The Political Report – March 18, 2023

 “First-time Latino voters are outpacing first-time non-Latino voters in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, New York, and Texas,” Axios reports.

“Nonpartisan and unaffiliated Latino voters are on the verge of becoming one of the biggest swing voter groups in the U.S. — raising the stakes for early and regular engagement from both parties.”

“The 2022 election showed the GOP making significant gains among Latinos in Florida but falling well below expectations in Texas, as predicted.”

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. We’re a little more than halfway through the six-week general election that will decide control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the New York Times’ Reid Epstein reports that progressive Janet Protasiewicz has outspent her conservative foe, former Justice Dan Kelly, on TV by a margin of $9.1 million to $0.00.

Outside groups are helping Kelly’s side avoid getting infinitely outspent ahead of the April 4 general election: The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce has deployed $3.4 million so far, while Fair Courts America has spent another $2.3 million on television. These commercials have accused Protasiewicz of not issuing harsh enough sentences, though they haven’t mentioned Kelly.

But not only is Protasiewicz decisively outspending both those organizations, Epstein writes that she’s run more than three times as many TV ads because as a candidate, she’s entitled to far cheaper rates than PACs. Note that this 3-1 figure does not even factor in the $2.03 million that A Better Wisconsin Together and other progressive groups have spent.

Kelly, unsurprisingly, played down his deficit Sunday when he predicted to supporters, “I’m told the cavalry is on the way. And so hopefully, they’ll have some good and smart and true ads.” So far, though, his allies aren’t saying anything about their plans for the remaining three weeks of the race, while it remains to be seen if another conservative group arrives to help him out. Kelly himself also said that he believed he’d raise somewhere between $2 million and $2.5 million, which is less than a third of what Protasiewicz has already spent, while spokesperson Ben Voelkel also said the campaign was filming its very first spot Tuesday.

For now, though, he doesn’t have anyone to help defend him from a pair of new Protasiewicz ads arguing he’s both an extremist and corrupt. One commercial attacks Kelly over his 2013 blog post comparing Social Security to slavery and writing that people on Social Security have “chosen to retire without sufficient assets to support themselves.” Protasiewicz’s other spot once again accuses the former justice of ruling in favor of plaintiffs he had ties to.

An angry Kelly responded by accusing Protasiewicz of lying about him, though his team didn’t seem especially concerned that he was failing to get his own narrative on TV. “They are spending millions of dollars for an election that’s not going to have a big turnout,” Voelkel said of Protasiewicz before adding, “We’ve taken a slightly different approach.” Voelkel did not reveal what that “slightly different,” though unquestionably significantly cheaper, approach is.

New York Times: “The conservative candidate, Daniel Kelly, is trailing in limited private polling of the race. Abortion rights, which powered Democrats in the midterm elections, are driving the party to shovel enormous sums of money into the campaign. And perhaps most significantly, Justice Kelly’s campaign has been outspent by a staggering margin on television since the Feb. 21 primary: $9.1 million to nothing.”

“But Justice Kelly, who sat on the court before losing re-election in 2020, appears unfazed. He told supporters on Sunday in northwest Wisconsin that help was on the way from unidentified outside groups in his race against, a liberal Milwaukee County judge opposing him in the April 4 election.”

CHICAGO MAYOR. Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas is making use of his financial advantage to go up with another commercial accusing Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, his rival in the April 4 general election, of “promising to defund the police by $150 million.” The narrator goes on to argue that Johnson is “editing decade-old video to mislead Chicagoans” about Vallas’ support for abortion rights, a reference 2009 footage of Vallas saying, “Fundamentally, I oppose abortion.”

Johnson, for his part, was asked at a Wednesday debate about 2020 comments where he said of the movement to defund the police, “I don’t look at it as a slogan. It’s an actual real political goal.” The commissioner said in response, “There are people who want to see the police budget defunded. I said it was a political goal, I never said it was mine.” Johnson is also hoping to bolster his public safety credentials with an endorsement from Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who declared, “I am comfortable as a result of my direct conversations with him that he will take thoughtful and comprehensive approach to making Chicago a safer place to live.”

