The Political Report – March 16, 2023

A new CNN national poll finds Donald Trump slightly leading Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a presidential primary, 40% to 36%.

Notably, GOP primary voters are not prioritizing electability: Survey respondents say they’d rather pick someone with whom they agree, 59% to 41%.

Trump’s support is more solid than DeSantis’: Seventy-six percent of Trump’s backers say they’re locked in for him, compared to 59% of DeSantis’.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. “The prospect of a Pennsylvania Senate bid by state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) has Republicans feeling a sense of déjà vu and reigniting fears that he could cost them up and down the ballot,” The Hill reports.

“The state and national GOP machinery is lining up solidly behind David McCormick, who was narrowly defeated in the 2022 Senate primary, believing he’s the party’s only chance to defeat Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) in what could be a tough presidential cycle.”

Politico: Doug Mastriano and his super fans aren’t yet willing to let go.

McCormick finally confirmed this weekend that he’s considering challenging Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, but a new poll indicates that McCormick and his GOP establishment allies would first need to put in some real work to stop the party from nominating the toxic Doug Mastriano again. The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling shows Mastriano, who was the GOP’s disastrous nominee for governor last year, leading McCormick 42-28 in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup.

PPP also tests out a scenario where Kathy Barnette, a far-right figure who took third in last year’s Senate primary, is included, but she doesn’t change much: Mastriano edges out McCormick 39-21, with Barnette at 11%. Barnette hasn’t shown any obvious interest in another Senate bid since she earned 25% in the primary for Pennsylvania’s other seat in a contest where Mehmet Oz defeated McCormick 31.2-31.1; Oz went on to lose to Democrat John Fetterman.

Mastriano, though, said last week he was considering a campaign against Casey just months after his blowout 56-42 loss to now-Gov. Josh Shapiro, and prominent Republicans quickly made it clear how little they like that idea. Both NRSC chair Steve Daines and the deep-pocketed Senate Leadership Fund have made it clear they want McCormick as their nominee, with Daines adding of Mastriano, “His last race demonstrated he can’t win a general.”

McCormick, for his part, hasn’t said anything about when he expects to decide on a second Senate run except that it would be “later this year.” The Washington Post, though, writes that his choice “will be heavily influenced by how much he can consolidate party support.” So far, Mastriano is the only other notable Republican who has shown any interest in running, and if he got in, well-funded conservative groups would almost certainly do everything they could to make sure he doesn’t advance out of the primary.

But if Mastriano’s detractors have polls showing him losing a primary or general election, don’t expect that data to convince him to stay out. Mastriano, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, last Tuesday tweeted out a fake polling memo that ostensibly showed him beating Casey two hours after the account that actually created it deleted its own tweet and apologized. Mastriano, though, still has those phony numbers on his account as of Monday afternoon.

OHIO ABORTION REFERENDUM. Ohio election officials on Monday gave activists the go-ahead to begin collecting signatures to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November that would guarantee abortion rights in the state as advocates look to extend a streak of six straight victories on abortion that began last summer. However, the campaign to pass the measure, known as the Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety, first needs to focus on the logistically difficult task of gathering petitions before it can turn its attention to winning what would be an expensive fall battle.

The amendment’s supporters need to turn in 413,000 valid signatures—a number that represents 10% of the number of votes cast for last year’s governor race—by July 5. State law makes things more complicated for progressives, though: Not only must these petitions come from at least half of Ohio’s 88 counties, each of those 44 counties must provide signatures equal to 5% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in that county.

Because the Buckeye State’s left-leaning voters are largely concentrated in several large urban counties, getting to half the counties includes those that Donald Trump won by margins of up to 70-28, requiring abortion rights backers to focus their efforts on collecting signatures in many conservative rural areas. Even Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is the only Democrat to win a statewide partisan election in the last decade, didn’t come close to winning a majority of Ohio’s counties despite his decisive 53-47 re-election victory in 2018. That year, Brown carried only 16 counties; two years later, Joe Biden took just seven amidst his loss to Donald Trump.

However, as successes in deep red states like Kansas and Kentucky last year showed, support for abortion rights crosses partisan borders, which gives organizers an expanded pool of voters to draw on. The unsuccessful ballot measures in those two states, though, sought to roll back abortion rights rather than guarantee them; an amendment in Michigan that, like the proposal in Ohio, enshrined the right to an abortion passed with a 13-point margin in 2022—similar to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 11-point victory.

If the amendment does make the ballot, it would then need to win a majority of the vote this November in the face of fierce opposition from anti-abortion forces. The head of the right-wing Center for Christian Virtue predicted last month, “It’s going to be a true grassroots and TV campaign. This is going to be pulling out all the stops to beat this.”

This amendment would protect the right to an abortion until “fetal viability,” which is usually 23 or 24 weeks into a pregnancy, and would roll back a law Republican legislators passed in 2019 that effectively bans abortion after just six weeks. A state judge blocked that law last fall, but while the procedure is still legal up to 22 weeks, Republicans have asked the state’s conservative Supreme Court to reverse that ruling.

Abortion rights supporters are moving forward this year, despite the smaller off-year electorate, in part because Republican legislators are working to place their own referendum on November’s ballot to require that future amendments win the support of 60% of voters instead of a simple majority. That measure, ironically enough, needs to win just a majority of the vote in order to pass and would impact any future amendments, though recent similar efforts by Republicans in other states have been rejected by voters.

