The Political Report – February 23, 2023

President Biden is seeing his highest approval ratings in almost a year, while former President Donald Trump, who is hoping to take the job back, is getting his worst scores among potential Republican voters in years, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. “Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal Milwaukee County judge, won her race on Tuesday and advanced to the general election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the most consequential American election on the 2023 calendar,” the New York Times reports.

Protasiewicz secured first place in the nonpartisan statewide primary with 46% as former Justice Daniel Kelly edged out his fellow conservative, Jennifer Dorow, 24-22 for the second spot in the April 4 general election that will decide control of the court. The balance went to progressive Everett Mitchell, meaning that the two liberals outpaced their conservative rivals 54-46. Protasiewicz and Mitchell are judges for Milwaukee and Dane counties, respectively, while Dorow serves Waukesha County.

“The winner of the officially nonpartisan race will tip the balance of the state’s seven-member Supreme Court, which has been controlled by conservatives since 2008. If Judge Protasiewicz prevails, the court will have a four-member liberal majority that would be likely to overturn the state’s 1849 law forbidding abortion in nearly all cases, redraw Wisconsin’s heavily gerrymandered legislative and congressional maps, and influence how the state’s 10 electoral votes are awarded after the 2024 presidential election.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “The consequences of losing control of the court for conservatives will draw heavy spending on behalf of the conservative candidate who will come in second on Tuesday.”

The other candidate is Daniel Kelly, a former Supreme Court justice who advised Republicans in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential race in favor of Donald Trump through the use of “fake electors.” He barely eked out a win against conservative Judge Jennifer Dorow for the second spot on the ballot.

The well-funded liberal organization A Better Wisconsin Together worked to ensure that Dorow, who presided over last year’s high-profile trial that saw a man named Darrell Brooks sentenced to life in prison for killing six people at the 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade, didn’t get to be Protasiewicz’s opponent. The group spent over $1.8 million on ads that accused Dorow of issuing too-lenient sentences to convicted criminals, a tactic aimed at hurting her chances against Kelly.

Kelly himself lost his 2020 re-election campaign to liberal Judge Jill Karofsky by a wide 55-45 margin, which is likely another reason that A Better Wisconsin Together believed he’d be a weaker opponent for Protasiewicz than Dorow would have been. Karofsky, for her part, endorsed Protasiewicz on election night, while fellow liberal Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet were already in her corner. Dallet emphasized the stakes of the general election at Protasiewicz’s event, declaring, “I’m here because of instead of dissents I want to be writing majorities.”

Protasiewicz and Kelly will face off in an April 4 general election that will determine political control of the court. The winner is elected to a 10-year term.

VIRGINIA 4TH DISTRICT. State Sen. Jennifer McClellan beat Republican Leon Benjamin 74-26 to succeed Democrat Donald McEachin, who died weeks after winning a fourth term in a Richmond-based constituency that supported Biden 67-32. Once McClellan, who will be the first Black woman to ever represent Virginia in Congress, is seated, the House will be back up to a full complement of 435 members for the first time since Wisconsin Republican Sean Duffy resigned in September of 2019.  

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. Sen. Jon Tester (D) announced Wednesday that he will seek reelection for a fourth term in what will be a key race to determine which party will control the Senate following the 2024 elections, The Hill reports.

Washington Post: “The GOP primary could pit the state’s two House members, Ryan Zinke and Matthew M. Rosendale, against one another, while the other member of the congressional delegation — Sen. Steve Daines — serves as the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in charge of trying to flip the seat red.”

VIVEK 2024. “Vivek Ramaswamy (R), the multi-millionaire biotech entrepreneur and self-described intellectual godfather of the anti-woke movement, announced on Tuesday that he is running for president,” Politico reports.

SCOTT 2024. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is in Iowa today where he’ll take aim at critics on the left in a speech ahead of a likely presidential bid, Politico reports.

Said Scott: “For those of you on the left, you can call me a prop, you can call me a token, you can call me the N-word, you can question my blackness, you can even call me ‘Uncle Tim.’ Just understand: Your words are no match for my evidence. The truth of my life disproves your lies.”

KENTUCKY STATE SENATE. Cassie Chambers Armstrong won the race to succeed Morgan McGarvey, a fellow Louisville Democrat who was elected to the 3rd Congressional District last year, 77-23 against Republican Misty Glin. Chambers Armstrong exceeded Biden’s 65-33 margin in SD-19, and election analyst Drew Savicki notes that one of her new constituents will be Mitch McConnell himself. The GOP will now hold a 30-7 majority in the state Senate, with one Republican seat vacant.    

