The Political Report – February 16, 2023

Politico/Morning Consult poll: “The majority of U.S. adults (75%) support both of Biden’s proposals to reduce service fees for tickets purchased online for entertainment events and to eliminate fees charged by cell phone, cable TV and internet providers when consumers cancel their service.”

“Democrats (80%) are most likely to support both proposals, though clear majorities of independents (70%) and Republicans (72%) do as well.”

HALEY 2024. “Nikki Haley has secured the endorsement of a top Trump ally, House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Ralph Norman, for her first South Carolina delegation show of support as she launches her 2024 run for president,” Fox News reports.  “Ralph Norman is the first South Carolina lawmaker to publicly back Haley’s bid for presidency. His support comes despite former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of his re-election the 2022 midterm elections and also after Norman did not vote to certify the 2020 election, in a nod to his loyalty to Trump.”

Sarah Longwell: “On paper, Nikki Haley should be a top-tier contender in the 2024 Republican primary. She’s a successful former governor from an important, early primary state. She has an impressive personal backstory, solid foreign policy chops, and great candidate skills, too. This used to be an extremely attractive package for GOP primary voters.”

“Used to be. But not anymore.”

“Instead, Haley’s candidacy represents the best of the “meh” middle tier of 2024 candidates, which for now includes the likely notional campaigns of Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, and Chris Christie. No one is really asking any of those guys to run. But they don’t have anything better to do. So they’ll eventually put exploratory committees together and take a joy ride that may or may not make it to Iowa.”

“And Haley, despite how good she is on paper, finds herself in that same tier: No one is asking for what she’s selling. Why is that?”

Aaron Blake: Assessing Nikki Haley’s 2024 prospects.

Jonathan Last: “A Nikki Haley candidacy is premised on the idea that she is Not Trump. The theory behind this is that the Republican electorate’s preferences in 2024 can be divided into ‘Trump’ and ‘Not Trump’ lanes and that if Haley can win the “Not Trump” primary and then consolidate those voters, then she can win a head-to-head matchup against Big Orange.”

“But I want to put this in bold: There is no ‘Not Trump’ lane.”

“Let me explain. The DeSantis challenge to Trump isn’t that Meatball Ron is ‘Not Trump’—it’s that he’s ‘Trump Plus.’ The DeSantis electoral proposition is that he will give you everything Trump does—all of the fighting, the illiberalism, the culture war, the lib owning, the news cycle domination, the mean tweets.”

“The only difference is that DeSantis is more electorally viable. In other words, Trump and DeSantis are fighting over the same 85 percent of the Republican electorate.”

“Nikki Haley and anyone else who jumps in trying to be Not Trump is fighting over the remaining 15 percent.”

DESANTIS 2024. “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis brought a large crowd to its feet during a speech over the weekend to an exclusive, powerful club of conservatives — all on a South Florida Trump property,” Insider reports.  “Trump himself didn’t speak in person at the event, but he surprised the crowd by calling roughly an hour after DeSantis left the stage.”

Former Gov. Chris Christie (R) told The Dispatch that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) strong early polling numbers in a Republican presidential primary aren’t worth much.

Said Christie: “He’s done a good job as the governor of Florida. I don’t think anybody can argue with that, but that’s very different than running for president of the United States. None of us really know what he’ll be like on the national stage. If he decides to run, I’ll be interested to watch and compete with him.”

He added: “I’m still waiting for President Jeb Bush and President Scott Walker from ‘16 and none of that happened. I’m sure as heck not going to worry about what Ron DeSantis is going to do or not do, because none of us really know who he is outside of Tallahassee, Florida.”

TRUMP 2024. Washington Post: “Trump has held a handful of events since he announced his campaign at Mar-a-Lago in November, and he’s given interviews to friendly outlets such as Right Side Broadcasting Network as well as some mainstream publications such as New York magazine. But some Trump allies say he needs to do more of the retail politicking he’s often avoided.”  Said Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who has endorsed Trump: “He’s going to have to do more than just rallies. He’s got to go around to touch the flesh and be around people.”

Daily Beast: “For Donald Trump, the first step is always to label his victim. Indeed, assigning a good bad nickname appears to be a sine qua non in the Trump playbook. Once he gets that part right, the job is half-done.”

“For example, ‘Crazy Joe’ (which gave way to the superior ‘Sleepy Joe’) never resonated the way ‘Crooked Hillary’ (or Lyin’ Ted, Low Energy Jeb, and Lil’ Marco) did. And now that ‘Meatball Ron’ has become his leading moniker for Ron DeSantis, Trump might have landed on another keeper…”

“But what does ‘meatball’ even mean? The New York Times calls it ‘an apparent dig at his appearance,’ which I take to suggest a shorter, pudgier frame—while hinting at a lock of social grace. But ‘meatball’ is also a slur against Italian-Americans (all eight of DeSantis’ great-grandparents came here from Italy).”

