“Democrats won control of the Pennsylvania House in special elections Tuesday, wresting partial power from Republicans for the first time in a dozen years in the competitive swing state,” the AP reports.
“Democrats won all three vacant Pittsburgh-area House seats to claim a slim edge over Republicans, finally securing a majority they first appeared to have won in last November’s General Election. Republicans still hold the Senate, creating a political division that could make it difficult for lawmakers to send priority bills to new Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro.”
“The special elections capped several months of electoral drama.”
TRUMP V. DESANTIS. In a series of posts on Truth Social, Donald Trump is taking aim at Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — including apparently accusing him of being a groomer and pedophile.
The Daily Mail amplifies Donald Trump’s posting of photos of Ron DeSantis as a teacher, allegedly partying with high school girls.
TRUMP V. HALEY. Daily Beast: “In Haley, Trump has a weak opponent he can easily dispense with. Polls have shown Haley polling around 3 percent, compared to Trump’s 48 percent. A rival that Trump can crush early—like Alabama football going against Austin Peay in September—could allow Trump to show voters that he’s still a force in the GOP. However, there are two schools of thought about how Haley is most useful to Trump.”
“Some in Trump’s orbit see a chance to bury Haley early and often, using her campaign like a crash test dummy to demonstrate Trump’s dominance for anyone else willing to step in. But Haley could also be useful in splitting the Republican primary vote and allowing Trump to cruise through the primaries with his strong base of voters who aren’t going anywhere.”
“Still, for others, Haley’s lack of a perceived threat will allow Trump to attempt something akin to ‘coalition building’ during the primary.”
CLUB FOR GROWTH SNUBS TRUMP. “The Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax group that spent nearly $150 million in the past two election cycles, has invited a half-dozen potential Republican presidential candidates to its annual donor retreat next month — but not Donald Trump,” the New York Times reports.
“In a meeting with reporters on Monday, David McIntosh, president of the group, said that Republican chances of winning back the White House next year would be diminished if Mr. Trump were once again at the top of the ticket and that he hoped to introduce Republican donors to other possibilities.”
Interestingly, CBS News reports a new poll commissioned by the Club for Growth shows Trump leading the GOP field of potential candidates with 37%, followed by Ron DeSantis at 33%, Mike Pence at 7% and Nikki Haley at 5%.
Donald Trump lashed out at the Club for Growth after he was left off the guest list of its annual donor retreat, The Hill reports. Said Trump: “The Club For NO Growth, an assemblage of political misfits, globalists, and losers, fought me incessantly and rather viciously during my presidential run in 2016. They said I couldn’t win, I did, and won even bigger in 2020, with millions of more votes than ‘16, but the Election was Rigged & Stollen.”
He added: “They asked to get together on Endorsements of candidates, we did, and had MANY WINS & NO losses. Relationship broke up over my Endorsement of certain great people in Alabama & Ohio. I won them all!”
DESANTIS 2024. “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ likely presidential campaign is getting a major assist this week by Republican legislators who are moving quickly in a hastily called special session to help the governor,” Politico reports.
“GOP lawmakers are taking steps to undercut or nix legal challenges against some of DeSantis’ signature programs — and are helping him resolve a year-long feud with Disney that DeSantis has used to highlight his ongoing battle against ‘woke’ corporations.”
“It’s also a reminder that DeSantis has a ready partner in the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature to give him wins that can be used on the campaign trail should he jump into the race against former President Donald Trump later this year.”
“DeSantis is signaling plans to ramp up his attack on the news industry ahead of his likely 2024 run for president,” Politico reports. “DeSantis on Tuesday held a roundtable discussion with media libel law experts and critics on a stage mirroring a typical cable-news show, with the GOP governor setting behind a desk with a screen behind him with the word ‘truth’ displayed prominently.”
DESANTIS PAC. Peter Hamby: “Multiple GOP sources tell me that a pair of respected Republican consultants—Phil Cox, a veteran adviser to Republican governors with close connections with major donors, and Liesl Hickey, the former executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee—have been recruiting staffers for a super PAC that would support a DeSantis bid.”
