The Political Report – February 10, 2023

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds Donald Trump leads President Biden narrowly in a hypothetical 2024 rematch, 48% to 45%.  Two years is a long time, but this suggests Trump hasn’t faded away yet.

A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that in a head-to-head matchup, more Republican voters would cast their ballots for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (45%) than for former President Donald Trump (41%) if the party’s 2024 presidential primary were held today.

Yet if even one additional Republican candidate challenges Trump and DeSantis for the nomination, splitting the party’s “anti-Trump” vote, the former president would take the lead.

Gallup: “Reflecting on their personal financial situations, 35% of Americans say they are better off now than they were a year ago, while 50% are worse off.”

“Since Gallup first asked this question in 1976, it has been rare for half or more of Americans to say they are worse off. The only other times this occurred was during the Great Recession era in 2008 and 2009.”

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta tells Bloomberg that he will not join next year’s top-two primary for Senate.

WEST VIRGINIA GOVERNOR. Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt said Wednesday that he’d run for re-election rather than seek the Republican nomination for governor.

CHICAGO MAYOR. Four Chicago news outlets have released a survey from Mason-Dixon of the unpredictable Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary for mayor, and the first media poll of the year shows five contenders locked in a tight competition for the two spots in the likely April 4 general election. Rep. Chuy García takes first with 20% as former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas enjoys a tiny 18-17 edge over incumbent Lori Lightfoot for the crucial second place spot.

Wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson isn’t far behind with 12%, with another 11% going to Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson. Another 18% of respondents are undecided, while none of the remaining four contenders take more than 2% each. All the candidates identify as Democrats in this dark blue city including Wilson, who voted for Trump in 2016 and ran for the Senate four years later as the candidate of the Willie Wilson Party.  

We’ve seen several other polls over the last month, but just about the only thing each firm has agreed on is that no one is going to come close to taking the majority they’d need to win outright. Indeed, it was just this week that IZQ Strategies, a Democratic firm that says it conducted its poll without a client, put Vallas well ahead in first with 25% as Johnson took second with 15%; those numbers also had Lightfoot and Garcia at 12% each, with Wilson just behind with 11%.  

We may be left guessing about the true state of the race until ballots are tabulated at the end of the month, though Lightfoot’s team quickly argued that Mason-Dixon’s sample is overestimating Garcia. The poll, which showed Garcia winning 56% of Latino respondents, also estimated that this demographic will form 27% of the electorate even though the city’s majority Latino precincts only made up 13% of Chicago’s total vote last November.

The poll comes at a time when the negative ads are flying all over place. While Lightfoot said last month that she wanted Vallas to be her runoff opponent, the mayor doesn’t seem to think it’s a good idea to leave him alone right now. Lightfoot recently debuted a digital ad using 2009 footage of Vallas telling conservative host Jeff Berkowitz, “I will probably register as a Republican in the next primary,” “I am more of a Republican than a Democrat now,” and, “If I run for public office, then I would be running as a Republican.”

Lightfoot, like Garcia, has also accused Vallas of opposing abortion rights, though it remains to be seen if she’ll run a TV spot going after the former Chicago Public Schools CEO. Vallas, who ran for office as a Democrat in the years since that 2009 interview, responded to Garcia’s broadside by declaring, “I am a lifelong Democrat who has always been 100% pro-choice.”

Lightfoot’s allies at the 77 Committee are also running what appears to be the first negative spot anyone has leveled against Johnson, who has the support of the influential Chicago Teachers Union, though it’s not clear if it’s running on TV. This ad says that Johnson wants to “defund the police,” which the narrator says will jeopardize Chicago residents’ safety. The county commissioner, writes Politico, says “he would like to see the agency’s resources moved to other areas, especially publicly funded mental health centers,” but he’s avoided saying he wants to “defund” the police department.

Lightfoot has also been running commercials for a while tying Garcia to two scandal-ridden men, former crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried and former Illinois state House Speaker Michael Madigan. The other contenders have largely avoided mentioning the incumbent by name in their TV spots, though they’ve argued that crime is out of control under the current leadership.

NEBRASKA U.S. SENATOR. Former Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster (R) is considering challenging Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) in 2024, The Dispatch reports.

“The news comes roughly two weeks after former two-term Gov. Ricketts—appointed by his successor Jim Pillen to fill former Sen. Ben Sasse’s seat—was sworn into office January 23.”

PENNSYLVANIA STATE HOUSE. Following their landslide victories Tuesday in a trio of special elections in the Pittsburgh area, Pennsylvania Democrats will have an undisputed majority in the state House for the first time since 2010. However, it remains to be seen whether Speaker Mark Rozzi, a moderate Democrat who won the top leadership job last month while the GOP still enjoyed a tiny edge in membership, will keep his post, or if Democratic leader Joanna McClinton will become the first Black woman to run the chamber.

