The Political Report – January 20, 2023

“President Joe Biden’s aides say a detailed timeline for announcing a re-election bid has not been finalized, but they have agreed on at least one benchmark: He won’t launch a 2024 campaign before delivering his State of the Union Address next month,“ NBC News reports.

Said one source: “We want him to be a president at State of the Union, not a candidate.”

President Biden was invited to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, February 7.

NORTH CAROLINA U.S. SENATOR. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “North Carolina’s open-seat race is clearly the marquee contest of 2024’s gubernatorial races. It starts as a Toss-up.”

Attorney General Josh Stein on Wednesday launched his long-anticipated 2024 campaign to succeed his fellow North Carolina Democrat, termed-out Gov. Roy Cooper, with a message largely focused on the likely Republican frontrunner: Far-right Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.

After recounting in his launch video how his father’s civil rights law firm was firebombed in 1971, Stein tells the audience, “Today there’s a different set of bomb throwers, who threaten our freedoms and our future while some politicians spark division, ignite hate and fan the flames of bigotry.” That statement is accompanied by footage of the Charlottesville white supremacist rally and the Jan. 6 riot before a reporter is heard saying, “Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson suggested that God calls men, not women, to leadership.”

The video goes on to play clips of Robinson first proclaiming that God “sent David, not Davita, David” to go up against Goliath before he’s shown saying, “homosexuality, any of that filth, and yes, I called it filth,” and “abortion is a scourge that needs to be run out of this land.” Stein reappears and says, “Robinson wants to tell you who you can marry, when you’ll be pregnant and who you should hate. I’m running for governor because I believe in a very different North Carolina, one rooted in our shared values of freedom, justice and opportunity for everyone.”

Stein is the first major candidate from either party to enter what will arguably be the most prominent governor’s race of 2024. The attorney general is hoping to ward off potential primary foes, and he entered the contest with endorsements from two people who had been talked about as contenders, Rep. Jeff Jackson and state House Minority Leader Robert Reives. Also in Stein’s corner are Reps. Wiley Nickel and Deborah Ross, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, and former Gov. Jim Hunt, who completed his second stint leading the state in early 2001.

Robinson himself said in 2021 that he was “95% sure” he’d run for the top job, and while he’s not yet set to commit to anything, Stein is far from the only Tar Heel State politico who is anticipating he’ll run. The lieutenant governor may have some primary opposition, as state Treasurer Dale Folwell reiterated his interest Wednesday when he predicted that GOP voters “will have an option.”

Former Rep. Mark Walker is also reportedly considering even though he took just 9% in last year’s primary for Senate. A December survey from Differentiators Data, a new Republican pollster run by two former state Senate aides, showed Robinson destroying Folwell and Walker 60-6 and 58-6, respectively.

If a Stein-Robinson matchup does come to pass as the attorney general expects, it will pit two prominent statewide figures against one another. Stein himself sought a promotion in 2016 from the state Senate when he ran for attorney general to replace Cooper, a four-term incumbent who left to successfully challenge Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. Stein defeated Republican colleague Buck Newton 50.3-49.7 that year even as Donald Trump was carrying the state 50-46, a result that gave Democrats another bright spot on a terrible night and made Stein the first Jewish person elected statewide.

Stein sought re-election four years later at the same time that Robinson, who had become a conservative celebrity for his 2018 speech protesting the cancellation of a gun show in Greensboro, was campaigning for lieutenant governor. While Trump prevailed 50-49, Stein won another very close race 50.1-49.9 against Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill after a race where the incumbent ran an ad accusing the Republican of failing to test thousands of rape kits.

That win came as Robinson, who stood by his old antisemitic, Islamophobic, and transphobic screeds, beat state Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley 52-48 in a contest where either candidate would have been the first African American elected to the post. Robinson went on to make news over the following years with more bigoted comments, including some of the ones Stein used in his video.

The lieutenant governor just days ago also declared that “abortion is not compatible with this nation, the same way slavery was not compatible with this nation.” This statement came months after Robinson confirmed that his wife underwent the procedure in 1989 just prior to their marriage, saying, “It’s because of this experience and our spiritual journey that we are so adamantly pro-life.”

Stein has had a far less turbulent tenure, though O’Neill has continued to cause him trouble even in defeat. The district attorney filed a complaint that cited an obscure 1931 law that makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly run false election ads against an opponent: Stein, who says he stands by that ad’s accuracy, has also defended himself on free speech grounds. A federal appeals court halted the investigation into Stein in August, but the matter remains unresolved.

INDIANA U.S. SENATOR.  “The latest front in the Republican civil war is set to erupt in the otherwise quiet state of Indiana,” Politico reports.