“The governor has not made a decision on a campaign, but both Cox and Hickey are experienced, high-level strategists who helped steer DeSantis’s 2020 re-election bid and his attention-grabbing fights on education and Covid. They aren’t the kind of people who waste their days fighting with randos on Twitter—both were working in the trenches of Republican politics long before Trump came along—and their involvement in the possible super PAC is one of the strongest signals yet that DeSantis is moving toward a national campaign. I’m also told that Generra Peck, a Darden MBA with Virginia roots who now works for DeSantis in Tallahassee, has been making similar recruiting calls to Republican operatives about possibly working on an official campaign if DeSantis decides to take the plunge.”
Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) said that California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) should uphold his promise to choose a Black woman to take Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) seat, if the 89-year-old Senator doesn’t finish her term in office, NBC Los Angeles reports.
“Porter, who is an announced candidate for Feinstein’s post, appeared to endorse the Governor’s pledge, as there are currently no Black women in the U.S. Senate.”
BIDEN. “President Biden and Democratic allies have relentlessly attacked Republicans in recent weeks for cracking the door open to a Fair Tax, a plan to scrap the American tax code and replace it with a jumbo-sized sales tax,” Semafor reports.
“They might get many more opportunities to bring it up. Several of the most prominent 2024 names on the Republican side have supported Fair Tax bills at the state and national level and enthusiastically praised the idea along the way.”
Russell Berman: “The 2024 field has been frozen by an unusual pairing—a former president who still inspires fear and a sitting president still biding his time.”
New York Times: “While some Republicans believe that the issue can win over independents, especially suburban women, the 2022 midterms showed that attacks on school curriculums — specifically on critical race theory and so-called gender ideology — largely were a dud in the general election.”
PHILADELPHIA MAYOR. While businessman Jeff Brown and his allied super PAC have been running ads utilizing old footage of Michelle Obama praising him, the former first lady’s team made it clear late last week that she’s not happy about her involuntary insertion into May’s nine-way Democratic primary for mayor in Philadelphia. “For any candidate looking to earn the public’s trust, manipulating old appearances that are out of context to suggest an endorsement is disappointing,” an Obama advisor told the Philadelphia Inquirer, adding, “Mrs. Obama does not get involved in Democratic primaries and is not supporting this candidate.”
Reporter Anna Orso explains that Brown, who owns several locations of the ShopRite grocery store chain, has run commercials showing him with Obama in 2010 and 2011 as she praised his work opening stores in underserved communities. The viewer at the end of a Brown spot sees Obama speaking on a stage and saying, “I commend you for your leadership and for doing what’s best for the people of this city,” but Orso says this footage appears to have been edited in a small but crucial way. The first lady, according to the event’s transcript, was addressing both Brown and another grocer when she really said, “I commend both of you for your leadership and for doing what’s best for the people of this city.” (Emphasis added.)
Obama’s comments condemning the ads came about a week after Ernest Owens reported in The Daily Beast that she’d communicated her displeasure to Brown, though that article did not mention the edit Orso flags. The candidate’s spokesperson defended the spots to Owens, saying, “The Jeff Brown ad featuring former First Lady Michelle Obama included content that was publicly available and in the public domain. It included comments that former First Lady Obama made about Jeff Brown’s work on developing solutions to the national food desert crisis.” Brown’s team says the ad hasn’t aired in weeks, though it remains online as of Monday.
Owens also pointed out that this isn’t the first time that Brown’s messaging has resulted in the wrong type of attention. The candidate, who is white, last month posted a video on Instagram showing Black Philadelphians extolling him, with one saying, “In our communities, we have people called grandmoms. We call them ‘Big Ma,’ where they can give you a hug or give you a meal. And that’s the kind of energy that Mr. Brown gives off.” That same speaker later appears with Brown and says, “One thing about God is, He’s always going to have your back no matter how hard it gets, and so will Mr. Brown. And I thank you for being a like-image.”