DESANTIS 2024. “As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis intensifies his preparation for a White House bid, several of the wealthiest and most prolific Republican donors are already giving him a major financial boost,” CNN reports.

“Trader and investor Jeffrey Yass donated $2.5 million to DeSantis’ state political committee on February 7, according to online records maintained by the organization, Friends of Ron DeSantis. And Jude and Christopher Reyes, the billionaire brothers behind one of the country’s largest beer and food distributors, each gave DeSantis’ committee $1 million last week as well.”

NBC News: “DeSantis, who is widely expected to announce a run for president, visited New York City and the suburbs of Philadelphia and Chicago to laud policies he helped put in place in Florida that he said give law enforcement the support it needs.”

“By taking a pro-police message directly to the rank and file of some of the biggest police unions in the country, DeSantis was homing in on a specialized electorate Trump has owned since he first ran for president in 2016.”

PENCE 2024. Mike Pence criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in a CNBC interview for his moves against Disney. Said Pence: “The idea of going after their taxing authority that was beyond the scope of what I as a conservative limited government Republican would be prepared to do.”

David Waldstreicher: “Published by a very small (some would say vanity) press in Jacksonville, total sales of the book languished in the low hundreds. It clearly got lost in the generic haze of anti-Obama screeds. Shockingly, for a book by a man who is likely running for president, the only way to acquire a physical copy is to buy a used one, which can sell for over $1,000.”

“But Dreams From Our Founding Fathers is actually a remarkably cogent and well-written attempt to undo exactly what Barack Obama had done: write himself into the national imagination as an emblem of historic, yet distinctly American, change. It’s because Obama had incorporated American history into his presidential campaign, giving his famous speech on race at the National Constitution Center, that DeSantis has to deny at such length that Obama’s Americanism amounted to anything more than a shell game.”

WISCONSIN STATE SENATE. Democrats weren’t able to pick their opponent for the special election for the 8th State Senate District, however, as state Rep. Dan Knodl decisively defeated colleague Janel Brandtjen 57-28 in the Republican primary. Knodl will go up against Environmental attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin, who had no Democratic primary opposition, in an April 4 general election where Democrats are hoping to score a pickup that will deprive Republicans of their new supermajority in the upper chamber.

Habush Sinykin ran ads designed to boost Brandtjen, an election denier whom Habush Sinykin believed would be easier to defeat, and Donald Trump also endorsed Brandtjen in the final week of the race. Knodl himself signed a letter to Mike Pence asking him not to certify the results of Joe Biden’s victory, but he has a far better relationship with party leaders than his fellow state representative.

Knodl and Habush Sinykin will compete to succeed Republican Alberta Darling, who resigned last year, for a seat in the suburbs and exurbs north of Milwaukee that Trump would have taken 52-47 in 2020. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson last year won the district 54-46, according to our calculations, while GOP gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels prevailed over Democratic incumbent Tony Evers here by a smaller 52-48 spread.

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. Rep. Barbara Lee on Tuesday announced she was joining the 2024 top-two primary to succeed her fellow California Democrat, retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein, with a video emphasizing that she’d be the only Black woman in the upper chamber. “I was the girl they didn’t allow in, who couldn’t drink from the water fountain,” Lee tells the audience about her childhood in Jim Crow-era Texas, continuing, “I had an abortion in a back alley when they all were illegal. I escaped a violent marriage, became a single mom, a homeless mom; a mom who couldn’t afford child care and brought her kids to class with her.”

Lee highlights how she was the one member of Congress to vote against the 2001 war in Afghanistan, a decision that resulted in mass condemnation and even death threats at the time but even some Republican colleagues eventually came to agree with. Lee also emphasizes her longtime support for LGBTQ people. The 76-year-old congresswoman additionally argues she’s far from too old to start a career in the upper chamber, saying, “For those who say my time has passed, well, when does making change go out of style? I don’t quit. I don’t give up.”

Lee joins an expensive contest that includes two other prominent Democratic House members: Katie Porter, an Orange County congresswoman who made a name for herself for grilling Trump administration personnel and corporate executives at hearings, and Adam Schiff, a Los Angeles-area member who became a national favorite among Democrats for his battles against the Trump administration.

Lee ended 2022 at a huge financial disadvantage in this very expensive state. Schiff finished the year with a $20.9 million to $7.4 million cash-on-hand lead over Porter, who won a tight re-election fight the previous month, while Lee had just $50,000 available. Lee, though, could stand out in a contest where she’s currently the only serious candidate of color, as well as the only contender from the Bay Area.