“Party officials and insiders are girding for an increasingly nasty primary battle for an open Senate seat between Rep. Jim Banks, who has declared, and former Purdue University president and former two-term Gov. Mitch Daniels, who appears increasingly poised to join the race. Daniels is expected to announce his intentions soon, according to one GOP senator. The ensuing fight could open years-old fault lines between the establishment and Trumpist wings of the party.”

Indiana Rep. Jim Banks on Tuesday became the first prominent candidate to kick off a campaign for the Senate seat that his fellow Republican, Mike Braun, is giving up to run for governor, and the deep-pocketed Club for Growth quickly endorsed its fellow conservative hardliner.

Club president David McIntosh, a former Indiana congressman who is trying to deter former Gov. Mitch Daniels from entering the primary, told Politico that his group was willing to spend at least $10 million on this contest. Banks also launched his bid with the backing of fellow Reps. Larry Bucshon and Greg Pence, who is the older brother of Mike Pence.

Daniels isn’t the only fellow Republican that Banks, a four-term Northeastern Indiana congressman who previously served with the Army in Afghanistan, may need to go through, though one potential contender seems to be backing away. Rep. Victoria Spartz, who like Banks went from the state Senate to the U.S. House after winning a primary with Club support, tells Politico, “I am not inclined to do it at this time, but many of my supporters would like me to still consider it.” She added, “I do not worry about who is in the race.”

Former Rep. Trey Hollingsworth reportedly has been considering while termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb, the man that Braun is hoping to replace, has not ruled anything out. Attorney General Todd Rokita, meanwhile, is keeping the Hoosier State guessing about his plans; Air Force veteran Jennifer-Ruth Green, who failed to unseat Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan, continues to be mentioned even though she’s yet to say if she’s thinking about running for Senate. There’s also plenty of time for other Republicans to campaign to succeed Braun in this red state.

Banks, though, is so far focused on contrasting himself just with Daniels, who described Banks as the future of the GOP a decade ago when they were each serving in state government. The congressman referenced the 2010 comments where Daniels, who was considering a White House bid at the time, said the next GOP president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues” so they could concentrate on solving fiscal issues like the deficit. “I’ll never be calling for a truce on social issues or cultural issues,” Banks instead told Politico in an interview where he argued that they “matter more than at any point in my lifetime.”

Indeed, Banks has stood out even within the GOP caucus for his record of anti-trans rhetoric: In 2021 he intentionally misgendered Rachel Levine after she became the highest-ranking trans official in U.S. history, and he used his announcement video to brag that he’d fought to keep trans girls from playing in the sport that corresponds with their gender identity. Banks also reiterated his opposition to abortion rights in that message.

Banks additionally voted to overturn Joe Biden’s win hours after the Jan. 6 attack, and while he initially called for a bipartisan commission to investigate the riot, he quickly reversed himself and told colleagues to oppose the plan. A few months later, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy picked Banks and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan as two of his nominees for the Jan. 6 committee. Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected them both, saying their “statements and actions” disqualified them; Banks made sure to use headlines about this story in his launch video as he said that Pelosi and Joe Biden “have tried to block me before.”

However, some of Banks’ current House colleagues have also interfered with his advancement in the lower chamber, most notably in an incident last year that sucked in Fox blowhard Tucker Carlson. Banks’ allies started a super PAC late in the midterm campaign to elect like-minded candidates, a move that very much seemed to be about helping his bid to become House majority whip. NRCC chair Tom Emmer, who also wanted the whip’s job, was not happy, and his supporters told the Daily Beast that Banks wasn’t actually the ardent anti-establishment conservative he presented himself as.

“Deep down, he dies to be liked by the Establishment. He hires Tucker Carlson’s son, a 24-year-old kid, to be his communications director,” said one strategist in comments that the elder Carlson unsurprisingly saw. Emmer’s people also made sure to dig up a 2016 tweet where Banks responded to Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape by writing, “This election’s low bar hit the floor today with the revelation of Trump’s crude comments. America and my daughters deserve much better.”

But all of this drama, as well as Carlson’s private fury at Emmer, wasn’t enough to stop the Minnesotan from narrowly beating Banks a few weeks later in the whip race. A short time after that rejection, Banks began making it clear he’d likely run for the Senate.

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. While several prominent California Democrats are talking about running for Senate whether or not incumbent Dianne Feinstein retires, the Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey writes that Rep. Eric Swalwell “has no plans” to get in. While that’s not actually a no, it would be difficult for anyone competing in this enormous state to advance out of the top-two primary, which is scheduled for March of 2024, without already doing some planning.

