The Political Report – March 10, 2023

A new USA Today/Ipsos poll finds that by a 56% to 39% margin, Americans say the term “woke” means awareness of social injustices, not excessive political correctness.

“The findings raise questions about whether Republican campaign promises to ban policies at schools and workplaces they denounce as ‘woke’ could boost a contender in the party’s primaries but put them at odds with broader public opinion in the general election.”

President Biden’s public approval rating edged up to 42%, its highest level since June, as inflation has eased in the United States and job growth has stayed strong, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.

LOUSIANA GOVERNOR. Former Louisiana Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson launched his long-awaited campaign on Monday to succeed his termed-out Gov. John Bel Edwards, and a win would make him the first African American elected statewide since Reconstruction. While Wilson doesn’t have any serious opposition from fellow Democrats in sight, though, he’ll be in for a difficult campaign this fall in a state that Donald Trump took 58-40, and where no Democrats other than Edwards have prevailed statewide in more than a decade.

We also got a reminder hours later that the Republican side of the Oct. 14 all-party primary roster remains unsettled when the Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reported that Louisiana Association of Business and Industry head Stephen Waguespack, who hadn’t previously shown any obvious interest in running, unexpectedly began telling his board members that evening that he’d announce his own campaign on Thursday. Waguespack, who took over as president and CEO of Louisiana’s powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce chapter in 2013 after serving as chief of staff to then-GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, did not respond to questions.

Waguespack is close friends with Republican Rep. Garret Graves, and O’Donoghue writes that this news likely means the congressman has decided to pass on the contest. Another Republican, state House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, also said last week he’s interested in running if Graves sits it out, but it remains to be seen if he’d defer to Waguespack.  

The all-party primary field before this week already consisted of self-funding independent Hunter Lundy and a quartet of notable Republicans: Attorney General Jeff Landry, Treasurer John Schroder, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, and state Rep. Richard Nelson. In the likely event that no one secures a majority, a runoff would take place on Nov. 18 between the top-two vote-getters, regardless of party.

If Wilson, whose only prior run for office was a failed 2007 bid for the Lafayette City-Parish Council, is to keep the governor’s office in Democratic hands, he may need this year’s race to resemble something of a cross between Edwards’ shocking 2015 blowout win and his tight re-election fight four years later. During his first campaign, then-state House Minority Leader Edwards spent much of his time trying to convince his own party that he actually could beat the GOP frontrunner, Sen. David Vitter, rather than merely occupy a runoff spot that could have instead gone to a less problematic Republican like Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.

Wilson may be hoping that, while Landry lacks anything like Vitter’s personal baggage, the extremist Republican frontrunner would also be an effective foil should the two compete in a runoff. The former transportation secretary, without mentioning Landry or anyone else by name, started drawing a contrast this week when he said, “I would consider myself a bridge builder, figuratively and literally, not someone who burns bridges. That’s a distinct difference between me and other candidates.”

The attorney general, though, seems to recognize that he needs to make peace with some of the Republicans he’s alienated in the past in order to avoid Vitter’s fate. Notably, Landry recently sat down with Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who had been preparing to run himself until he decided two months ago to seek re-election instead. The charm offensive seems to be working, as Nungesser said that the man he’d once called “not a good person” had now shown him a part of himself “I never saw or didn’t know about before.”

If Landry or another Republican advances to a runoff with Wilson after an ugly intra-party fight, however, the Democrat will still need to put together a coalition that can earn him a majority of the vote. Edwards’ 51-49 win in 2019 over wealthy businessman Eddie Rispone offers a blueprint for such a coalition even though Wilson won’t have the advantages of incumbency that the governor brought to that race.

In that race four years ago, Edwards benefited from high turnout among African American voters in and around the key cities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport. Also critical was Edwards’ strong performance in suburban areas like Jefferson Parish, a large and historically Republican area just outside of New Orleans, where education levels are notably higher than in rural communities. That community hadn’t supported a Democrat for president since JFK in 1960, but Edwards took it 57-43—even though Trump had carried the parish by double digits in both of his campaigns.

And while Rispone still won most of the state’s rural areas, he didn’t perform nearly as well as Republicans usually do. One key reason was his ugly primary battle against a fellow Republican, Rep. Ralph Abraham, after which Edwards worked hard to fan the flames of intraparty animosity by reminding Abraham’s constituents about the attacks Rispone had leveled at their congressman. Democrats will certainly be hoping that Landry and the other Republicans throw some brickbats each other’s way so that they can repeat this strategy.

Wilson, though, will also need to do what no other Black candidate for statewide office has been able to do in modern times and win over a large number of white voters. Edwards, according to political demographer Greg Rigamer, earned 30% of the white vote and 95% of African Americans, figures that both exceeded Joe Biden’s showings the following year.

