The Political Report – March 3, 2023

Nearly 7 in 10 registered voters (68%) now say President Biden is “too old for another term,” according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — and more Democrats agree (48%) than disagree (34%) with that assessment.

FiveThirtyEight: “Polling suggests that Democrats aren’t thrilled with the idea of Biden as their nominee again. Only 31 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they want the party to renominate Biden, while 58 percent said they’d prefer someone else, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll from Jan. 27-Feb. 1. That lack of enthusiasm is unusual. According to historical CNN polling, majorities of Democrats wanted to renominate Bill Clinton in 1996 and Barack Obama in 2012, and a majority of Republicans wanted to renominate Trump in 2020.”

“Early polling of the Democratic primary contest also shows Biden getting nowhere close to majority support.”

CHICAGO MAYOR. While former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson largely avoided attacking one another in the leadup to Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary for mayor of Chicago, Johnson previewed the frantic five-week sprint ahead with an election night speech declaring, “It’s about to get real.”

Vallas, who took a firm first place with 34%, used his victory address both to stress public safety and to lay out his credentials as a “lifelong Democrat” ahead of the April 4 general election. “We will make Chicago the safest city in America,” said the candidate, who picked up the support of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police back in January.

Vallas, who declared his support for abortion rights, went on to use an interview with ABC7 to offer his take on Johnson, who benefited from heavy spending from the Chicago Teachers Union. “People are going to examine his record and see that there’s not much other than a union organizer who was on the CTU’s payroll,” predicted Vallas, who is a supporter of charter schools. “I’m gonna continue to talk about the issues to offer subs, tentative solutions, particularly on the issues of crime, the issue of quality of schools, and the issue of affordability.”

Johnson, a progressive who edged out Mayor Lori Lightfoot 20-17 for the crucial second place spot, didn’t waste any time either in trying to define Vallas as an ally of the far-right. “Paul Vallas is someone who is supported by the Jan. 6 insurrectionists,” Johnson said in a reference to FOP head John Catanzara, a Trump backer who played down the attack the following day. “He went as far as to say he’s more of a Republican than anything else,” the commissioner continued, adding, “He says he fundamentally opposes abortion. These are direct quotes.”

Johnson also went after his foe’s record as a school administrator, saying, “This is the truth about Paul Vallas: He has literally failed everywhere he has gone.” He told ABC7 the next day, “When I was in high school in the 90s, it was his negligence that led to the economic downturn that we are experiencing right now.”

While neither Vallas nor Johnson ran TV ads against one another before the primary, their defeated opponents made use of material that the two finalists are also likely to employ. Garcia and Lightfoot used footage of a 2009 interview where Vallas told conservative host Jeff Berkowitz, “If I run for public office, then I would be running as a Republican,” and, “Fundamentally, I oppose abortion.”

Vallas, who lost the 2002 Democratic primary for governor to a not-yet-infamous Rod Blagojevich and was Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate when the incumbent lost re-election in 2014, argued the quotes about his party affiliation were being taken “out of context.” His team also insisted that he was speaking about his Greek Orthodox religion when he was describing his discomfort with abortion: They also released another clip from that conversation where Berkowitz asked, “You think a woman has a right to choose, abortion shouldn’t be illegal?” to which Vallas responded, “I don’t think we should legislate against a woman’s right to choose.”

Lightfoot targeted Johnson as well in the final weeks of the campaign as he superseded Garcia as the main progressive candidate, and while she didn’t act soon enough to stop the commissioner from beating her, her main line of attack will likely return in the general. The mayor aired a 2020 clip of Johnson talking about “our effort and our move to redirect and defund the amount of money that is spent in policing.”

Lightfoot also made use of footage of Johnson saying, “I don’t look at it as a slogan. It’s an actual real political goal.” Lightfoot, who like Johnson is Black, told an African American audience before the primary that all of this meant that she was “the only viable Black candidate” in the running. (Vallas is white.)