All of this comes at a time when Vallas continues to hold a wide advertising lead in a race where almost all contribution limits disappeared after he self-funded over $100,000. AdImpact tells NBC that Vallas has outspent Johnson $1.7 million to $920,000 on general ads and has a $1.2 million to $570,000 edge in future reservations.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Election denier Kathy Barnette told Politico Wednesday that she’d decided not to challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, an announcement that came just a day after she said she hadn’t ruled the idea out. But Barnette, who took third in last year’s primary for Pennsylvania’s other Senate seat, declared, “Instead of playing coy, I wanted to come out and say I am not interested.”

WISCONSIN U.S. SENATOR. Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who was a far-right favorite early in the Trump era, has not ruled out taking on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in this swing state. A Clarke spokesperson told The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey, “Clarke would never take anything off the table as it relates to his future.” A Democratic operative told Brodey in response, “Could it be a grift and he’s trying to make a buck? Absolutely,” before acknowledging, “It doesn’t mean he’s not considering running. It’s as real as anyone else.”

Clarke, who’d won four terms as sheriff as a nominal Democrat, decided not to challenge Baldwin as a Republican six years ago, though only after he’d spent months keeping everyone guessing about his plans. Clarke, who was mired in lawsuits and investigations over his abusive if not murderous treatment of prisoners, instead resigned from office later in the year before taking over as head of a pro-Trump super PAC. He was out of that role by 2019 when the family of an inmate who’d died of “profound dehydration” in one of his jails reached a $6.75 million settlement with Milwaukee County and a healthcare company.

Clarke went on to resume his role as a Trump surrogate, and he said right after the 2020 election, “We need a chapter of the Proud Boys right here in Wisconsin because they’re the only ones with the courage to get in the face of Black Lives Matter.” (Clarke is Black.) The former sheriff, who has continued to spread far-right lies every chance he gets, was also on the advisory board for Steve Bannon’s We Build the Wall crowdfunding group, an effort that federal prosecutors say was Bannon’s vehicle for defrauding donors.    

By Clarke standards this has actually been, in Brodey’s words, “a few relatively quiet years,” though he sought to remerge on the scene Monday with a podcast where he delivered a 30-minute rant calling the Republican Party “a mess.” 

Businessman Scott Mayer, who runs a staffing services company, tells WisPolitics that he’s considering seeking the Republican nod to take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin and hopes to decide by Labor Day.

Mayer adds that he’s been told he’d need to self-fund anywhere between $10 million to $20 million, something he says he’s not sure he wants to do even though he can afford it. “I don’t like it. I’m not comfortable with it,” he said before adding, “But if I do, it’s the reality of what I have to do.” WisPolitics also notes that the would-be candidate sits on the board of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which is one of the most powerful players in statewide GOP politics, as well as the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

While we haven’t heard much from former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch since her upset loss to Tim Michels in last year’s Republican primary for governor of Wisconsin, an unnamed source tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that she’s “leaving the door open” for a potential bid against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. This person notes that Kleefisch remains head of the conservative state group 1848 Project, adding, “​​If she didn’t care anymore, she would have walked away completely. That should say something.”

WEST VIRGINIA GOVERNOR and U.S. SENATOR. A group called Black Bear PAC released a survey earlier this week arguing that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey would be the Republican primary frontrunner if he ran for governor of West Virginia, and MetroNews’ Hoppy Kercheval reports that the group has some serious money behind it thanks to one very familiar megadonor. Black Bear (not to be confused with the movie “Cocaine Bear”) says it has $2 million on-hand, and Kercheval writes that about half of that comes from Dick Uihlein.

Morrisey has spent the last several months mulling whether to run to succeed termed-out Gov. Jim Justice or seek a rematch with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who beat him 50-46 in 2018, and Kercheval says we can expect news “in a few weeks.” Uihlein’s beneficiaries at Black Bear, though, are unsubtly trying to steer the attorney general toward the governor’s race with the aforementioned poll from National Research Inc: That survey, which did not mention the Senate contest at all, found Morrisey beating state Delegate Moore Capito 28-15 for the GOP nod.