It remains to be seen if any other serious Democratic candidates will run in a state where it takes a good deal of time and money to win. Rep. Ro Khanna said this month he’d “most likely” defer to Lee, though he didn’t rule out running even if she did. But two other people who had been mentioned as possible contenders, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and former Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, did take themselves out of the running on Tuesday by endorsing Lee.

Politico wrote weeks ago that Democrats have speculated that a wealthy candidate could jump in, but no names have surfaced. It’s also an open question if a Republican will be able to secure one of the top two spots in the general election in this dark blue state, or if the second round will be a battle between two Democrats.

NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE HOUSE. Democrat Chuck Grassie won a do-over special election after his race in November ended in a tie, romping to a 56-42 win over Republican challenger David Walker. Grassie, who was the incumbent last year for Strafford District 8 (usually referred to locally as Rochester Ward 4), this time outperformed Biden’s 51-47 showing.

Grassie’s victory shrinks the GOP margin to 201-198, with one safely blue seat vacant—the closest the House has ever been in state history. The GOP has slightly more room for error, though, because one of those 198 Democratic seats belongs to David Cote, a former minority leader who hasn’t cast a vote since March of 2020 due to concerns about COVID and has not been sworn in to the term he won last year.  

RHODE ISLAND 1ST DISTRICT. Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, a fixture of Rhode Island politics and a prominent leader of Donald Trump’s second impeachment, unexpectedly announced on Tuesday that he would resign from Congress to head a philanthropic foundation. Cicilline made history following his 2010 win when he became both the first gay and first Jewish person to represent the Ocean State in Congress, and he quickly established himself as a vocal advocate for progressive causes.

However, Cicilline was best known for co-authoring the article of impeachment accusing Trump of “incitement of insurrection” following the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol. Soon after, the House voted in favor of the article, making Trump the first president to ever be impeached twice. Cicilline was tapped by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi to manage Trump’s trial before the Senate, which ended in an acquittal, albeit with the support of a record number of Republicans.

Cicilline said his resignation would take effect June 1, at which point Gov. Dan McKee will be able to schedule a special election—the state’s first since 1967. Cicilline’s district, which covers the eastern half of the state and a large swath of Providence, is unlikely to change hands: Joe Biden would have carried the district by a 64-35 margin, and the congressman handily defeated an unheralded Republican opponent by a similar 64-36 spread to win a seventh term last year.

That victory capped a long political career that began with an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate in 1992, when he failed to oust a Democratic incumbent in the primary. But that was the first and last time Cicilline would ever lose: Two years later, he bounced back by winning an open seat in the state House that he easily held for a decade.

In 2001, Cicilline took a bold leap that would see him make history. Buddy Cianci, the legendary longtime mayor of Providence, had overseen a renaissance in the city, transforming it into “a trendy destination spot for Boston yuppies, Hollywood filmmakers, college kids, gays, artists, empty nesters, and tourists,” as Yankee Magazine’s Mike Stanton put it in a 2009 retrospective. But though Cianci was immensely popular, he was also notoriously corrupt and was indicted on a wide range of federal corruption charges dubbed “Operation Plunder Dome” that April.

Cicilline gambled that Cianci, a Republican-turned-independent, would be vulnerable, but the mayor took his opponent seriously. Cianci, who had long ties to the city’s gay voters, was determined to blunt Cicilline’s advantage with this group, and Stanton says the mayor “flew the rainbow flag over city hall, championed gay rights, and served as marshal of the Gay Pride parade.” The outreach prompted Cicilline to quip, “He spends more time in gay bars than me.”

That courtship, however canny, wasn’t going to save the mayor, though. He was convicted on a single count of racketeering in June of 2002, just before the candidate filing deadline. A new trio of Democrats jumped into the suddenly uncertain race, but Cicilline had been laying the groundwork for a year and defeated his nearest rival for the Democratic nomination 52-34. Without Cianci on the ballot, that was the ballgame in dark blue Providence: Cicilline won the general election resoundingly, becoming the first openly gay person to serve as mayor of a state capital and making Providence the biggest city in the country with a gay mayor.

After easily securing a second term four years later, Cicilline made the leap to Congress in 2010 after 1st District Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a fellow Democrat, announced his retirement. Cicilline defeated three rivals, outpacing businessman Anthony Gemma 37-23. That fall, however, he faced the most difficult general election of his career thanks to the year’s intense GOP wave, but he nevertheless earned his first term in the House with a 51-44 win over Republican state Rep. John Loughlin.

Shortly after heading to D.C., however, Cicilline faced a barrage of accusations that he’d mismanaged Providence’s finances, leaving a shortfall his successor as mayor called a “category 5” hurricane. The mess prompted Gemma to seek a rematch with the new incumbent, but Cicilline held him off 62-30. The new incumbent also got a boost when the Democratic-run legislature made his district about 3 points bluer at the expense of the state’s other district, prompting fellow Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin to accuse Cicilline of influencing lawmakers to his advantage. Cicilline denied the accusations and defeated former State Police Superintendent Brendan Doherty 53-41 in what was the last tough election he ever had to deal with.

