The Political Report – February 5, 2023

“Democrats are unfazed, even giddy about a possible 2024 rematch between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. But the prospect of facing upstart Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is prompting whispers of angst within Democratic circles,” Bloomberg reports.

“While Biden advisers and allies haven’t yet settled on a strategy to thwart DeSantis, the White House hasn’t missed an opportunity to knock him in an effort to weaken him before he can announce a presidential bid.”

“DeSantis is a near daily fixture in Democratic National Committee attack emails, slamming his positions and policy moves. Biden advisers and allies are seeking to call into question the governor’s leadership, putting the two camps on a collision course over hot-button issues like abortion, taxes and education.”

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. “Sen. Kyrsten Sinema raked in campaign cash from corporate leaders at the end of last year as she prepared for a potential high-stakes 2024 reelection bid in the battleground state of Arizona,” CNBC reports.

“Sinema, a centrist swing vote in the narrowly split Senate, switched her party affiliation from Democrat to independent in December. Real estate and private equity leaders, who have long helped to fill Sinema’s campaign coffers, contributed to a healthy cash haul for the senator in the final months of last year.”

A trio of progressive groups have published a poll from the Democratic firm Normington Petts arguing that, while Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego can win the general election for Arizona’s Senate seat whether or not Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema runs, the incumbent would disproportionately hurt Gallego while still falling far short of victory.

The survey, which was conducted for Progress Arizona, LUCHA, and Replace Sinema PAC, tests out two different potential Republican candidates: conspiracy theorist Kari Lake, who claims she won the 2022 race for governor, and former Gov. Doug Ducey:

  • Gallego (D): 50, Lake (R): 45
  • Gallego (D): 36, Lake (R): 36, Sinema (I-inc): 24
  • Gallego (D): 37, Ducey (R): 31, Sinema (I-inc): 27

The release did not include numbers testing a two-way matchup between Gallego and Ducey. Sinema has yet to commit to running again, and the poll’s sponsors argue she couldn’t win. Ducey himself has said he won’t run, but Lake reportedly is considering the idea.

Plenty of Republican strategists, though, recognize that election deniers like Lake have been toxic to the party’s chances, and Politico reports that freshman Rep. Juan Ciscomani continues to remain a popular choice for this crowd: There’s no word, though, if Ciscomani himself is interested. The story also says that unnamed consultants are trying to deter one of those disastrous candidates of 2022, Senate nominee Blake Masters, from waging another bid for the upper chamber by encouraging him to run for a safely red House seat instead.

However, while Politico relays that there are rumors that far-right Rep. Paul Gosar could retire from his 9th District and thus give Masters a landing spot, Gosar himself responded, “No, I’m not leaving. I still think I’d like to see this majority go to the White House and the Senate.” No matter what, Politico adds that Republicans doubt that both Masters and Lake would run against each other for Senate.

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff on Thursday earned the endorsement of homestate colleague Nancy Pelosi on the condition that Sen. Dianne Feinstein doesn’t run again. Almost no one seems to think the incumbent will be competing in the 2024 top-two primary, though, and the former speaker made it clear she’s for Schiff in an open-seat race.

Another 14 members of California’s 40-person Democratic House delegation also announced they’re backing Schiff: Julia Brownley, Jim Costa, Anna Eshoo, Jimmy Gomez, Jared Huffman, Mike Levin, Ted Lieu, Grace Napolitano, Jimmy Panetta, Scott Peters, Brad Sherman, Eric Swalwell, Mike Thompson, and Juan Vargas. The group made their choice even though the top-two primary includes Rep. Katie Porter, while fellow Rep. Barbara Lee reportedly plans to run as well.

“Several of her House colleagues are already running for her Senate seat. She isn’t raising real money. And it’s so widely assumed that Sen. Dianne Feinstein is on her way out that Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker, felt free this week to publicly endorse a would-be successor — if Feinstein retires,” Politico reports.