Wilson acknowledged this difficult reality in a recent interview. “We in this state have a long sordid history with race,” he said. “It is not lost on me, particularly on this anniversary of Bloody Sunday.” He added, “The weight of that is important. But I’m not running to be the Black governor. I’m running to be the governor. I want to be the best governor ever.”

Wilson on Wednesday earned the backing of Rep. Troy Carter, who is the only Democrat in Louisiana’s congressional delegation, ahead of the October all-party primary. Wilson, who received an endorsement from termed-out Gov. John Bel Edwards the previous day, has no serious intra-party opposition.

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. AdImpact reports that the conservative Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has thrown down $3.2 million for its opening buy ahead of the April 4 general election, while the GOP firm Medium Buying says its allies at Fair Courts America are deploying another $550,000. Progressive Janet Protasiewicz, per Medium, has also reserved an additional $460,000, while rival Dan Kelly still has yet to make any general election investments.

Despite these new right-wing bookings, though, AdImpact relays that Protasiewicz’s side still maintains a 63-37 advantage in terms of dollars spent on the airwaves. Protasiewicz has spent or booked $7 million, while her backers at A Better Wisconsin Together are responsible for another $1.1 million. (Smaller progressive groups appear to account for another $200,000.) By contrast, those two conservative groups are responsible for $4.9 million.

Progressive Janet Protasiewicz is taking advantage of her huge financial edge to go up with a new spot ahead of the April 4 accusing her conservative opponent, former Justice Daniel Kelly, of having “un-recused himself” from a case after he “pocketed $20,000 in contributions from” one of the plaintiffs and his family. Another ad touts Protasiewicz as “a prosecutor fighting for justice for victims of crime” who “believes women should have the freedom to make their own decisions on abortion.”

Protasiewicz’s campaign, reports Wisconsin Politics, is responsible for almost $8 million of the $9.5 million her side has deployed in the general election (most of the balance is from A Better Wisconsin Together), while right-wing PACs have spent $5 million. And because Protasiewicz is on TV while Kelly is relying on outside groups, only she’s able to take advantage of the much cheaper rates ad candidates are entitled to and thus can run far more spots for the same outlay.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a QAnon ally who was one of the very worst Republican nominees last year in a cycle chock full of them, tells Politico’s Holly Otterbein that he’s considering challenging Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in 2024. Mastriano, who was anything but humbled by his blowout 56-42 loss to now-Gov. Josh Shapiro, says that he’s “praying” about whether to run but added that God would make the ultimate decision.

Republican Senate leaders, who want self-funding rich guy Dave McCormick to go up against Casey, are undoubtedly also praying—that Mastriano will sit this race out. NRSC chief Steve Daines was quick to express his blunt disdain. “We need somebody who can win a primary and a general election,” the Montana senator said. “His last race demonstrated he can’t win a general.”

Democrats, of course, would like it just fine if the state senator is divinely inspired to try again. Mastriano, though, is far from the only far-right loser from 2022 who could wage another bid for statewide office. Indeed, at least five GOP candidates who ran failed midterm campaigns have come up as potential ’24 contenders:

The rolling disaster may even extend to the House level, as Ohio Republican J.R. Majewski is mulling another try against Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

But Mastriano, whose many sins include paying the white supremacist social network Gab $5,000 for “campaign consulting,” still stands out in this sordid crowd. Most of his fellow Republicans gave up on him long before Election Day, with one would-be ally saying, “I’ve not seen anything that is even a semblance of a campaign.”

Mastriano unsurprisingly sees things very differently. He referenced the total number of votes he earned last year when he told Otterbein, “What do you do with a movement of 2.2 million? We’re keeping it alive.” (Shapiro secured over 3 million votes.) He added, “We’ve seen people in the past, other Republican gubernatorial candidates, they rise and they disappear when they lose. Why?” He answered, “You have people that love you and support you,” a group we’re positive does not include the Republicans who are actually trying to flip the Senate.

The deep-pocketed Senate Leadership Fund made it clear this week it would support rich guy Dave McCormick should he seek the GOP nomination to take on Democratic incumbent Bob Casey. The group responded to the news that state Sen. Doug Mastriano is considering a bid following his landslide loss in last year’s race for governor by saying it is “focused on Dave McCormick as a candidate who can run and win this race.” 

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. “Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is entering his reelection contest in a rare position for a red state Democrat: the frontrunner,” Politico reports.