Democrats won a 102-101 edge in November, but Republicans temporarily enjoyed a small 101-99 advantage in membership because three Democratic-held seats became vacant. Tuesday’s wins for Democrats Joe McAndrew, Matt Gergely, and Abigail Salisbury, though, at last give Democrats an actual majority, not just in races won but in members. The GOP will also lose a member for a few months once Lynda Schlegel Culver, who won her own special election to the state Senate last week, resigns to join the upper chamber; the special for Schlegel Culver’s dark red seat will likely not take place until May 16, the same day as Pennsylvania’s regular statewide primary.

In House District 32, McAndrew scored a 75-25 victory over Clay Walker to succeed state Rep. Tony DeLuca, who was posthumously re-elected in a seat Biden would have carried 62-36. Salisbury, meanwhile, prevailed 87-12 against Robert Pagane in HD-34 to succeed now-Rep. Summer Lee, who was elected to Congress the same night she was winning another term in the state House, in an 80-19 Biden constituency. Gergely, finally, beat Republican Don Nevills 74-25 to replace Austin Davis in HD-35, a 58-41 Biden seat that Democrat Austin Davis won in November before resigning to become lieutenant governor. Spotlight PA says the new members will be sworn in later this month.

Rozzi responded to the election night wins by scheduling the chamber to reconvene Feb. 21, but it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll still be in charge when it finishes its work. Rozzi was elected speaker a month ago with the support of the entire Democratic caucus as well as 16 Republicans, but members of both parties want him out. One of his most prominent backers was Republican leader Bryan Cutler, who served as speaker from 2020 until last year, but their relationship has deteriorated so much that Rozzi changed the locks on his predecessor’s office suite last week.

Rozzi, who has infuriated Cutler by remaining a registered Democrat despite initially saying he’d lead the state House as an independent, said of the escalation, “It is the speaker’s conference room, speaker’s office space—period. It’s nothing personal, it’s strictly that I need space.” Cutler, though, saw the move as very personal and demanded Rozzi step down. However, it remains to be seen if Cutler would be willing to swap him out for McClinton, whom the Republican clashed with last year when they both insisted they had the authority to schedule the specials to replace Lee and Davis and issued dueling writs of election. The courts ultimately sided with McClinton, which is why those seats were filled Tuesday rather than waiting until May 16, as Cutler wanted.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta tweeted just two days after Rozzi’s victory that once the specials are resolved, McClinton “will become Speaker Joanna McClinton.” McClinton, for her part, hasn’t said if she’d ask Rozzi to step aside, and it’s not clear how much support she’d need to oust him if he doesn’t. The Philadelphia Inquirer explained last month that the chamber has traditionally required a two-thirds vote to recall a speaker, but Spotlight PA wrote this week it would take just a majority of members to remove Rozzi.

The still-speaker himself said last week, “I think that if I can show people I can lead this House, maybe I could stay in this position.” McClinton, when asked Tuesday night about what comes next, responded, “[P]lease stay tuned to see what the will of this body will be on the date that we return to the voting session.”

NEW YORK U.S. SENATOR. Former Rep. Lee Zeldin on Monday did not rule out challenging Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand next year, saying, “They know it would be a pretty epic clash if I decided to do it.” Zeldin in that same appearance also didn’t dismiss the idea he could compete in this fall’s race for Suffolk County executive, though the 2022 nominee for governor notably wasn’t one of the Republicans who appeared before local GOP and Conservative Party leaders as they seek to settle on a candidate.

Zeldin also said that he was forming a new federal PAC that would not employ longtime campaign treasurer Nancy Marks, who had the same resume-killing position with George Santos. “The treasurer has something like close to 200 different accounts” Zeldin dismissively said of Marks, who served as his treasurer since he successfully ran for the state Senate in 2008.

One of those bids was Zeldin’s final congressional race in 2020 where the campaign, in true Santos stylesubmitted 21 payments on one day for $199.99 each: The FEC requires campaigns to provide receipts for expenses that are $200 or more, and Zeldin’s former campaign manager says that he believes all of those 2020 expenses had been “batched together for accounting purposes.” Zeldin himself noted that Marks’ children and his own attend school together but said little else beyond, “Our interaction has been through Marks’ daughters.”

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. Former Rep. Peter Meijer, who was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump in 2021, tells The Dispatch’s Audrey Fahlberg that he’s considering running for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat. “We need to look at who can win the general election in November of 2024,” said Meijer, who narrowly lost renomination last year to Trump-backed foe John Gibbs, who in turn lost to Democrat Hillary Scholten.