“An extreme awkwardness has fallen over California political circles, where virtually everyone is acting as if Feinstein is done, but without her explicitly saying so. It’s the electoral equivalent of clearing the dessert from the dinner table as one guest sits there, nibbling at the main course chicken dish that had been served hours prior.”

“Defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake met with officials at the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Thursday,” Politico reports.

“The meeting comes as Lake is considering a run for the Senate in Arizona. Caroline Wren, a senior adviser to Lake, confirmed the meeting, saying it lasted about an hour and that the topics of discussion included the differences between running a Senate and a gubernatorial campaign.”

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. Former Justice Dan Kelly’s allies at Fair Courts America, a super PAC funded by megadonors Dick and Liz Uihlein, have launched a $500,000 opening TV ad campaign ahead of the Feb. 21 nonpartisan primary, a move that comes around the same time that the contest’s other conservative, Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow, is also airing her first TV spot. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz is in the midst of her own $700,000 buy; Dane County Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell, who is also a Democrat, has not yet gone on the air.

The pro-Kelly group, which previously spent $250,000 on radio spotsopens with a narrator warning, “Madison liberals are trying to take over the Wisconsin Supreme Court. That’s why we need to elect conservative Justice Dan Kelly.” Dorow’s commercial, meanwhile, touts her service as the judge at the trial of Darrell Brooks, who was convicted of killing six people at the 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade. The ad shows footage of Brooks’ SUV right before it slammed into the crowd and people fleeing afterwards. WisPolitics says the spot is airing for $60,000.

TEXAS U.S. SENATOR. Politico’s Marianne LeVine writes that an unnamed source close to Democrat Julián Castro says that the former Housing and Urban Development secretary is considering taking on Republican incumbent Ted Cruz, who is one of the party’s few viable 2024 Senate targets. Castro and his identical twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, have publicly or privately mulled a number of statewide bids over the past decade, but neither man has ever gone for it.

Rep. Colin Allred has been talked about for a while as a possible Cruz foe, and LeVine relays that Lone Star State Democrats are also looking at state Sen. Roland Gutierrez and state Rep. James Talarico: None of this trio, though, has said if they’re thinking about it. Cruz’s 2018 foe, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, did not respond to LeVine’s inquiries about his own interest, though he just got off a 55-44 loss to GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. O’Rourke said in his November concession speech that “this may be one of the last times I get to talk in front of you all.”

MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR. “Republicans have had a lock on the Mississippi governorship for decades. But Democrats hope that a candidate with one of the most famous last names in America can change that,” Politico reports.

“Democrats are coalescing around Brandon Presley, a public service commissioner and a distant cousin of Elvis Presley to challenge Republican Gov. Tate Reeves. Reeves has middling poll numbers and clashed with some other state Republicans, but he secured his party’s nomination since several potential primary challengers bowed out, after sniffing around Reeves’ campaign for weakness.”

“Presley’s appeal for Democrats goes well beyond his connection to The King. Democrats believe that his record as a public official — combined with what would need to be a strong campaign and a weakened incumbent — gives them a chance to break the GOP’s streak of dominance over state government. It would follow a similar path to other recent Democratic governors elected in red states like Louisiana, Kentucky and Kansas.”

While several Republicans have spent the last year talking about challenging Gov. Tate Reeves in the Aug. 8 primary, no serious intra-party opponents stepped up before filing closed Wednesday. The governor will instead go up against physician John Witcher, a Mississippi Against Mandates leader who was fired in 2021 for switching patients’ prescriptions from remdesivir to ivermectin, the horse dewormer the FDA has warned should never be used to treat or prevent COVID. One other candidate is also in: In the unlikely event no one takes a majority, a runoff will be held Aug. 29.

Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, likewise, faces only two little-known foes in the Democratic primary. Independent Gwendolyn Gray is running as well, and her presence could be enough to keep Reeves or Presley from winning the majority on Nov. 7 needed to avert a second round on Nov. 28. The runoff, which was approved by voters in 2020, replaced the infamous Jim Crow-era electoral system that was in force for over a century.

