov. Jim Justice.

Warner kicked off his campaign with a speech emphasizing service in the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps and declaring, “It is time to call-out the radical, woke, dangerous and ridiculous policies of the ‘progressive’ Administration in Washington, D.C.” West Virginia Metro News’ Brad McElhinny notes that in that address, the secretary of state “did not mention issues specific to West Virginia.”

Warner, who won his job in 2016 by narrowly unseating Democratic incumbent Natalie Tennant, was respected by fellow election officials heading into the 2020 contest for his efforts to combat misinformation, but that very much changed after Election Day. That’s because Warner, who had just decisively defeated Tennant in their rematch, spent the next weeks backing up lies about Donald Trump’s defeat.

Warner appeared at a December “March for Trump” rally in the state, where he appeared to be holding up a “Stop the Steal” sign. He later said he didn’t actually think he’d hoisted that particular banner, but there’s no question the secretary of state told Trump’s fans at that gathering that it was “so important to keep him in office.”

Warner also supported Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s failed lawsuit to invalidate Joe Biden’s win in four swing states. While he insisted he was concerned whether changes states made in how late mail-in ballots could be received were constitutional, Warner also spread lies alleging, “When cardboard is put over windows, when two cases of ballots come out, when ballots are pre-marked or don’t have folds on it—there’s all those things. Those are red flags that need to be looked at and not just discounted, and that’s what the mainstream media wants us to do.”

Warner the following year was the one person at the National Association of Secretaries of State meeting to vote against a bipartisan proposal by his colleagues to set a standard for election audits, and he soon withdrew from the group in protest. (Missouri’s Jay Ashcroft, who is also likely to run in 2024 for governor of his own state, abstained.)

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Warner acknowledged Biden “was elected,” but he still questioned if that contest was fairly run. He also argued that congressional Democrats’ efforts to expand voting rights and the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Paxton’s suit are “what spurred on the Jan. 6 people.”

Warner joins a GOP primary that includes Del. Moore Capito and auto dealer Chris Miller, both of who come from prominent Mountain State political families. Capito is the son of Sen. Shelly Moore Capito and grandson of the late Gov. Arch Moore, while Miller’s mother is Rep. Carol Miller. Warner also has some notable relatives: His wife, Debbie Warner, was recently elected to the state House, while his brother Monty Warner badly lost the 2004 gubernatorial race to Democrat Joe Manchin. Another brother currently leads the West Virginia Economic Development Authority.

The contest to replace Justice could expand further, as Auditor JB McCuskey has talked about getting in. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who lost the 2018 Senate race to Manchin, also put out a video Tuesday reiterating he was “still evaluating my options as to whether I’m going to run for U.S. Senate or for governor … We’re coming soon.” While Morrisey didn’t indicate which office he was leaning towards, McElhinny noted that the attorney general’s message urging voters not to “settle for second best” went up as Warner was still delivering his announcement speech.

“He’s a complete and total fraud. He lied to the voters of the 3rd Congressional District in New York. He deceived and connived his way into Congress, and is now the responsibility of House Republicans to do something about it.”  — Rep. Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY), quoted by The Hill, about embattled Rep. George Santos (R-NY).

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

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