“I’ve known him for 23 years, and so I’m not the least bit afraid of him. The presence of Donald Trump still makes a difference to a lot of people. He didn’t do what the normal one-term president does, which is go away in shame because they’ve lost. He has no shame.” — Former Gov. Chris Christie (R), in an interview with The Dispatch.

DIFI RETIRES. CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Tuesday announced she would not seek reelection in 2024, putting to rest uncertainty over whether she would seek a sixth full term as the oldest sitting senator, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Golden State Democrats, meanwhile, have long anticipated that the incumbent, who at 89 is the oldest member of the upper chamber, would not be on the 2024 top-two primary ballot, and they didn’t wait for Tuesday’s developments before preparing their campaigns to succeed her. Rep. Katie Porter launched her Senate bid over a month ago, while colleague Adam Schiff said weeks later that he was running himself with Feinstein’s “blessing.”

The Washington Post also reported last week that a third Democratic House member, Barbara Lee, would kick off her own campaign by the end of February. Rep. Ro Khanna, by contrast, said he’d “most likely” defer to Lee, though he didn’t rule out running even if she did. However, there’s little question that a Democrat will prevail next year in a state that has dramatically swung to the left since Feinstein first won her Senate seat in 1992.

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. New campaign finance reports are out ahead of the Feb. 21 nonpartisan primary for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and they show that progressive Janet Protasiewicz once again took in more donations during the first 37 days of the year than her three opponents combined.

The numbers, which cover Jan. 1 to Feb. 6, are below.

  • Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz: $725,000 raised, $277,000 cash-on-hand
  • Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow: $365,000 raised, $267,000 cash-on-hand
  • former Justice Daniel Kelly: $100,000 raised, $202,000 cash-on-hand
  • Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell: $70,000 raised, $121,000 cash-on-hand

Mitchell is also a liberal, while Dorow and Kelly are the conservatives.

Wisconsin requires candidates to report any donations of $1,000 or more that these candidates received since the reporting period ended, and Protasiewicz also lapped her rivals in the time between Feb. 7 through the 13th. She hauled in $196,000 of these donations, though Protasiewicz says she raised a total of $363,000 over the last week.

Dorow, by contrast, took in $31,000 in large late donations compared to $12,000 for Mitchell, while Kelly only received a single $1,000 contribution. Kelly, though, is hardly being left to fend for himself, though, as AdImpact reports that Fair Courts America, a super PAC funded by megadonors Dick and Liz Uihlein, has spent $1.8 million on advertising to help him. That’s just behind the $1.9 million that the progressive group A Better Wisconsin Together has deployed: The group’s spots have accused Dorow of issuing too lenient sentences, a tactic designed to convince the right-wing base to reject her this month.

Finally, the conservative super PAC Women Speak Out PAC says it’s spending “six figures” for … Kelly. The group, which is an affiliate of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, is sending out mailers touting the conservative man’s opposition to abortion rights.

CHICAGO MAYOR. With two weeks to go before the nonpartisan primary, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson has released an internal from Lake Research Partners that shows him locked in a tight battle with Mayor Lori Lightfoot for the second place spot in the all-but-assured April runoff. Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas is in first with 24% as Lightfoot edges out Johnson 16-15 for second; just behind are Rep. Chuy Garcia and wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson with 11% and 10%, respectively.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s newest commercial for the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary goes after Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson for the first time, though her allied PAC started running spots against him last week.

Lightfoot’s narrator, after once again linking Rep. Chuy Garcia to “crypto crooks and indicted politicians,” accuses Johnson of pushing “job crushing new taxes and dangerous defunding of police.” Politico recently wrote that the county commissioner 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. The ad avoids going after Paul Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO whom Lightfoot says she wants to face in a runoff.

Johnson, who has the backing of the influential Chicago Teachers Union, didn’t attract much support in many polls before mid-January, but several more recent surveys show him in contention for one of the two spots in the likely April runoff. So far no one else appears to have aired any ads against him, though that could change in the final two weeks.

A pair of new polls, however, offer Johnson some of his worst numbers in weeks. A new firm called 1983 Labs, which says it’s not affiliated with anyone running, has Lightfoot at 15% as Vallas edges wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson 13-12 for second. Garcia is at 10% while Johnson and activist Ja’Mal Green are deadlocked 7-7. The group’s late January survey had Lightfoot taking 16%, while back then it was Wilson who led Vallas 14-10 as Johnson grabbed fourth with 9%.  