MISSISSIPPI LT. GOVERNOR. Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a longtime ally of neo-Confederate groups who almost ousted the late Sen. Thad Cochran in the 2014 Republican primary, announced Monday that he’d challenge Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann in this year’s nomination contest for one of the most powerful offices in this red state.

McDaniel, who entered the race just two days before candidate filing closed, asked his audience, “Do you want a Trump or DeSantis, or do you want a Mitt Romney or a Liz Cheney?” The state senator argued he was trying to beat Hosemann in the Aug. 8 primary by casting the incumbent, who leads the state Senate, as a moderate whose “beliefs align more with the Democratic Party than they do with the party of Reagan and Goldwater.”

Among other things, McDaniel faulted Hosemann for appointing his Democratic colleagues as committee chairs, supporting a Medicaid expansion for postpartum mothers, and telling Trump’s bogus “election integrity” panel to “go jump in the Gulf” back in 2017. “There is no honor in compromise,” he declared, “There is only weakness in surrender.” Hosemann’s team responded to the challenge by defending his conservative credentials and blasting McDaniel as “the least effective politician in the state with the largest ego.”

Two little-known candidates also are competing for the GOP nod, and their presence could prevent either Hosemann or McDaniel from winning the majority of the vote they’d need to avoid a runoff on Aug. 29. Governors and lieutenant governors compete in separate elections, and whoever wins this primary will be the favorite against Ryan Grover, a graphic designer who was the one Democrat to file, to take what’s arguably the most influential job in Mississippi politics.

The lieutenant governor controls the state Senate’s committee assignments, including chairmanships, which gives them a massive amount of influence over what legislation does or does not pass. The state Supreme Court in 1987 upheld the office’s powers, much to the disappointment of one dissenting justice who called the post “a powerful legislative creature, a super-senator, vested with sufficient legislative authority to virtually dominate the entire Senate.”

McDaniel is aiming to become this “super-senator” nearly a decade after he almost joined the U.S. Senate by toppling Cochran. McDaniel rallied the still-powerful tea party to take on the incumbent, whom he also went after for being too willing to compromise, and he immediately earned endorsements from anti-establishment groups who also detested the veteran appropriator. Cochran, meanwhile, never seemed to recognize what direction his party was heading in, and he didn’t have the fire-in-the-belly conservatism that primary voters craved.

McDaniel, a former radio host who had a long record of delivering speeches at Sons of Confederate Veterans gatherings, emerged as the frontrunner even after some of his old misogynistic rantings surfaced. (To take just one example: “It’s so interesting to see this woman basically using her boobies to—I shouldn’t have said that—using her breasts to run for office.”) McDaniel also seemed to ride out ugly headlines describing how one of his allies was arrested for covertly filming Cochran’s ailing wife, Rose Cochran, at her nursing home.

McDaniel outpaced the incumbent 49.5-49.0 in the primary, but the presence of a minor third candidate kept him from taking the majority he needed to win outright. The state senator still seemed to be on track for a knockout win a few weeks later, though, even after one of his top staffers was found locked inside the Hinds County courthouse hours after officials finished tabulating votes there.

What instead followed, though, was a truly nasty three-week runoff that did not go according to plan for McDaniel. Cochran highlighted his long ties to the state’s Black voters to encourage this heavily Democratic group to vote in the Republican contest, a strategy that made all the difference. The senator, powered by strong turnout in predominantly African American areas, won 51-49, a result that McDaniel and his allies refused to accept. The defeated challenger instead argued in court that Democratic voters had illegally voted in the GOP primary and demanded a new election, which he never got.

McDaniel, who did win another term in the state Senate the next year, announced in 2018 that he’d challenge Mississippi’s other Republican senator, Roger Wicker, but the two never faced off. Cochran, who was in poor health, resigned a short time later, and McDaniel quickly entered the officially nonpartisan special election to succeed the man he still refused to accept had beaten him. But his campaign against appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who had Donald Trump’s endorsement, never caught fire, and he finished a distant third in the nonpartisan primary with just 16%.

