The Political Report – February 25, 2023

A new WPA Intelligence poll finds Gov. Ron DeSantis ahead of Donald Trump nationally among Republican voters, 40% to 31%, even when a long line of other Republicans such as Mike Pence were included. That lead for the GOP governor jumps dramatically to 55% to 37% in a direct DeSantis-Trump matchup.

A new Los Angeles Times poll in California finds Gov. Ron DeSantis has surged to a lead among Republican voters over Donald Trump for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, 37% to 29%. Other GOP hopefuls trailed far behind, with none receiving more than 7% in the poll.

While anything can happen in politics, it’s increasingly hard to see how the Republican presidential nominee will be anyone but Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis. It’s just hard imagine Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Tim Scott or anyone else beating the top two.

As Maggie Haberman noted to David Leonhardt, one way it could happen would be if DeSantis took a commanding lead in the polls and Trump then tried to destroy him. Said Haberman: “If it looks like DeSantis is going to be the nominee, Trump is likely to do whatever he can to tear him down before that happens…

Trumpworld sees DeSantis less through the lens of specific policies than how they can paint him generally either as a phony or as someone partial to old-school establishment thinking. Mostly, they anticipate that Trump will try to smear him repeatedly and they think or hope that DeSantis will ultimately have to respond, which so far he’s mostly avoided.”

That suggests the only way for another candidate to emerge is if Trump and DeSantis destroy each other. The two frontrunners have huge weaknesses for the other to exploit. DeSantis is not particularly charismatic and has never been on the national stage before. And Trump could be criminally indicted any day now.

Space might eventually open for an alternative — but not until after it gets really ugly.

RHODE ISLAND U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told WPRI earlier this month that he’d indeed be seeking a fourth term.

INDIANA U.S. SENATOR and GOVERNOR. State Attorney General Todd Rokita, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for Senate in 2018 before winning his current post in 2020, says he will seek re-election next year rather than run in either of the open GOP primaries for Senate or governor.

UTAH U.S. SENATOR. Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is leaving the door open to challenging Mitt Romney (R) in 2024 as the Utah senator mulls his own reelection plans, the Washington Examiner reports.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. “Rep. John James (R-MI) filed paperwork Friday to run for reelection to his Detroit-area House seat, opting against a campaign for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Debbie Stabenow in 2024,” the AP reports.

“James, a 41-year-old first-term representative and rising star in the party, had been considered one of Republicans’ most promising potential Senate candidates. He ran unsuccessfully for the Senate twice before, losing to Stabenow in 2018 and to Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in 2020.”

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. Former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft is up with her first TV ad for the May GOP primary for governor of Kentucky since she inexplicably went dark on Feb. 6, a move that comes after several tough weeks for her campaign. Craft, who trailed Attorney General Daniel Cameron 39-13 in a late January Mason-Dixon poll, aired a spot around that time saying the state’s fentanyl crisis was “personal to me because I’ve experienced that empty chair at my table.” Craft, though, soon acknowledged that the unnamed person she was alluding to hadn’t actually died, a response that only seemed to make things worse for her.

In early February several protesters, whom LEX 18 characterized as “mostly grieving mothers,” showed up at one of her events with a purple empty chair. Craft, who told the media an empty chair could mean many different things, said days later, “I have a child that’s called to addiction. She’s now an adult.”

The candidate’s new message is devoted to China bashing, though that doesn’t mean she’s done emphasizing fentanyl in her ads. After the narrator commends Craft for having stood up to China while at the U.N., the spot plays footage of her saying, “This is a real issue with the fentanyl that China is producing.” The narrator jumps back in and says that in office she’ll “launch a full-court press to stop China in its tracks,” though he doesn’t explain how the governor of Kentucky can do this. Craft’s campaign says this commercial is “backed by a six-figure television buy” for the contest to take on Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear.