Uihlein is also the top funder for the Club for Growth, which also likely wants Morrisey to do something other than run for the Senate. Justice, who is termed-out of his current post, is looking at a bid against Manchin, but Club head David McIntosh in January dismissed the governor as “more moderate” than it likes. The Club, by contrast, is close to Rep. Alex Mooney, who announced a bid for the upper chamber in November. While McIntosh said this year that his group was interested in both Mooney and Morrisey for Senate, the two Justice alternatives could be chasing after the same group of supporters if they both competed in the same primary.

The governor’s race, by contrast, has no obvious frontrunner. The GOP primary currently features two members of prominent Mountain State political families: Capito, who is the son and namesake of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, and auto dealer Chris Miller, whose mother is Rep. Carol Miller. The other notable candidates are state Auditor JB McCuskey and Secretary of State Mac Warner, who also have relatives in state politics. The same cannot be said for the New Jersey-reared Morrisey, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in the Garden State in 2000.

While Attorney General Patrick Morrisey hasn’t publicly indicated if he’s more interested in seeking a rematch with Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin or running in next year’s Republican primary for governor, an allied super PAC is out with a new poll pointing him in the direction of door number two.

National Research Inc. shows Morrisey beating Del. Moore Capito 28-15 in the contest to succeed termed-out Gov. Jim Justice, with Secretary of State Mac Warner at 11% and no one else breaking into double digits. The memo notably does not mention the Senate race at all as it argues that Morrisey “is by far the strongest Republican” in the race for governor.

MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR. Mason-Dixon has conducted a survey for Magnolia Tribune (previously known as Y’all Politics) that shows Republican Gov. Tate Reeves holding off Democrat Brandon Presley 46-39 among likely voters in this November’s general election. That’s still below the majority that Reeves would need to avert a runoff, though the survey did not include independent Gwendolyn Gray as an option.

Two previously released polls found things considerably closer, though unlike Mason-Dixon, they sampled registered voters. An early January poll from Siena College for Mississippi Today had Reeves ahead 43-39, while the Democratic firm Tulchin Research showed Presley up 47-43 in its survey for the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund.

NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR. Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, who is one of New Hampshire’s more prominent Democrats, announced Thursday that she would not seek re-election this fall as the leader of the state’s largest city, but we may be hearing more from her soon. WMUR notes that political observers have long speculated that Craig could run for governor, and when asked about her interest in a potential bid for higher office, the mayor repeatedly refused to give an answer.

Craig’s immediate future, though, may depend most on what Republican Gov. Chris Sununu decides to do in 2024. Sununu, who just won a fourth two-year term with an imposing 57% of the vote, has spent months musing about a longshot White House bid and, because New Hampshire has one of the latest candidate filing deadlines in America for non-presidential offices, he’d have time to turn around and seek re-election if national primary voters rejected him. Sununu said back in December that he hadn’t “ruled out a fifth term,” but he doesn’t appear to have commented on the topic since.

If Sununu does indeed run for his current post one more time, he’d be the first Granite State governor to ever try to claim a fifth term since the state stopped electing its chief executives to single-year terms in 1878. Last year, Sununu matched the record that Democrat John Lynch set in 2010 when he earned a fourth straight term, but Lynch opted to retire two years later. (The all-time record is considerably longer, though: According to the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier, Federalist John Gilman won 14 one-year terms in two separate stints between 1794 and 1816.)

Sununu would be difficult to beat if he did go for term number five, though he could see his standing deteriorate at home if he were to spend a significant amount of time trying to fulfill his unlikely White House dreams. His departure, though, would set off a wide-open campaign that could attract Craig and many other contenders from both parties. It’s also possible that Craig could take a look at running for the swingy 1st District should her congressman, Democrat Chris Pappas, seek the governorship. (Pappas spent months last cycle keeping the idea alive, though he ultimately sought and won re-election instead.)