PENNSYLVANIA STATE HOUSE and SENATE. It seems no one knows whether Democratic leader Joanna McClinton will replace Mark Rozzi as speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives after special elections take place on Tuesday for three Democratic-held constituencies—including Rozzi or McClinton themselves. The Philadelphia Inquirer says that the chamber has traditionally required a two-thirds vote to recall a speaker, though Rozzi, who won the post in a surprise last month, could voluntarily choose to step aside.

But it doesn’t seem like he’s eager to do so. Rozzi, a moderate who remains a registered Democrat a month after he pledged to run the chamber as an independent, told the Associated Press this week that he wants to keep his gavel and wouldn’t commit to stepping down to support McClinton, who’d been the chamber’s speaker-apparent after Democrats won a majority of seats in November. The Inquirer also recently asked McClinton, who would be the first Black woman to run the state House, if she anticipated becoming speaker “any time soon,” to which she responded, “The answer is, I don’t know.”

Republicans began the week with 101 members in the 203-person House compared to 99 for Rozzi and the other Democrats, with those three blue constituencies vacant. (Democrats won a 102-101 edge in November, but Republicans have still enjoyed a small advantage in membership.) Republicans, though, will lose a representative for a few months because state Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver won a Tuesday special election to the state Senate: Schlegel Culver defeated Democrat Patricia Lawton 70-30 to hold a district that Trump took 67-31, and the contest to fill her comparably red House seat likely won’t take place until May 16, the same day as Pennsylvania’s regular statewide primary.

Until then, assuming they successfully defend all three seats next week in the Pittsburgh area, Democrats would hold a 102-100 majority. It’s likely they will: A prominent conservative organization said in December it was “evaluating opportunities” as far as those three races go, but so far, Republican outside groups don’t appear to have deployed any serious resources in any of these contests.

The most competitive race on paper is for House District 35, a 58-41 Biden seat that Democrat Austin Davis won in November before resigning to become lieutenant governor. (Pennsylvania allows candidates to run for the legislature and another office at the same time.) This race pits Democrat Matt Gergely, who serves as finance director for the community of McKeesport, against Don Nevills, the Republican who lost to Davis 66-34 last year.

Local Democratic official Joe McAndrew will also be defending District 32, a 62-36 Biden constituency where state Rep. Tony DeLuca was posthumously re-elected, against pastor Clay Walker. Finally, Swissvale Borough Council President Abigail Salisbury should have no trouble succeeding now-Rep. Summer Lee in District 34, where Biden won 80-19.

Rozzi, for his part, was elected speaker a month ago with the support of the entire Democratic caucus as well as 16 Republicans, but his position has always been tenuous. Democratic state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta tweeted just two days after that contest to predict that, once the specials are resolved, McClinton “will become Speaker Joanna McClinton.”

Some of Rozzi’s former GOP backers, who supported him after concluding they couldn’t elect one of their own, have also made it clear they’re not happy that he’s remained close to the Democrats and hasn’t dropped his party affiliation. Rozzi says he only agreed to consider becoming an independent but doesn’t plan to do so, but that isn’t how Republican leader Bryan Cutler recounts it. “I think the mistake was trusting somebody who wasn’t entirely truthful,” said Cutler, adding, “That was a mistake. And there’s still time to correct that.”

Rozzi himself, though, insists that it’s Cutler who betrayed him over a proposed constitutional amendment that would give survivors of childhood sexual abuse a special two-year window to sue over claims that had otherwise expired. Rozzi, who himself is an abuse survivor, says that he believed the GOP-controlled state Senate crossed him by packaging this measure with two unrelated conservative amendments in order to pressure the House into placing all three on the ballot.