“It is a remarkable chain of events for Beshear, the son of a popular former governor who upset then-Republican Gov. Matt Bevin by just 5,000 votes in 2019. Beshear is riding into his reelection bid with sky high popularity, not just for a Democratic governor in a state that Donald Trump carried by nearly 26 points in 2020, but for any governor generally.”

OKLAHOMA MARIJUANA BALLOT. Oklahoma voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana by a 62-38 margin in a low-turnout race that Bolts Magazine notes took place on a date chosen by one of its most ardent opponents.

Supporters of what became known as SQ 820 submitted signatures with the intent to place it on the November 2022 ballot, but the campaign was delayed by various legal challenges. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who used his own State of the State speech to attack SQ 820, ultimately set it to take place between regularly-scheduled school board contests in February and April, a move that ensured that it was the only item on the ballot. Ultimately, just 25% of registered voters showed up for Tuesday’s race, which was half of November’s turnout.

CHICAGO MAYOR. Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas received an endorsement Wednesday from wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson, who took fifth place with 9% in last week’s nonpartisan primary for mayor, while the prominent SEIU Local 1 backed Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson ahead of the April 4 general. This labor group, which represents building workers, has long been a major spender in mayoral races, though it backed losing candidates Chuy Garcia and Toni Preckwinkle during the last two contests.

Vallas himself received $1.2 million in major contributions reported Tuesday, with $500,000 of that coming from major GOP donor Craig Duchossois. Vallas was able to take in this much because, while state law nominally puts contribution limits in place, those limits disappear for all candidates if just one of them self-funds at least $100,000 or accepts a donation this large from their immediate family.

Wilson broke this barrier for the first round all the way back in April of last year, while Vallas himself did it for the general by putting down $100,100 of his own money last week. People or companies that do business with the city are still barred from donating more than $1,500 to a candidate per year, but there are almost no other restrictions.

Wilson and Vallas are far from the first candidates to make these limits go away, though. Illinois, as the Chicago Sun-Times explained in 2020, didn’t have any contribution limits whatsoever until lawmakers established them in 2009 in response to the massive scandal that ultimately forced Gov. Rod Blagojevich (who narrowly beat none other than Vallas in their 2002 Democratic primary) from office. This “millionaires'” exemption was ostensibly included to prevent candidates from getting badly outspent by self-funding opponents, but in practice politicians routinely take advantage of it so they can haul in as much money as they can.

Johnson also has his well-funded backers, with Crain’s Chicago Business’ Justin Laurence writing that his supporters at SEIU Healthcare recently put $750,000 in its PAC and are likely to donate to the commissioner’s campaign as well. But his rival will likely stand to benefit far more from his ability to take in unlimited campaign contributions: Laurence writes that “[l]arge checks from the business community are expected to continue” to go to Vallas, whom politicos anticipate will enjoy a big financial edge.  

This tactic isn’t even limited to candidates in competitive races. Then-state House Speaker Michael Madigan famously threw down $100,001 in his uncontested 2018 general election, which allowed him to bring in an extra $12 million that he largely sent to committees he controlled. Candidates don’t even necessarily need to worry about losing $100,000 of their own money because they can list it as a loan, which is what Vallas did.

“If you think you’ll be able to pay yourself back from campaign funds there’s very little cost to using it,” said the head of the campaign finance reform group Reform for Illinois, adding, “The fact that loans are allowed also makes a mockery of the whole original ‘self-funding’ purpose of it.”

PENNSYLVANIA STATE HOUSE. Democratic state Rep. Mike Zabel announced that he was resigning after multiple women, including two Republican colleagues, accused him of sexual harassment. A special election will be held to succeed him in the 163rd House District, a Delaware County constituency that backed Joe Biden 62-37. In Pennsylvania it’s up to the parties, rather than primary voters, to select nominees for specials.

Once Zabel’s departure takes effect on March 16, his party’s majority in the 203-member state House will tick down to 101-100. A special to fill a safely red vacant seat will coincide with the May 16 statewide primary, and the Associated Press says there’s time for Democratic Speaker Joanna McClinton to also schedule the contest to replace Zabel for that date.

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. Jessica Taylor of the Cook Political Report tweets that Republicans are talking about Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy, who can potentially self-fund, as a possible opponent for Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. Sheehy, who earned a Purple Heart, does not appear to have said anything publicly yet.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. While former Rep. Mike Rogers recently expressed interest in seeking the Republican nod for Senate or president, WILX reports that last week he “confirmed he will not be running for office at this time and is focusing on solutions we can do at home to meet the challenges of China.” There’s no direct quote to indicate if Rogers is leaving himself some room to campaign for something later this cycle, though we doubt Republican power brokers are going to be holding their collective breath for a more definitive answer from a guy who retired in 2015.

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

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