Johnson, writes the Chicago Tribune, has avoided saying the word “defund” on the campaign trail, and he told reporters to “ask better questions” when they quizzed him about it. His mayoral campaign responded to Lightfoot’s attacks by arguing he supports “maintaining the current CPD budget while making the department more efficient and providing new investments in additional public safety initiatives outside of the police department, including new teams of non-personnel first responders for mental health crisis calls.”

A few surveys were released over the last month testing Vallas against Johnson, though until Tuesday it was far from clear this would be the matchup that was in store for respondents. An early February poll from Mason-Dixon gave Johnson a tiny 39-38 edge, but the GOP company Victory Research two weeks later put Vallas on top by a wide 46-33. The firm 1893 Polling went into the field days before the primary and also had Vallas up 44-31.

Lightfoot herself said in January, “[F]olks, I would love to have Paul Vallas as my runoff challenger,” but on Tuesday she instead became the first mayor to lose re-election since the legendary Harold Washington unseated Jane Byrne in the 1983 Democratic primary. (A state law went into effect 16 years later requiring all municipal races in Illinois to be officially nonpartisan affairs.) Lightfoot’s third-place finish comes four years after she won her post in the general election by defeating Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in a 74-26 romp, a win that made her the first Black woman, as well as the first lesbian, to lead Chicago.

Lightfoot spent her tenure dealing with problems that were largely out of her control like the city’s perennially high crime rate and the unrest from the pandemic, but her critics have argued she’s made things far worse by offending key constituencies and politicians. Lightfoot countered by arguing that as a Black woman, she’s been the victim of a double standard that didn’t apply to her most recent predecessor. She recounted to Politico, “I remember Rahm Emanuel appearing on the cover of Time magazine, the headline was basically like: ‘Tough guy for Chicago.’”

However, other Illinois politicians offered a different take. Politico writes that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has come into conflict with the mayor “so often that Pritzker has stayed out of the mayoral race so far and Lightfoot has made no attempt to repair their relationship.” Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza was far more vocal, explaining last year that she wouldn’t back the incumbent again because “I have never met anybody who has managed to piss off every single person they come in contact with—police, fire, teachers, aldermen, businesses, manufacturing.”

One problem for Lightfoot may be that, despite her landslide win four years ago as a first-time candidate, she didn’t come into office with experience, or perhaps even interest, in building the type of relationships she’d need to succeed. Lightfoot, who positioned herself as a political reformer in 2019, scored her first win by securing 18% in the primary (Vallas grabbed ninth with just 5%) after all four of the ostensible frontrunners were hurt by their connections to Ed Burke, a powerful alderman who had just been charged with corruption.

During the general election Lightfoot was able to unite diverse groups of voters who had little in common except that they all disliked Preckwinkle for various reasons. The winner, who didn’t have much of a record to attack, was able to essentially be all things to all people: Chicago Magazine, for instance, wrote at the time that she appealed to progressives by joining them in denouncing the establishment, and that conservative voters “like her because they believe that as a former president of the Police Board, she’ll be sympathetic to first responders.”

However, the dynamic was very different once Lightfoot won and she, rather than Preckwinkle, was in the spotlight. Lightfoot, as the Tribune explains in its detailed piece on her travails, feuded with members of the City Council, telling the ones who voted against her budget plan, “Don’t come to me for shit.” She also accused Uber of “paying off Black ministers” to oppose her proposed congestion tax, developed a terrible relationship with the state legislature, and feuded with the CTU.

An unnamed Lightfoot aide explained after her defeat, “Lessons: You can’t run on a platform and then completely abandon it. You can’t run against the status quo, and then fill your administration with the status quo. And you can’t be mean to everyone who tries to help you.” Alderman Derrick Curtis would agree with that last bit, as he had some choice words for Lightfoot in January for failing to contact him after he was wounded when the gun he was cleaning accidentally discharged. “I felt myself being a very, very close friend and ally to her. I really was a No. 1 cheerleader,” said Curtis, “But, she never called when I shot myself … I wouldn’t treat my friends that way.”

NEW JERSEY U.S. SENATOR. Roselle Park Mayor Joe Signorello, who leads a 14,000-person community in North Jersey, on Tuesday announced that he’d wage a longshot Democratic primary bid against Sen. Robert Menendez. The mayor highlighted that Menendez is under federal investigation for corruption, though there haven’t been any public developments since Semafor broke the news in October.