Brodey’s sources also relay that Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and Attorney General Rob Bonta “are not believed to be interested in the seat.”

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. Unnamed sources tell CNN that election conspiracy theorist Kari Lake, the Republican who is still trying to undo her defeat in last year’s gubernatorial race, is indeed thinking about running for the Senate but won’t make up her mind “until after her court case is completed.” Lake’s campaign Twitter account characteristically responded by spreading more lies about last year’s contest before concluding, “It is true that dozens of people have reached out to Kari suggesting she run for US Senate. There have been several polls showing she is the strongest candidate and could win.”

Washington Post: “In Arizona, an emerging battleground, defeated gubernatorial candidate and former TV newscaster Kari Lake is considering running for the Senate seat held by independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, according to a person familiar with the discussions who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations candidly.”

“And Blake Masters, the venture capitalist who lost the Senate race to Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in November, told The Washington Post he is also ‘seriously’ weighing another bid — setting up a scenario where a candidate who underperformed could again clinch the nomination in the swing state.”

OHIO U.S. SENATOR. State Sen. Matt Dolan on Tuesday became the first serious Ohio Republican to announce a bid against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, a move that comes less than a year after the Cleveland Guardians part-owner spent $10.6 million of his own money on a failed primary campaign for the Buckeye State’s other seat. As we’ll discuss, though, Dolan is far from the only candidate looking to take on Brown, who will be one of the GOP’s top Senate targets this cycle.

Dolan, whose family owns Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team, last time stood out in the packed primary field to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman both for his vast resources and for being the one major candidate to condemn the Big Lie and call for the party to move on from Donald Trump. The state senator, who campaigned as a conservative who could achieve results, denied he was anti-Trump, but that hardly stopped the GOP’s master from making his defeat a priority.

Trump repeatedly trashed Dolan over his team’s new name, writing, “Anybody who changes the name of the ‘storied’ Cleveland Indians (from 1916), an original baseball franchise, to the Cleveland Guardians, is not fit to serve in the United States Senate.” (Dolan said he was not involved in the decision.) Politico reported last year that Trump also successfully encouraged one Senate candidate, wealthy businessman Bernie Moreno, to drop out of the primary to make sure the GOP didn’t lose the seat to a “Democrat” in the primary or general, a comment that very much seemed to be about the state senator.

Trump went on to endorse venture capitalist J.D. Vance late in the primary, a move that may have allowed him to consolidate enough of the base to stop Dolan from slipping through: Vance beat former state Treasurer Josh Mandel 32-24, while Dolan was just behind with 23%. Dolan, who supported Vance’s successful general election campaign even though the nominee had spread lies about the 2020 election, kicked off his new campaign by signaling he’d run an effort similar to last time. “The midterm election showed us nationally that if the Republicans are going to put up folks that are focused on yesterday, running these campaigns of grievances, we’re going to lose,” he argued.

Dolan, though, will almost certainly be in for another tough primary against opponents looking to portray him as insufficiently conservative. Local observers have anticipated for some time that Secretary of State Frank LaRose will get in, and his team did nothing to tamp down that talk on Tuesday. “Sherrod Brown has been in office for 48 years, and in 2024 there is a one-shot opportunity to take back the U.S. Senate,” said a LaRose spokesperson, adding, “Naturally, there is a lot of discussion right now over who is the most qualified candidate to replace him, and Secretary LaRose intends to be a part of that conversation.”

Rep. Warren Davidson, a conservative hardliner who was elected to succeed none other than John Boehner in 2016, has publicly expressed interest last month, while venture capitalist Mark Kvamme has also mused about running for office. additionally wrote in November that Moreno is thinking about giving it another shot, while Attorney General Dave Yost is also privately considering. Neither Republican has said anything publicly about their 2024 plans yet, though Yost made headlines last week after the media reported that he’d briefly retired in order to draw a pension in addition to his salary, a choice that Democrats were quick to attack.

Brown, for his part, made it clear last year that he’d seek a fourth term in a longtime swing state that has lurched hard to the right in recent years. The senator has even been working to convince two of his colleagues, Montana’s Jon Tester and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, to run again, noting that their decisions could impact whether or not he’s the GOP’s top Senate target.

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester says he’s still making up his mind whether or not to run for re-election, but a decision could come as soon as February.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. The Daily Beast’s Jake Lahut takes a deep look at the Michigan Senate race and reports that former Rep. Justin Amash is very much considering running to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow even though his party affiliation is still very much up in the air. An unnamed source close to the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Libertarian says that Amash could rejoin the GOP or try to strike it out as an independent. Lahut adds that the former congressman has also mulled over “perhaps just serving as an independent in the Senate if he were elected.”