Northwestern University, meanwhile, has released its first survey of the race from BSP Research, but it finds quite a different order of candidates. The school shows Vallas taking 23% among likely voters, with Garcia narrowly leading Lightfoot 16-15 for second. Wilson isn’t far behind with 12%, while Johnson is at 8%.

WISCONSIN STATE SENATE. Attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin, the lone Democrat running in the April 4 special election for Wisconsin’s 8th Senate District, dominated all of her Republican opponents on the money front in newly filed reports that cover all fundraising activity during the first five weeks of the year as well as large donations received more recently.

Habush Sinykin raised $253,000 and spent $225,000 from Jan. 1 through Feb. 6, leaving her with $59,000 on hand, though that only tells part of the story. Candidates must also submit reports for any contributions of $1,000 or more that they receive in the two weeks between the end of the reporting period and the Feb. 21 primary, so thanks to those filings, we know Habush Sinykin has brought in at least another $82,000.

Those sums exceed the hauls of her three Republican opponents combined. State Rep. Dan Knodl led the GOP pack with $63,000 raised plus another $4,000 in large donations that came in after Feb. 6. Oddly, he hung on to most of his money, spending just $5,000 and banking $107,000, though it’s possible that he’s focusing his outlays on the final two weeks before the primary.

The other two Republicans are spending more freely. State Rep. Janel Brandtjen took in just $21,000 (along with a single late $1,000 donation), but she spent almost the same amount, $22,000, and had a similar $24,000 left over for the stretch run. Finally, there’s Thiensville Village President Van Mobley, who raised just $7,000 from donors but also loaned his campaign $100,000, allowing him to spend $77,000 and still have $29,000 in his coffers.

Habush Sinykin has made extensive use of her financial advantage: According to the New York Times’ Reid Epstein, she’s spent $166,000 on TV ads so far, many of them seeking to promote Brandtjen, whom Democrats and Republicans both believe would be the weaker option for the GOP. Neither Brandtjen nor Knodl, the two better-known Republicans, have responded with ads of their own, either TV or digital, though outside groups have been boosting Knodl with online spots.

Mobley, the third wheel in this race, actually has run a pair of TV ads, both of them focused on the state income tax, which he wants to abolish. However, he faces a serious name recognition deficit, as both Brandtjen and Knodl each represent a third of the Senate district they’re seeking while the town Mobley runs is home to just 3,000 people.

If Habush Sinykin can flip this Republican-held district, she’d roll back the new supermajority the GOP acquired in November thanks to gerrymandered maps. Despite Wisconsin’s perennial swing state status, Republicans currently hold the Senate by a wide 21-11 margin with this seat vacant.

TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL. Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton has reached a tentative settlement in the whistleblower lawsuit that four of his top aides brought against him, but it’s contingent on the legislature approving $3.3 million in state funds for the quartet. State Rep. Jeff Leach, who chairs the committee that oversees the attorney general’s office, made it clear he still needs to be persuaded, saying Friday, “I’ve spoken with the Attorney General directly this morning and communicated in no uncertain terms that, on behalf of our constituents, legislators will have questions and legislators will expect answers.”

These four aides previously accused Paxton of retaliating after they told the FBI in the fall of 2020 that their boss had used his office to aid a wealthy ally named Nate Paul in exchange for favors. Among other things, they alleged that Paul hired a woman Paxton was having an affair with upon the attorney general’s recommendation. (Paxton’s wife is state Sen. Angela Paxton, who would have a vote in whether the legislature approves the financial part of the settlement.)

Under this agreement, the attorney general “accepts that plaintiffs acted in a manner that they thought was right and apologizes for referring to them as ‘rogue employees,'” though neither side would admit fault or liability. The FBI has not charged Paxton in the Paul matter, and it’s not clear if the investigation is active. Paxton was charged with securities fraud all the way back in 2015 in a separate case, but the trial still hasn’t even been scheduled and he’s won re-election twice while under indictment.

PHILADELPHIA MAYOR. Former City Councilmember Allan Domb, a self-funder who finished 2022 with more money than the rest of the Democratic primary field combined, is airing a TV ad arguing he represents badly needed change from termed-out Mayor Jim Kenney. The spot, which aired on Fox just before the Super Bowl, opens with footage of the incumbent saying he’ll “be happy when I’m not mayor and I can enjoy some stuff,” comments that came right after two police officers were wounded in a Fourth of July shooting. Domb interjects, “How can you lead a city when you don’t really want the job?”