Signorello, who acknowledged to Politico that most of the Democrats he’s spoken to told him, “Wow, good for you. You’re crazy,” also argued that Menendez “represents Bill Clinton-eque Democrats, which I don’t think we are as a party, especially in New Jersey.”

WEST VIRGINIA GOVERNOR. State Auditor JB McCuskey on Tuesday joined what’s become a busy Republican primary to succeed termed-out GOP incumbent Jim Justice. McCuskey in 2016 led the Republican ticket for state office when he flipped an office his party had last won 44 years before (law professor Quinn Yeargain​ digs into the strange story of that 1972 campaign​, including why that year’s GOP win is sometimes forgotten today), and he took more votes four years later than anyone but Justice and Donald Trump.

McCuskey enters a nomination fight that currently consists of Delegate Moore Capito, auto dealer Chris Miller, and Secretary of State Mac Warner. Capito and Miller are the respective sons of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Rep. Carol Miller, while several of Warner’s relatives have also held lower office. And wouldn’t you know it, McCuskey’s father is another former public official, though the elder McCuskey lost his campaign to remain on the state Supreme Court all the way back in 1998.

Mike Pence twice declined in a CBS News interview to commit to supporting Donald Trump if he is the Republican presidential nominee.  But he did says he thinks “different times call for different leadership.”

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. While Rep. Debbie Dingell hasn’t said much publicly about waging a Senate bid since January, she reiterated Tuesday that she was still open to the idea even though fellow Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin is running. “I haven’t said no,” she told Politico, adding, “So I respect Elissa and we’re all just working together. We’re all focused. We have to win this.”

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke sounded reluctant to challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in a Tuesday interview with CNN, though he reiterated he was still thinking about it.

“I said I would do my best and do my duty to control the budget and provide the checks and balance on appropriations,” the congressman told reporter Manu Raju, adding, “I gave my word that I would do it and do my best, and running for a Senate seat … is a distraction that I think would take me away from what I said.” Zinke went on, “I would say because of who I am and my name, I have time [to decide]. So I’ll let the field develop, you know how it is, and then I’ll make a decision after I get the budget done.”

TEXAS U.S. SENATOR. State Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa lists Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner as someone who is thinking about taking on Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, though Hinojosa didn’t provide any more information about Turner’s interest in his interview with the Dallas Morning News.

Most of the talk on the Democratic side has revolved around Rep. Colin Allred, whom the paper reported last week is considering. Allred hasn’t expressed interest publicly, though the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek notes that he avoided directly answering a question about his plans in a mid-February podcast appearance. “I know what I’ll do is certainly be a part of seeing Ted Cruz get beat,” Allred told James Carville and Al Hunt, but he didn’t say if he was looking to be the one to beat Cruz.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. State House Speaker Clay Schexnayder unexpectedly revealed this week that he was considering campaigning in this October’s all-party primary for governor, saying that a “lot depends” whether or not his fellow Republican, Rep. Garret Graves, runs to succeed termed-out Democrat John Bel Edwards. We also learned Tuesday that Hillar Moore, a Democrat who serves as district attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish, would sit the race out.

Schexnayder began the year preparing to run to replace GOP Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser ahead of his own long-expected bid for the top job, but those plans were thrown into disarray in early January when Nungesser announced he’d seek re-election instead. Nungesser’s decision not only meant that Schexnayder wouldn’t be campaigning for the office tasked with issuing the annual crawfish pardon (yep, that’s a thing), it also left the term-limited speaker searching for a new post to seek.

LA Politics’ Jeremy Alford reported in January that Schexnayder was being encouraged to run for Ascension Parish president, but he told Alford Monday that he was now thinking about a campaign for governor and would “make a decision soon.” Schexnayder used a separate interview with Lafayette Daily Advertiser reporter Greg Hilburn to say he was waiting to see what Graves did, though no one knows when the congressman will make up his mind. Graves did say last week that his own decision would come “sometime soon,” though he also indicated he believed he could wait months longer and still win.