The timing of the special election to succeed Cicilline is murky, however, since Rhode Island’s long-dormant law governing congressional vacancies now conflicts with federal laws that require absentee ballots to be sent to overseas voters well in advance. It’s likely, however, that one will take place this fall, preceded by a primary that will likely prove all-important given the district’s strong Democratic lean.

While Cicilline’s resignation took the state by surprise, numerous fellow Democrats immediately started to show interest in competing to succeed him. The people publicly considering are:

Supporters of Biden administration official Gayle Goldin also say she’s interested, while The Valley Breeze writes the same of North Providence Town Council President Dino Autiello.

In the not-ruling-it-out column are:

A huge number of Democratic politicians have also been mentioned by the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, and WPRI:

  • Biden administration official Gabe Amo
  • Democratic National Committeewoman Liz Beretta-Perik
  • State Rep. Nathan Biah
  • State Treasurer James Diossa
  • former Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea
  • State Rep. Katherine Kazarian
  • 2014 gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell
  • State Sen. Ryan Pearson

Several Democrats have already said no, however, including Providence Mayor Brett Smiley and three of his predecessors.

HALEY 2024. Nikki Haley is now selling koozies based on Don Lemon’s comments about her being past her prime as a woman.

Semafor: “Haley’s presidential run may be the biggest test yet of how her Confederate flag moment has worn in the intervening years as voters in both parties re-examine her record and scrutinize her campaign’s characterization of the episode.”

“The former governor mentioned the shooting in both her announcement video and her first official campaign speech. But she did not mention her decision to remove the flag.”

Nikki Haley defended states’ rights to secede from the United States, South Carolina’s Confederate History Month and the Confederate flag in a 2010 interview with a local activist group that “fights attacks against Southern Culture,” CNN reports.

Dan Pfeiffer: “I have no idea why Nikki Haley is running for President. And based on her first week on the campaign trail, neither does she. When asked why she should be President, Haley answered, ‘why not me?’”

“The former South Carolina Governor turned Trump Cabinet member’s announcement speech was a Cheesecake Factory’s menu worth of cliches, focus-grouped pablum, and circular arguments. Haley is simultaneously running on a platform of representing generational change, being a trailblazer, a loyal Trump soldier, a Trump critic, and a winning candidate. Why pick one lane when you can randomly swerve across all of them? Despite what Aaron Sorkin would have you believe, it takes more than a slogan that fits on a napkin.”

Politico: “Interviews with more than a dozen attendees at Haley’s first campaign events in recent days — all but three in their 60s, 70s and 80s — revealed a GOP primary electorate open to a younger standard-bearer but sharply divided over the insinuation that someone their age might be lacking in mental aptitude. Seven said they opposed the call for applying mental acuity tests to elderly politicians.”

TEXAS U.S. SENATOR. Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) “is considering challenging incumbent Ted Cruz for Senate in 2024,” the Dallas Morning News reports. “The move would put him in line to make history, or become the next candidate in a long string of Democratic Party disappointments.”

“Allred has been talking to strategists, donors and supporters across the state to determine if running against Cruz makes sense. At the same time, his media office has been in overdrive, distributing updates about his congressional work and stressing his bipartisan approach to problem-solving.”

Currently serving his third term in the House, Allred won a heavily contested 2018 election where he flipped a historically Republican seat in the northern Dallas suburbs, which GOP mapmakers subsequently made safely Democratic to protect neighboring GOP incumbents after Allred won another hard-fought victory in 2020.

The Morning News further mentions outgoing Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner as a potential candidate, but there’s no indication yet about how interested he is. Turner is currently serving his second term representing Texas’ largest city but will leave office early next year due to term limits. Either Allred or Turner would be Texas’ first Black senator if elected, as well as the first Democrat elected to any statewide office since 1994 if they ran and won.

WASHINGTON GOVERNOR. Former Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), two years after she cast her fateful vote to impeach Donald Trump, is mulling a run for Washington governor, The Dispatch reports.

“Herrera Beutler isn’t eager to talk about her political future… Privately, though, Herrera Beutler is making the rounds, asking close confidants if she should challenge third-term Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in 2024.”

“Herrera Beutler would face an uphill climb. Washington is reliably blue, with Democrats continually controlling the governor’s mansion longer than in any other state: A Republican has not won a gubernatorial contest there since John Spellman in 1980.”

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

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