Meanwhile, David Oh announced Monday that he was giving up his own City Council seat in order to try to become the first Republican to the mayor’s office since 1947. Oh has been elected citywide three times, though that’s not necessarily a sign of extensive crossover support in a place where each party can only nominate five candidates for the seven at-large constituencies. Oh himself finished seventh in 2019 just behind Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks in the first election where Republicans failed to win at least two citywide seats since Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter went into effect in the 1950s.

COLORADO 3RD DISTRICT. Colorado Democrat Adam Frisch, who failed to unseat far-right Rep. Lauren Boebert by just 546 votes last year, announced Tuesday that he would seek a 2024 rematch. Despite Boebert’s national infamy and terrible relationship with her party leadership, though, Frisch will be in for another challenging campaign as he tries to flip a western Colorado district that Donald Trump took 53-45.

Boebert, an election denier who called the Jan. 6 committee a “sham witch hunt” and implied that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar was a terrorist, spent her first term infuriating Democrats and even some Republicans. The congresswoman, however, looked secure last cycle after the state’s new independent redistricting commission adopted new lines that extended Trump’s margin of victory in her already red 3rd District, a map that led her most prominent Democratic foe, state Sen. Kerry Donovan, to end her campaign.

Frisch, who served on the Aspen City Council, consequently looked like a longshot after he won the June primary. While Boebert’s national infamy helped Frisch raise about $3 million through mid-October, major outside groups on both sides behaved like Boebert was safe and spent elsewhere. It was therefore a massive surprise when Frisch ended election night with a tiny edge over the incumbent, though later counted ballots ultimately left her with a 50.1-49.9 victory.

Boebert still very nearly paid a price for her extremism, and Team Blue’s strong showings at the top of the ballot also made things unexpectedly tough for her. According to preliminary calculations from Daily Kos Elections, Gov. Jared Polis actually carried the 3rd by a 49-47 margin, while Sen. Michael Bennet only lost it by 49-48.

Boebert, however, responded to her near loss by refusing to ever support Kevin McCarthy for speaker. That didn’t sit right with Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a fellow far-right icon who nevertheless has had a terrible relationship with Boebert for a while. (Politico reported last year that the two almost got into a physical fight when Boebert went after Greene about the Georgian’s appearance at a white supremacist event.) Greene, according to the Daily Beast, confronted her colleague on the first day of the new Congress in a Capitol bathroom, with one source relaying, “Greene questioned Boebert’s loyalty to McCarthy, and after a few words were exchanged, Boebert stormed out.”

McCarthy took a more diplomatic tact with Boebert, though, and he personally appealed to her on the House floor during the final night of voting. The best he got was for Boebert to vote “present” on the last two ballots rather than for another House member, but that was good enough: McCarthy went on to award Boerbert with a seat on the Oversight and Accountability Committee.

Frisch is once again betting that Boebert’s antics will hold her back in an area where Republicans usually do well, declaring in his announcement video that the incumbent is “an election denier who encouraged the attack on the Capitol and wants to make all abortions illegal, even for rape and incest.” Frisch continues, “I’ll put Colorado first—Colorado energy, Colorado water, and Colorado jobs.” The candidate’s wife, Katy Frisch, adds, “Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert. Boebert is the only one of the crazies in Congress that can be beaten.”

Damon Linker: “Unless the Republican electorate through the past four election cycles has suddenly vanished and been replaced by the base imagined by the authors of the 2013 autopsy, I don’t see how. If Haley could snap her fingers and magically become the GOP nominee, she might do quite well in the general election (though her message would do much better against a more divisive Democrat than Joe Biden).”

“But of course, Haley can’t just snap her fingers and magically become the GOP nominee. She has to win the most delegates in the primary contest a year from now, and I can’t imagine she’ll come anywhere close to doing that. Republican voters aren’t interested in being told the candidates they love the most can’t win against halfway decent Democratic alternatives.”

“That leaves open the possibility of Haley’s campaign serving as an audition to be someone else’s VP. Unless she backpedals a lot from her launch video, I don’t see Trump agreeing to run with her. Would DeSantis would tap her?Maybe. But there will be an awful lot of competition.”

New York Times: “Ms. Haley’s conundrum about how to approach Mr. Trump will surely apply to other potential competitors. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who shares Mr. Trump’s pugnacious instincts and is the only Republican within striking distance in early polls of the field, has nevertheless been reluctant to trade insult for insult with the former president. Like Ms. Haley, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Vice President Mike Pence served in the Trump administration.”

“Overt critics of Mr. Trump, like Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Larry Hogan of Maryland, both former governors, risk not being taken seriously by Republican voters.”

“Ms. Haley has time to devise a strategy for challenging Mr. Trump, but moving on from the last Republican presidency will be tricky… Since leaving his administration in 2018 and making halting efforts to criticize him after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, Ms. Haley has tacked back into his orbit.”

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

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