The Republican field currently consists of Attorney General Jeff Landry, Treasurer John Schroder, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, and state Rep. Richard Nelson. The far-right Landry has long looked like the frontrunner, and he’s been trying in recent weeks to appease his many intra-party enemies.

While Nungesser famously said last year that “Jeff is not a good person,” he had a different take after the two would-be rivals met in mid-February. “I was encouraged he was willing to listen to everything I had to say,” the lieutenant governor told the media, adding, “It was a part of Jeff I never saw or didn’t know about before.” Alford also said Monday that Landry and Graves themselves had what the congressman’s team described as a “​​positive” gathering.

No notable Democrats have entered the race yet, but that’s likely to change soon. Shawn Wilson, who would be the first African American elected statewide since Reconstruction, will step down as state transportation secretary on March 4, and’s Tyler Bridges says his announcement could also come “as soon as next week.” Bridges adds that, with Moore out of the running, “No other major Democratic candidates appear likely to run” in this conservative state ahead of the August filing deadline.

The field also includes attorney Hunter Lundy, an independent who has self-funded $1.4 million so far. Lundy is a member of the governing board of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, a Christian Nationalist group, and has attracted relatively little attention during the campaign, though he was mentioned in a recent Rolling Stone piece about the NACL. His appearance was brief, though: Writer Tim Dickinson said, “Lundy, in a legitimate excuse for a man from Southern Louisiana, was unavailable to be interviewed due to Mardi Gras.”

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. AdImpact reports that Fair Courts America, a super PAC bankrolled by the Uihlein family, has now booked close to $1 million for ads attacking progressive Janet Protasiewicz, whose side had the airwaves to themselves for the first week of the general election. The opening spot, which says will start running Wednesday, utilizes one of the right’s favorite attacks and argues Protasiewicz has not issued harsh enough sentences.

WisPolitics also says that Protasiewicz’s allies at A Better Wisconsin Together have reserved another $518,000, which brings its total general booking to $1.3 million for TV and digital spending. One spot goes after conservative Dan Kelly for having “likened Social Security to slavery,” while the other warns that he “worked for a radical anti-abortion group and is endorsed by groups who ban abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest.” Protasiewicz herself has reserved or spent at least $5.4 million for the April 4 general, while Kelly has yet to go on TV.

RHODE ISLAND 1ST DISTRICT. Attorney General Peter Neronha has revealed that he won’t run in the upcoming special election to succeed his fellow Democrat, outgoing Rep. David Cicilline, while WPRI’s Ted Nesi says that Biden administration official Gabe Amo is interested. State House Speaker Joe Shekarchi also declared Tuesday he is “exploring all options” even though Nesi writes that political observers have expected him to sit the primary out.

No major Democrats have entered the race in the week since Cicilline unexpectedly announced that he would resign on June 1 to head a nonprofit, but Robert Walsh, whom Nesi calls a “longtime Democratic powerbroker,” suggests this is just due to timing. Walsh said that Cicilline made his departure known at an awkward time when the legislature isn’t in session and schools are on break.

“I’d say by a week from today we should have the names of at least one or two major contenders for the seat either announced or announcing that they’re going to announce,” Walsh predicted, adding, “Wasting much more time than that is a barrier to entry in itself, and a lot of names that are floating around will have to take their names out of contention to be fair to the Democratic Party.”

NEW YORK 22ND DISTRICT. Manlius Town Councilor Katelyn Kriesel ended her brief campaign against freshman Republican Rep. Brandon Williams on Monday. Kriesel was the only Democrat in the contest, though her party will be working hard to target Williams in this 53-45 Biden constituency.

MICHIGAN 10TH DISTRICT. While former Macomb County Judge Carl Marlinga doesn’t appear to have said anything publicly about seeking a rematch with Republican Rep. John James following his unexpectedly close 48.8-48.3 loss last year, Marlinga seems to be telling plenty of fellow Democrats that he plans to try again. Traverse City Commissioner Mitchell Treadwell tweeted on Feb. 18 that Marlinga was telling “anyone who asked him at the convention last weekend” that he’d run.

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

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