First, though, there’s this year’s race to succeed Craig as mayor in a contest that attracts outsize attention every two years. While Manchester, with a population of just over 110,000, isn’t a particularly large city by American standards, its status as one of the few places with a sizable concentration of voters and activists in New Hampshire makes it an attractive place for presidential hopefuls to burnish their profiles—not to mention fill their favor banks. That’s why it’s not unusual to see potential White House contenders endorse candidates for mayor, as Joe Biden did on Craig’s behalf before her successful 2017 bid, or even campaign with them, as Cory Booker did in 2019.

So far, though, the officially nonpartisan race to lead of “Manch-Vegas” (yes, that’s one of the city’s self-deprecating nicknames) consists only of Republican Jay Ruais, a former congressional staffer who sports endorsements from both Sununu and Executive Councilor Ted Gastas. There’s still plenty of time for the contest to succeed Craig to take shape, though, as the filing deadline isn’t until late June. (All contenders will face off in September, and the top-two vote-getters will advance to the November general election.)

Republicans had held the mayor’s office for more than a decade prior, but Craig broke their streak in 2017 by unseating incumbent Ted Gatsas. The GOP is now hoping to win this key city back even though Biden carried it by a 56-42 margin, which was the best performance by a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996.

Whoever wins this post will, like Craig, quickly emerge as a top candidate for higher office, particularly given the dearth of statewide elected positions in New Hampshire (only the governor and its two U.S. senators are elected by the entire state). Republican Frank Guinta, for example, had this job in the late 2000s, then went on to represent the 1st Congressional District for two nonconsecutive terms.

Gatsas, who succeeded Guinta as mayor, similarly tried to use the position as a springboard to run for governor in 2016, but he took a distant third to Sununu in the primary. Gatsas lost to Craig the next year, though he proved he was still politically relevant in 2018 when he won one of the five spots on the state’s powerful Executive Council.

HOUSTON MAYOR. Former Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) “is considering a run for mayor of Houston,” Semafor reports.

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. Vox: “Her campaign would zero in on the politically moderate, wealthier, and unaffiliated voters that live in the state’s suburban neighborhoods and would aim to peel away support from a Trump-aligned Republican. And it would need to raise a lot of money — at least $40 million to be competitive, according to in-state experts.”

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. Republican state Treasurer John Schroder has beaten his many rivals to TV, and AdImpact tweeted last week that he’d spent $290,000 on advertising thus far. Schroder’s commercial, which comes well ahead of the October all-party primary, features him rattling off generic conservative positions as it shows him cooking and pledging to find the “right recipe” for the state.

TEXAS 34TH DISTRICT. The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek writes that while former Republican Rep. Mayra Flores “repeatedly teased a comeback campaign in the weeks after” her 2022 loss to Democratic colleague Vicente Gonzalez, she’s “been less vocal recently.” The only declared Republican so far is businessman Mauro Garza, a self-funding perennial candidate who most recently lost last year’s GOP primary for the neighboring 15th District to now-Rep. Monica De La Cruz 57-15.

The 34th District, which is based in the eastern Rio Grande Valleybacked Joe Biden 57-42, but Republicans hoped that Flores’ win in a June special election for the last version of the seat would set them up for another win. The four largest House groups ended up spending $11.1 million, but Gonzalez prevailed by a clear 53-44; according to Svitek, Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried this district by 13 points in his unsuccessful campaign for governor.

WISCONSIN STATE SENATE. Democrat Jodi Habush Sinykin is debuting what appears to be her first TV ad against Republican Dan Knodl ahead of an April 4 special election that will determine if the GOP gets to keep their new supermajority in the upper chamber. The spot stars an OBGYN warning, “Knodl wants to ban abortion with no exceptions even when a woman’s health is on the line, and he wants to put doctors like me in jail.” She continues, “Knodl will give extremists total control of the state Senate and women’s rights in Wisconsin. The threat is real.”  

A new Quinnipiac University poll finds that two-thirds of Americans — including 2 in 5 Republicans — think that Fox News should be held accountable for its election lies.

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

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