On the Democratic side, Lahut relays that state Sen. Mallory McMorrow is also thinking about seeking this seat. McMorrow earned a national following last year for her response after Republican colleague Lana Theis used QAnon-like language in a lie-infused anti-LGBTQ fundraising email that smeared the Democrat as someone who wants to “groom and sexualize kindergartners.” McMorrow took to the state Senate floor and declared, “I am the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme. Because you can’t claim that you are targeting marginalized kids in the name of ‘parental rights’ if another parent is standing up to say no.”

Lahut also writes that party operatives are also still thinking that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson could get in even though she sounded unlikely in the days following Stabenow’s retirement announcement. However, Lahut’s sources doubt U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who declined to rule out a campaign even after being repeatedly pressed, will actually seek this seat.  

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. Republican state Rep. Richard Nelson on Wednesday joined the October all-party primary for governor of Louisiana by touting his “bipartisanship and working for sound policy rather than political party,” a strategy that none of his intra-party Republicans have tried out yet.

But Nelson, who said in November a campaign would be aimed at “the middle,” may be hoping that, by presenting himself as a pragmatic conservative, he’ll be able to appeal to Democrats and independents who desperately want to keep far-right Attorney General Jeff Landry out of the governor’s office in this red state. Indeed, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser signaled he’d be adopting this strategy before he unexpectedly decided to seek re-election last week.

Nelson, however, is entering the contest without the statewide name recognition and connections that Nungesser would have brought to the race. The state representative, who at 36 is the youngest declared contender, only won elected office in 2019 when he was elected to a seat in St. Tammany Parish, a longtime Republican bastion on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain. He probably can’t count on much regional loyalty helping him either because two of his intra-party rivals, state Treasurer John Schroder and state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, are also from St. Tammany Parish: Landry and independent Hunter Lundy, by contrast, are from Acadiana in southwestern Louisiana.

Nelson, writes’s Sam Karlin, has generally been a conservative vote in the legislature, though he’s occasionally broken from party orthodoxy by pushing for decriminalizing marijuana. The candidate’s main cause in the legislature has been trying to eliminate the state income tax by reducing property tax breaks for corporations and the homestead exemption for homeowners.

Nelson’s announcement comes as the state political world wonders if a more prominent Republican, Rep. Garret Graves, will run, a question the Baton Rouge area congressman himself is also wondering about. While Graves said last week his decision would come “very soon,” he responded Wednesday with an “I don’t know” when asked when an announcement might come. Several Democrats are also still mulling over a campaign.

State Republican Party chairman Louis Gurvich used Sunday to publish an essay saying that GOP Rep. Garret Graves “would be making a terrible mistake” by competing in this year’s race to succeed Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards even though the “word on the street is that” Graves “will declare for the race this week,” Gurvich, whose State Central Committee endorsed Attorney General Jeff Landry last fall, went so far as to raise the specter of Edwards running and winning the special election to replace Graves before using the House seat as a springboard to challenge GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy in 2026.

Edwards, who has shown no obvious interest in running for another office, would have a challenging time flipping Graves’ 6th District, a Baton Rouge-area constituency that Donald Trump took 64-34. Republican legislators, who passed their new map over Edwards’ veto, once again did everything they could to keep this seat solidly red by placing the capital city’s heavily Black areas in Democratic Rep. Troy Carter’s 2nd District.

Punchbowl News: “This is notable for many reasons. California – specifically San Francisco – is Pelosi’s home turf. And she’s by far the biggest fundraiser in congressional history, raising more than $1 billion for Democrats during 20 years in leadership, according to her team.”

“Pelosi, of course, was never going to disappear completely from the fundraising scene once she stepped down from Democratic leadership. But headlining an event with Jeffries in her backyard and personally introducing him to key California donors is a big deal for the New Yorker and the caucus…”

“This San Francisco fundraising event with Pelosi is particularly important, functionally and symbolically. As Jeffries prepared to ascend to the top Democratic leadership post, the lingering question among his colleagues was whether he’d be able to even come close to matching Pelosi’s fundraising prowess. Pelosi is doing what she can to help assuage those fears.”

“The cash-strapped Michigan Republican Party will require delegates to help cover the cost of next month’s state convention in Lansing, where they’ll gather to decide who will lead the party for the next two years,” Bridge Michigan reports.

“It’s the latest sign of financial strain for the Michigan GOP, which last year struggled to raise money from traditional donors after grassroots delegates stormed state conventions to nominate outsider candidates loyal to former President Donald Trump.”

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

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