The Political Report – March 14, 2023

“As Trump returns to Iowa on Monday, he and his team are aiming for a more disciplined approach. They are particularly focused on building the data and digital engagement he will need to persuade Iowans to traipse through the cold and snow early next year to participate in the caucuses,” the AP reports.

“Though his swing through the eastern city of Davenport marks his first trip to Iowa since launching his third bid for the presidency, he’s held roughly three dozen events in the state since entering political life. They include several rallies that have attracted thousands since he left office in 2021.”

“His team is using information from those events to compile an exhaustive list of supporters to engage. The list now includes the data from the 2016 campaign that sat gathering dust.”

Daily Beast: “Former New York governor left office with toxic baggage—and a small fortune in campaign cash. It’s making his rivals anxious about a Cuomo comeback.”

Politico: “Pence had used similar words to talk about Trump in his book — writing that his former boss’ ‘reckless words had endangered my family and all those serving at the Capitol.’”

“But his advisers saw the Gridiron dinner as an opportunity not just to echo those sentiments but to amplify them. They also believed it would help Pence win over his most skeptical audience these days: Washington insiders and journalists who have given him short shrift in the early 2024 primary.”

“Pence world has long believed that the former congressman and Indiana governor could occupy the adult-in-a-room 2024 lane, in that he is uniquely positioned to speak truth to power now that he is free of the constraints of the vice presidency.”

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) said former Vice President Mike Pence was right to criticize former President Trump for Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, saying “history will judge everyone” for their decisions on that day, The Hill reports.

Said McCaul: “Vice President Pence exercised moral clarity and judgment that day. It was a dark day, and I think history will judge everyone by what they did that day.”

NEVADA U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen will be one of the top GOP targets in the nation, but as the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Jessica Hill finds in her survey of the potential field, it’s still far from clear which Nevada Republicans will step up to take her on in this swing state.

Former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who narrowly lost the 2022 general election for the Silver State’s other Senate seat to Catherine Cortez Masto, said in a little-noticed December interview that he didn’t “see a scenario where I’m on the ballot in 2024.” Laxalt continues to get mentioned as a possible contender by media outlets, but there’s no indication he’s reconsidered over the following months.

Another Republican who tried to take on Cortez Masto, though, expressed interest in a campaign against Rosen to Hill. An advisor for Army veteran Sam Brown, who lost last year’s primary to Laxalt 56-34, says his client “has received a very enthusiastic response from both his statewide grassroots organization and the extensive national donor base that he built in 2022, but he hasn’t made a decision yet on a run.” Brown’s team previously didn’t rule anything out in November, but this is the first we’ve heard from them since then.

While Brown didn’t come close last time to denying the GOP nod to the well-established Laxalt, he ran an unexpectedly strong campaign. Brown, whose face was badly burned by an explosion in Afghanistan, raised a credible amount of money (his great uncle is Cincinnati Bengals’ owner Mike Brown). The Army veteran also tried to out-Big Lie Laxalt by accusing him of waiting too long to file litigation trying to overturn Biden’s win in 2020.

Still, all this was far from enough to keep Laxalt, who enjoyed backing from Donald Trump and the Club for Growth, from decisively prevailing in the nomination fight. Both the former attorney general and the Club highlighted how Brown had unsuccessfully competed in a 2014 primary for a state House seat in Texas: The Club even ran a TV ad playing audio of Brown saying, “It will literally take an act of God to get me out of Texas … I want Texas to continue to be the greatest place in this country … I’m not going anywhere.”

Another loser from the 2022 cycle who is talking about running against Rosen now is April Becker, who narrowly failed to oust Democratic Rep. Susie Lee in the 3rd District. Becker, writes Hill, has repeatedly gone after the senator on Twitter, while a speaker at this year’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering even identified her as a candidate. (We don’t know if Becker herself delivered any cowboy poems, sadly.) That person appears to have gotten ahead of themselves, though, as her spokesperson says she’s still, in Hill’s words, “keeping her options open.”

Becker previously ran for the legislature in 2020 and lost to state Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro in a 631-vote squeaker. Rather than accept that loss, though, Becker went to court and unsuccessfully demanded a “revote,” which predictably never happened. The Republican soon went up against Lee in the revamped 3rd District, a constituency in the southern Las Vegas suburbs that backed Biden 52-46, and she had no trouble advancing out of the primary.

The race attracted $18.2 million in outside spending from the four biggest House groups in the nation (the DCCC and House Majority PAC on the Democratic side and the NRCC and Congressional Leadership PAC for the GOP), which made it one of the most expensive contests for the lower chamber in the nation. Lee, for her part, went after Becker’s refusal to accept her last defeat with ads comparing her to the Jan. 6 rioters. Lee ended up holding on 52-48, and this time, Becker acknowledged her 10,000-vote defeat.

Two other Republicans also have not ruled out bids against Rosen: Rick Harrison, who is a cast member on the reality TV show “Pawn Stars,” and Joey Gilbert, who was the runner-up in the 2022 primary for governor. Harrison, who has long been a presence on the GOP campaign circuit, told the Review-Journal, “I’ve been approached by many in the party and always listen with an open mind.” He added, “Never say never, but at this time I haven’t decided whether or not to throw my hat in the ring.”