The speaker insists he unsuccessfully tried to reach a resolution with Cutler but had harsh words for the Republican. “You talk to the Democrats up here over the last 12 years and they’ll tell you, like every opportunity that Bryan Cutler got a chance to lie to them, he lied to them,” said Rozzi. Following the debacle regarding the abuse amendment, Rozzi adjourned the chamber until late February without any further legislative action. The House also has yet to agree on operating rules that, among other things, would determine how many members from each party would sit on each committee.

McClinton herself said last week she has a “positive working relationship,” with the speaker, but she hasn’t said if she’d ask him to step aside. Rozzi himself was noncommittal, saying of McClinton, “So, you know, at the end of the day she still has to get the votes to become speaker of the House.” While acknowledging his critics, he insisted, “I think that if I can show people I can lead this House, maybe I could stay in this position.”

An unnamed Rozzi ally, however, told the AP, “Mark is not certain about how long his tenure lasts …. There’s no textbook that he’s going to be able to pull out and read the next play from.” McClinton, for her part, said in response to Rozzi’s comments about her that she “would be honored” to hold the top job and would “trust my colleagues will make the best decision to move Pennsylvania forward.”

GEORGIA STATE HOUSE. Tuesday’s all-Republican special election runoff to succeed the longtime Speaker of the House David Ralston, who died just before Thanksgiving, ended with a 53-47 victory for banker Johnny Chastain over the speaker’s widow, development authority director Sheree Ralston. Ralston led Chastain 45-39 on Jan. 3, but she fell a few points short of the majority she needed to avert what turned out to be a consequential second round for this rural north Georgia seat.

Ralston had the backing of some notable state Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp and new Speaker Jon Burns, as well as a financial advantage. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein, though, says that Chastain “benefited from deep ties to the community,” which may have made all the difference in this low-turnout affair.

​Chastain​ celebrated his win​ by declaring, “The former speaker got―​we all know it, it’s not a hidden thing―​but he got too busy, he forgot, he basically couldn’t represent us. He got hard to reach​.” The new representative pledged, “But if you call me, I want to be able to try to get back to you. I want to be accessible​.” One of his top supporters, local conservative talk radio host Brian Pritchard​, also explained Chastain’s victory by saying, “What happened was the grassroots rising against the establishment. We’re not going to let Atlanta pick our representative​.”

MARYLAND U.S. SENATOR. “Sen. Ben Cardin is still assessing whether to run for another six-year term in 2024. In the meantime, ambitious fellow Democrats are preparing campaigns that can strike ASAP if the genial Marylander retires,” Politico reports.

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) “said he’s still undecided on whether to run for re-election in 2024, keeping Democrats in suspense for what will be a close-watched race,” NBC News reports. Said Tester: “I’ve got a few things to think about. Ultimately, in the end, I’ve got a farm that’s been in the family for over 100 years.”

WEST VIRGINIA U.S. SENATOR. Republican Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday that he’d decide within the following 30 days whether he’d run for the Senate seat held by Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin.

INDIANA U.S. SENATOR and GOVERNOR. Howey Politics reports that sources close to Attorney General Todd Rokita say that the Republican will likely run for re-election next year rather than campaign for Senate or governor.

Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-IN) will not run for either the House or Senate in 2024, Punchbowl News reports.

PENNSYLVANIA SUPREME COURT. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party voted over the weekend to endorse Daniel McCaffery over his fellow Superior Court judge, Deborah Kunselman, in the May primary for this crucial state Supreme Court seat. The only declared Republican candidate is Montgomery County President Judge Carolyn Carluccio, though Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick and Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough have each met with regional party caucuses to try to get the state GOP’s backing this weekend.  

The post everyone wants became vacant in September when Chief Justice Max Baer died at the age of 74 just months before the Democrat was to retire because of mandatory age limits: Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro has not yet nominated a successor, and it’s unclear if the GOP-led state Senate would confirm anyone he picked. The body retains a 4-2 Democratic majority though one of those Democrats, Kevin Dougherty, sided with his GOP colleagues last year in a high-profile case over whether to count mail-in ballots that arrived on time but had missing or incorrect dates.

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

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