Rep. Bill Huizenga, a fellow Republican who is far closer to the party base, also expressed interest in a Senate bid for the first time, saying, “I’m open to it.” Huizenga told Fahlberg, “I think as we are going into arguably another tough election cycle, we’ve got to put our best team on the field.” Trump last year endorsed Huizenga over fellow incumbent Fred Upton, who joined Meijer in voting for impeachment. Upton decided to retire rather than go ahead with what would have been a challenging primary campaign, though he also hasn’t quite ruled out running for the Senate himself.

Someone who has ruled out a Senate bid is U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg … we think. The Democrat last month refused to say he wouldn’t run even when repeatedly pressed, but Buttigieg on Sunday responded with a “no” when CNN’s Jake Tapper asked, “Are you going to be seeking that Senate seat?”

Perhaps Tapper shares our uncertainty because he nevertheless pressed on and asked again, “‘No.’ You’re not? Period?” Buttigieg answered, “I’m planning to vote in that election as a resident of Michigan, but look, the job that I have is, first of all, I think, the best job in the federal government … This job is taking 110% of my time, and obviously I serve at the pleasure of the president. But as long as he is willing to have me continue doing this work, I’m proud to be part of this team.” That’s still evasive language, but unless he gives some indication that he’s at all interested in a bid for Senate, we’re ready to move on.

CALIFORNIA 13TH DISTRICT. Democrat Phil Arballo, a financial advisor who waged a pair of high profile but unsuccessful congressional bids in 2020 and 2022, has filed FEC paperwork for a potential campaign against freshman Republican Rep. John Duarte in a Central Valley seat Biden took 54-43. Arballo first challenged the infamous Rep. Devin Nunes in the old 22nd District and lost 54-46. The Democrat originally sought a rematch, but he changed plans after Nunes resigned and redistricting scrambled the map.

Arballo instead sought the new and open 13th even though it didn’t overlap at all with the constituency he’d campaigned for last time, and he tried to position himself to the left of Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray in the all-party primary. That contest ended with Duarte taking first with 34% as Gray beat out Arballo 31-17 for second; Duarte went on to narrowly defeat Gray in the general.  

Arballo argues his new effort will go differently because, while he had just a few months to introduce himself to voters after redistricting scrambled the map, he’ll have more time to campaign this time. He’s also predicting that he can increase turnout with his fellow Latinos, telling NJ, “One thing they [Latinos] do understand is that education is the great equalizer.”

VIRGINIA U.S. SENATOR and 10th DISTRICT. Republican Hung Cao tells The Dispatch that he’s both considering challenging Sen. Tim Kaine or seeking a rematch against Kaine’s fellow Democrat, Rep. Jennifer Wexton. Cao raised $3.3 million for a 2022 campaign to take back a once-competitive Northern Virginia constituency that supported Biden 58-40 and held Wexton to a 53-47 victory.

INDIANA 3RD DISTRICT. Army veteran Mike Felker, who appears to be a first-time candidate, announced over the weekend that he’d run to succeed his fellow Republican, Senate contender Jim Banks. Felker is the first Republican to launch a bid for this safely red seat in the Fort Wayne area.  

NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR. Former Rep. Mark Walker, whose belief in his political skills seems undamaged by his weak third-place showing in last year’s GOP Senate primary (or his infamous Waffle House order), tells The Assembly’s Bryan Anderson that he’s indeed considering running for governor. One of Walker’s advisors also says he could instead choose to try to return to the House after his party redraws the congressional map or take up political consulting work.

INDIANA 5TH DISTRICT. Both Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings and former state Sen. John Ruckelshaus have expressed interest in running to replace their fellow Republican, retiring Rep. Victoria Spartz, in a constituency the GOP legislature aggressively gerrymandered.

Ruckelshaus is the nephew of the late William Ruckelshaus, who resigned as deputy U.S. attorney general in 1973 during the Watergate scandal as part of the “Saturday Night Massacre.” The younger Ruckelshaus mulled running for the last version of the 5th in 2020 but ultimately decided to seek re-election: Ruckelshaus ended up losing to Democrat Fady Qaddoura 53-47, an outcome that made Qaddoura the first Muslim to be elected to the Indiana legislature.  

PENNSYLVANIA SUPREME COURT. The state Republican Party on Saturday  endorsed Montgomery County President Judge Carolyn Carluccio ahead of the May partisan primary for a state Supreme Court seat that’s been vacant since Democrat Max Baer died last year.

Two other Republicans, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick and Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough, sought the endorsement even though neither has announced they’re running, but Carluccio fended off both would-be rivals. This development comes a week after the Pennsylvania Democratic Party backed Daniel McCaffery over his fellow Superior Court judge, Deborah Kunselman.

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

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