NEW YORK U.S. SENATOR. The Daily Beast reports that former Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones hasn’t ruled out a primary challenge against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, according to an unnamed source close to Jones. After redistricting scrambled New York’s congressional map and fellow Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney chose to run (unsuccessfully) in the same Hudson Valley district that most of Jones’ prior constituents wound up in, Jones unexpectedly moved several districts over to run in the open and deep-blue 10th District in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, but he took third place in the crowded Democratic primary with 18% against now-Rep. Dan Goldman, who won that contest with 26%.

Over on the GOP side, the Daily Beast mentions 11th District Rep. Nicole Malliotakis as a potential rival, but there’s no sign of how interested the Staten Island-based congresswoman is.

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. Progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz is wasting no time after Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary saw her easily advance to the April 4 general election, putting heavy sums behind her first two ads. Just how much is not quite clear, but we do know it’s a lot: AdImpact reports that she’s booked $1.5 million in TV time while Medium Buying, a GOP firm, says her total stands at $2 million.

Protasiewicz’s first ad hits former Justice Dan Kelly, her conservative rival, for having represented accused child molesters as a defense attorney, a topic she previously emphasized in some pre-primary ads. Her second ad focuses on another familiar theme, attacking Kelly as an extremist who wants to ban abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest, or a mother’s health. The commercial explicitly argues that Kelly would uphold Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban, a law that came into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year and is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit that will almost certainly make its way before the state Supreme Court.

Protasiewicz is also getting some more help from A Better Wisconsin Together, the progressive organization that aired ads during the primary in a successful gambit to sabotage Kelly’s conservative rival, Judge Jennifer Dorow. The group has booked an additional $500,000 for ads starting Thursday in support of Protasiewicz.

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. Democrats got some very welcome news Wednesday morning when Montana Sen. Jon Tester announced he would seek a fourth term in a state that Trump carried 57-41 in 2020. “Montanans need a fighter holding Washington accountable and I’m running to defend our Montana values,” said the incumbent, who is the only Democrat who holds statewide office in the Treasure State.

Tester will be one of the Senate GOP’s top targets next year, especially since fellow Montana Sen. Steve Daines is the chair of the NRSC. Tester, notes Politico, recruited then-Gov. Steve Bullock to take on Daines in 2020, a campaign that ended in a 55-45 victory for Daines and underscored just how tough it would be for anyone but Tester to win.

The Democratic senator, though, has long cultivated his own brand that’s helped him survive in a difficult state for his party. Tester, who famously lost three fingers in a childhood accident, has emphasized during all of his campaigns that he’s a third-generation farmer who still works his farm.

That background came in handy during his 2018 re-election fight against Republican Matt Rosendale, where Tester’s team leapt on a report about how that the self-described “rancher” didn’t own any cattle or actually ranch his property. Tester won 50-47 in a year where other red state colleagues were losing, and he’s continued to emphasize what Politico called in 2021 a “folksy, profane authenticity.” Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who has his own challenging re-election fight next year, said in that article, “He’s a real farmer and I’m, like, a politician … But the other thing is, his personality is bigger than life.”

A few Republicans have made noises about running against Tester, but it remains to be seen who will step up. Most of the talk has centered around the state’s two House members: Rosendale, who won a seat in the lower chamber two years after losing to Tester, and Ryan Zinke, who served a chaotic stint as Trump’s first secretary of the interior. The National Journal reported earlier this month that Attorney General Austin Knudsen is considering as well, while Gov. Greg Gianforte’s team didn’t rule out the idea back in November.

Tester, who has long griped about his tough commute to D.C. (Politico last month said he needed to wake “before dawn on Mondays to get to the Capitol for 5:30 p.m. votes”), was one of the two red state senators that Democrats feared would retire, but we’re likely going to need to wait still longer to learn about the other’s plans. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin reiterated later in the day to radio host Hoppy Kercheval that he still was not sure if he’d seek re-election, though he once again made it clear he wouldn’t try to reclaim his old job as governor.