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. While Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb reportedly was originally Kari Lake’s choice to run for the Senate, the Wall Street Journal’s Eliza Collins now reports that he isn’t going to be deferring to her now that she’s mulling her own campaign for the Republican nomination. Lamb, writes Collins, instead “is expected to announce a run in the coming weeks.”

A different Big Lie spreader, though, is behaving differently. Collins writes that 2022 attorney general nominee Abe Hamadeh, who like Lake refuses to accept his defeat, told the NRSC they should consolidate behind her. Hamadeh added that he was interested in running, but only if Lake didn’t.

Blake Masters, who was one of the party’s very worst 2022 Senate nominees, meanwhile is sending some contradictory signs about his intentions for next year. Masters says he “will probably run” for the seat held by Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema, but unnamed allies tell Collins he wouldn’t take on Lake.

KENTUCKY U.S. SENATOR. A spokesperson for Mitch McConnell said Monday that the Senate minority leader has been “discharged from the hospital” five days after he experienced a concussion when he tripped and fell. That statement continued, “At the advice of his physician, the next step will be a period of physical therapy at an inpatient rehabilitation facility before he returns home.”

NORTH CAROLINA 14TH DISTRICT and ATTORNEY GENERAL. The Charlotte Observer’s Danielle Battaglia writes that Tim Moore, the Republican speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, is “believed” to be planning to redraw Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson’s 14th Congressional District into a constituency that he can win. Battaglia adds that there’s talk that Jackson could run for the attorney general’s post that fellow Democrat Josh Stein is giving up to run for governor rather than seek a second term, but all the congressman would say about his plans is that he’s “looking forward to seeing any new map drawn by the General Assembly.”

The current version of Jackson’s district backed Biden 57-41 under the lines that the state Supreme Court approved for the 2022 elections. However, the body’s new GOP majority is likely to approve whatever gerrymander the legislature agrees on this summer, and under state law, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper cannot veto redistricting plans for Congress or legislature.

Moore has coveted a spot in the House for some time, and in 2021 he helped craft what was supposed to be a new seat in the Charlotte area that he could slide into. Things quickly went off-script, though, when far-right Rep. Madison Cawthorn unexpectedly announced he’d run in the proposed 13th District even though it contained barely a shred of the western North Carolina seat he already held. But while Cawthorn successfully bullied Moore into seeking re-election to the legislature, the speaker would have a far better 2022 than the congressman.

The state Supreme Court, which at the time had a Democratic majority, rejected the maps that Moore and his colleagues drew, and Cawthorn’s attempted district hop did not play well with the constituents he’d tried to abandon. Cawthorn, who also was buried by scandal after scandal, ended up losing renomination to state Sen. Chuck Edwards, while Moore went on to easily win a historic fifth term as speaker. Cawthorn moved to Florida days after leaving Congress, while Moore is positioned to finally craft the district he’s always wanted for himself.

Rep. George Santos (R-NY) has filed a statement of candidacy for 2024.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. While neither retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow nor Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has endorsed Rep. Elissa Slotkin, Politico reports that both helped deter several other Democrats from running against her. The story says that Stabenow “directed other ambitious Democrats” toward offices that will be up in 2026, while Schumer “conveyed to anyone that would listen that Slotkin was well-funded and forcing her to spend big in a contested primary would hurt the party.”

Slotkin will still likely face intra-party opposition as actor Hill Harper reportedly will launch his bid in April, though no one knows if he’d be a strong opponent.

NEW YORK U.S. SENATOR. The Daily Beast’s Jake Lahut reports that Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is warning her donors that disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo is preparing to challenge her, though there’s no sign that Cuomo is gearing up for a comeback bid. It’s unlikely this sort of talk will die down anytime soon, though: One unnamed insider told Lahut, “The worst thing that could possibly happen is Andrew Cuomo wakes up one morning and decides that his comeback story lies in, I don’t know, being elected to the United States Senate.”

And don’t hold your breath on Cuomo dispelling speculation about his plans. We only learned he wouldn’t seek the Democratic nod for his old job or campaign for it as an independent after the respective filing deadlines passed and he didn’t submit any petitions to make the ballot.

“Several top Republicans keep saying there’s no way former President Trump can win the 2024 GOP nomination — but polls say he can,” Axios reports.

“Trump’s rivals and critics underestimated him in 2016, often treating him as a sideshow rather than a front-runner. They risk repeating that mistake.”

“Many of those either running for the GOP nomination or considering a run are spending more time focused on dinging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis than Trump, the actual frontrunner.”

Quad-City Times: “By 8:30 a.m. lawn chairs already were set up in front of the theater, saving spots for rallygoers to see the 45th president. By 2:30 p.m., a line had formed stretching a few blocks down West Third Street from the Adler Theater to Main Street in downtown Davenport.”

“The National Republican Congressional Committee is plotting a sprawling battlefield in 2024, naming 37 Democrat-held House districts to its initial list of targets,” Axios reports.

“It’s an ambitious strategy in a presidential year, when House results are often closely correlated with top-of-the-ticket margins. The last three presidential elections — all close by historical standards — saw flips of six to 14 seats in the House.”

Donald Trump’s allies are stepping up their battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, formally accusing him of violating state ethics and election laws with his “shadow presidential campaign,” NBC News reports.

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

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