The video, which Brown later took down, did not mention that the speaker used to work at ShopRite, though the campaign insists, “No individuals who participated or are featured in our campaign social media posts were compensated. They are all volunteers who offered their candid comments.” Owens, who is Black, had problems with the message that went well beyond its failure to disclose this, though. “As a city that’s majority Black and brown, Philadelphia deserves better than this type of pandering and insulting politics,” Owens wrote in Philadelphia Magazine, concluding, “For God’s (or Big Ma’s) sake: Kill the white savior routine, Jeff Brown.”
Brown isn’t the only candidate running for mayor who had a tough week, however. Former City Councilmember Helen Gym was one of the many Philadelphia Democrats who denounced the prominent Union League club for giving Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis its top award, but she herself had to apologize after she attended a different event at the Union League days later. She tweeted Tuesday night, “Earlier this evening, I made a stop at the annual meeting of an event that I have attended in the past. It was a mistake. I apologize for attending.”
WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. The progressive group A Better Wisconsin Together has submitted filings indicating it will spend $830,000 on television and online ads attacking Judge Jennifer Dorow, one of two conservatives running for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, reports the Washington Post’s Patrick Marley.
It’s likely that the organization is seeking to elevate the other conservative in the race, former Justice Dan Kelly, ahead of the Feb. 21 primary in this officially nonpartisan contest, but we haven’t seen copies of any ads yet. The top two vote-getters in that primary will advance to an April 4 general election. Two liberal judges are also running, Janet Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell.
A major progressive group is putting serious money behind an effort to derail one of the two conservative candidates. Liberals are portraying Jennifer Dorow as soft on criminals. An affiliate of the liberal advocacy network ProgressNow is spending $720,000 on a TV ad accusing Dorow of compiling “a long history of keeping criminals—even sexual predators—out of prison,” flipping the script on an attack more often leveled by Republicans against Democrats.
Why Dorow might be the stronger option for the right. Dorow attracted unusual attention last year when she presided over the trial of the man convicted of killing six at the 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade. The other conservative, former Justice Daniel Kelly, by contrast lost his seat in a 2020 drubbing.
One liberal continues to dominate the airwaves. Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz just bumped up her total statewide media buy to $1 million while the other progressive candidate, Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell, has yet to go on TV. Protasiewicz’s new spot both promotes her support for abortion rights and teaches viewers how to say her name.
WISCONSIN STATE SENATE. Despite Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ 3-point re-election victory last year, Wisconsin Republicans managed to win a two-thirds majority in the state Senate thanks to gerrymandered maps. But Democrats have a shot at rolling back that ill-gotten supermajority in a special election for a vacant GOP-held seat on April 4—and they know exactly which Republican they’d like to face.
The lone Democrat just launched ads “attacking” state Rep. Janel Brandtjen. A series of women call Brandtjen “the most conservative you can be when it comes to abortion,” telling viewers she “even sponsored a bill to defund Planned Parenthood” and was named “legislator of the year” by an anti-abortion group. Of course, that should be music to the ears of GOP primary voters.
Even Republicans loathe Brandtjen. Sure, she’s an election conspiracy theorist, but her real sin was supporting an unsuccessful primary challenge to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos last year. Following that, she was booted from the GOP caucus, which bluntly told her that her various “issues” had caused members “to lose trust” in her. Republican groups are spending big bucks to boost a different state representative instead.
Pearl-clutchers, begone! Last year, many observers bemoaned similar efforts by Democrats to elevate more extreme Republicans, saying such efforts would harm democracy. But these gambits worked exceptionally well: Democrats went eight for eight in races where their preferred candidate won the GOP nod.
CHICAGO MAYOR. Our newest poll of the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary comes from IZQ Strategies, a Democratic firm that says it conducted this survey independent of anyone, and it shows former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas well ahead with 25% as four opponents fight for the second runoff spot.
Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson is at 15%, which makes this the first poll we’ve seen to show him advancing to the likely second round, while Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Rep. Chuy Garcia take 12% each. Wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson is just behind with 11%, while none of the other contenders register much support. However, there’s little agreement among pollsters about the state of the race, so we may be in complete suspense for the next three weeks.