Manchin added, “I’m not running for president. I can assure you of that today,” though that last word keeps the door open to more speculation.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. Republican Rep. Garret Graves continues to play coy about his intentions regarding this year’s open seat contest for governor. The congressman says once more that his decision will come “sometime soon” and notes that he’s under “extraordinary pressure to run,” but Graves also indicated he thinks he could wait months longer and still win. It isn’t uncommon for Louisiana politicos to wait until close to the filing deadline to jump into state races, meaning we could be waiting a while to see what Graves does ahead of that Aug. 10 cutoff.

WEST VIRGINIA U.S. SENATOR. Republican Gov. Jim Justice says he’ll make up his mind about whether to run for Senate next year in the next 15-20 days, but he also wants to get through this year’s legislative session first, which ends on March 11. Justice had previously said he would decide whether to challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin by the start of March, but Inside Elections analyst Jacob Rubashkin notes that the governor is trying to get a major income tax cut passed through the heavily GOP legislature before it adjourns, and the success or failure of that legislation could weigh heavily on his political future.

By contrast, local journalist Steven Allen Adams speculated that Justice could be trying to deter state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a fellow Republican, from seeking a rematch against Manchin after Morrisey fell short in 2018.

FLORIDA U.S. SENATOR. Mitch Perry at the Florida Phoenix brings us several more names that have been mentioned as potential Democratic challengers to Republican Sen. Rick Scott. The list includes state House Minority Leader Anna Eskamani, who didn’t rule out the prospect but said, “A lot of everyday folks want me to run but right now I’m running for reelection in the House … Anything is possible, but I think FL needs to rebuild a lot of infrastructure before Democrats can win statewide.”

Perry also mentions suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, the top prosecutor for the Tampa area who gained visibility last year after GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended him from his position on the basis of his refusal to prosecute people who obtain or provide abortions. A federal judge last month ruled that DeSantis acted unconstitutionally in suspending Warren but also that his court also lacked the power to order Warren’s reinstatement because it was a matter of state law. A spokesperson for Warren told the Phoenix that “right now he is solely focused on getting his job back. He honestly is not looking at anything else or thinking about any other options.”

Perry also name-checks former Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who retired last cycle in advance of Republicans making her blue-leaning district in the Orlando suburbs much redder, and she didn’t rule out a Senate run last December. Lastly, he mentions former Rep. Gwen Graham, who narrowly lost the 2018 primary for governor, and state Rep. Fentrice Driskell, but neither woman commented about whether or not they are interested.

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. Tara Palmeri: “Chuck Schumer has likely been up all night with desert-hued nightmares of the 2024 Arizona Senate race—in particular, how the current murder-suicide pact between Ruben Gallego and Kyrsten Sinema could deliver the seat to the election-results denying Kari Lake, essentially a more telegenic Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

“As that showdown looms in the distant-but-not-too-distant future, Gallego has peeled off much of Sinema’s Silicon Valley donor base, the same crew of influential female philanthropists who paved the way for her 2018 election in the name of girl power and turning purple Arizona blue. Critically, Gallego has won over rising mega-donor Karla Jurvetson, who famously gave Elizabeth Warren’s super PAC a $15 million check when her 2020 campaign was low on cash.”

“Winning over Jurvetson was a coup for Gallego—not just because of her deep pockets, but also on account of her status among the Silicon Valley set as an alpha fundraiser who wealthy women in the Bay Area looked to for guidance.”

Joe Klein: “Deep in the Democratic Party’s DNA is the notion that the economy matters more to voters than cultural issues. Sometimes it does. It certainly did after the crash of 2008. Inflation helped defeat Jimmy Carter in 1980. And then there was 1992, when James Carville wrote his immortal words on the blackboard in Bill Clinton’s Little Rock headquarters: It’s the economy, stupid!”

“It wasn’t, really. We were emerging from a minor recession, but Clinton’s economic policies weren’t what won the election—indeed, he changed them almost immediately after winning office, from stimulus to budget-balancing, palliating the bond market and lowering interest rates (a brilliant choice as it happened).”

“Clinton won the presidency because he convinced voters that, unlike the past 20 years of Democrats, he was tough on crime (including a rather disgusting execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a black man of limited intelligence) and that he wanted to reform welfare (which badly needed it).”

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

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