Gilbert’s spokesperson likewise told Hill that he was listening to people who want him to run but is “not at the place to talk about his own political aspirations.” Gilbert, a former professional boxer who bragged that he was “definitely on the Capitol steps” on Jan. 6, lost his last primary to the eventual winner, Joe Lombardo, 38-27. Gilbert’s side characteristically responded by saying he “100% believes he received the most votes,” and he went on to baselessly claim in court that an “illegal formula” was used to tally the results. But not only was Gilbert’s case dismissed, a judge also ordered him to pay sanctions for filing a frivolous suit.

Hill mentions two other Republicans, state Senate Minority Leader Heidi Gansert and former Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, as possibilities, though neither commented for the story. Finally, former Gov. Brian Sandoval said, “I’m committed to our students, faculty and staff, and to my role as the president of the University of Nevada, Reno.” Republicans tried hard to recruit him for a Senate bid in 2016 but he never seemed particularly interested in joining Congress, and there’s been no sign he’s had a change of heart over the ensuing years.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Philadelphia Inquirer: “He’s hiring campaign aides. He’s hosting parties for political insiders and forming a political committee to aid fellow Republicans. And this week, Dave McCormick will release a new book that weaves together his biography and roots in Pennsylvania, his experience campaigning for the 2022 Republican U.S. Senate nomination in the state, and his policy prescriptions for the country.”

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. Axios says that, not only is NRSC chair Steve Daines working to recruit Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy to take on Democratic incumbent Jon Tester, but that Montana’s junior senator is “close” to landing him. However, the story also says that Sheehy, who is capable of self-funding, hasn’t reached a decision and isn’t “expected to make an announcement soon.”

If Sheehy does run, though, he may discourage a few potential intra-party rivals. Gov. Greg Gianforte, who didn’t rule out a campaign against Tester last year, said of Sheehy, “I’m confident without a doubt he would serve Montana well as a senator.” Sheehy and Rep. Ryan Zinke are good friends as well, and an unnamed Zinke ally said, “​​He’d be a terrific opponent against Tester.” But Rep. Matt Rosendale, who like Zinke has been eyeing this race, did not 

OHIO U.S. SENATOR. While GOP Rep. Warren Davidson doesn’t appear to have said anything about challenging Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown since he first expressed interest in December, Axios reports that party leaders are “concerned” that the hardliner could get in after all.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. Former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft is going up with a commercial declaring that Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is the frontrunner in the May Republican primary, is doing “nothing” as the Biden administration shuts down coal-fired power plants. Cameron’s campaign responded to the ad, which goes on to tout Craft as an ardent coal ally, with a statement saying, “The coal plant she’s referring to in her flailing attack is a West Virginia plant. It provides no economic value to the Commonwealth, it appears none of the plant’s workers live in Kentucky, and it contributes no tax revenue to Kentucky communities.”

Craft’s offensive comes days after her allies at Commonwealth PAC launched what AdImpact says is a $930,000 ad campaign attacking Cameron on border security. Craft, per AdImpact, has spent $2.3 million on commercials so far, while Cameron and the rest of the field have yet to take to the airwaves.

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which is the biggest spender on the right for the general election, is running a spot accusing progressive Janet Protasiewicz of not issuing harsh enough sentences in sexual assault cases.

Protasiewicz, meanwhile, is airing two new ad targeting conservative rival Dan Kelly. One commercial goes after him for having taken part in talks with Republicans following the 2020 presidential election in which participants discussed fielding fake Trump electors, with the narrator warning, “On April 4th, vote like democracy depends on it. Because it does.” The other spot argues that, while Protasiewicz supports abortion rights, “Extremist Dan Kelly, he supports the 1849 law that takes away women’s rights and criminalizes abortion even in cases of rape, incest, and health of the mother.”

CHICAGO MAYOR. Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson has publicized an internal from Lake Research Partners showing him leading former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas 45-40 in the April 4 general, which is very different from the 44-32 Vallas lead that 1983 Labs recently found. There’s no question, though, that Vallas has a big advertising edge: AdImpact tweeted Friday that he’s deployed $1.6 million for the second round compared to $810,000 for Johnson.

INDIANA 5TH DISTRICT. State Rep. Chuck Goodrich filed FEC paperwork Thursday one day after he first publicly expressed interest in campaigning for the Republican nomination for this gerrymandered open seat.

RHODE ISLAND 1ST DISTRICT. WPRI reports that Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos has decided to run in the upcoming special election to succeed outgoing Rep. David Cicilline, a fellow Democrat who will resign on June 1 to head a nonprofit. Matos’ team did not confirm or deny the reports, saying instead, “We expect to have an announcement Monday.”

“Senate Republicans have been gifted a historically favorable map for 2024, but they are again facing the risk of problematic candidates emerging in must-win races,” Axios reports.

Politico: “The problem for Republicans is that Trump is making it impossible to run anything other than yesterday’s campaign.”

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