The Political Report – March 28, 2023

Two new polls from a top Republican polling firm find Florida Gov. DeSantis is running more competitively with former President Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire than he is faring in national surveys, Axios reports.

CHICAGO MAYOR. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has thrown his support behind Paul Vallas in the April 4 Chicago mayoral runoff, calling the election an “extraordinary” moment in the city’s history, the Chicago Sun Times reports.

TEXAS U.S. SENATOR. As Democrats await a candidate to taken on Ted Cruz in 2024, Inside Elections’ Erin Covey says one possibility mentioned by Texas Democrats is retired astronaut Scott Kelly, the identical twin brother of Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly—and the notion doesn’t seem impossible.

Two days after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Scott Kelly condemned the attacks in a pair of tweets, noting that his brother’s life had been threatened that day and that his sister-in-law, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, had been survived a horrific assassination attempt exactly 10 years earlier. In response, a Twitter used named Kyle Hause asked Kelly if he’d run against Cruz; Kelly responded with a tantalizing quote-tweet saying, “Hmm…maybe.”

Kelly, who lives in Houston (the home of NASA’s Johnson Space Center) hasn’t said anything further since, but he’d bring a remarkable profile to the race. He famously smashed the previous record for the longest trip in space by an American when he spent 340 days aboard the International Space Station (though Mark Vande Hei eclipsed that mark last year) and attracted intense interest due to NASA’s plans to study the effects of long-term spaceflight by comparing his DNA’s to his brother’s. Kelly chronicled his journey in the book “Endurance,” which, incidentally, is a really good read.

WISCONSIN 3RD DISTRICT. Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District was one of several House seats that major Democratic groups abandoned last year only to see the final result turn out to be teeth-gnashingly close, and now local Democrats are weighing that history as they consider whether to tackle this seat once more.

State Sen. Brad Pfaff, who lost that open-seat contest to Republican Derrick Van Orden by a 52-48 margin, hasn’t spoken publicly about running again, but the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that a source close to Pfaff says the lawmaker’s decision will depend on whether organizations like the DCCC demonstrate a commitment to winning back the district in 2024. After longtime Rep. Ron Kind announced his retirement, the D-Trip wound up spending nothing at all to defend the 3rd, as did their allies at the House Majority PAC, which canceled $1.7 million in TV ad bookings at the end of October.

It’s not entirely clear why the Democratic heavyweights largely stayed out (one group, Center Forward, did make a late $600,000 expenditure on Pfaff’s behalf), but the decision likely reflected a combination of borked polling, fears that typical midterm patterns would hold sway, the district’s rural nature and long-term rightward trend, and the fact that there was no incumbent to protect. There may have been a knock-on effect as well, since the DCCC left Pfaff off of its “Red to Blue” list of top districts and he was subsequently outraised by a giant $6.3 million to $1.9 million margin—a rare example of a Democrat in a competitive race falling far short financially in 2022.

Despite last year’s outcome, Pfaff’s two main primary opponents are also in the mix for another try: Businesswoman Rebecca Cooke says she’s “strongly considering” a second bid, while former CIA officer Deb McGrath hasn’t ruled it out, though both added they’re currently focused on helping progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz win her bid for the Wisconsin Supreme Court on April 4. In last month’s primary, Protasiewicz and another liberal candidate combined for approximately 56% of the vote in the 3rd District while two conservatives collectively took just 44%, according to Daily Kos Elections’ preliminary calculations.

WEST VIRGINIA U.S. SENATOR. Politico reports that Republican senators and staffers think that Gov. Jim Justice, who’s been publicly considering a bid for Senate, will in fact enter the race, possibly next month. But the term-limited governor has already blown past his own deadlines for making an announcement more than once: On Feb. 23, he said he’d make up his mind in the next 15 to 20 days, a point that passed more than a week ago; prior to that, on Jan. 31, he said he’d decide within 30 days, so he may continue to keep his boosters waiting.

Justice did just succeed in convincing a resistant legislature to pass a major income tax cut prior to adjourning earlier this month, a goal that Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin previously noted could impact his decision-making process. If he does get in, though, he won’t have a clear path to the nomination: Rep. Alex Mooney has been running since mid-November, and there’s nothing but bad blood between the two.

The antipathy ratcheted up last year, when Justice backed Rep. David McKinley after he and Mooney wound up in the same district due to West Virginia losing a seat in reapportionment. Justice even said he had “serious concerns” about Mooney’s “ability to represent West Virginians well, after spending the majority of his time and life representing Maryland” (where he’d served in the state Senate), but primary voters didn’t share those worries. Mooney, who had Donald Trump’s endorsement, handily ended McKinley’s political career with a 54-36 win.

A similar divide would likely ensue should Justice and Mooney square off. Justice, a former Democrat who switched parties during his first term in office, supported Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, which Mooney mercilessly attacked McKinley for voting for. The deep-pocketed Club for Growth, which spent $1 million to aid Mooney last year, has also said it could support the congressman once again. Justice, though, is still very rich despite a recent decline in his net worth, and a Morning Consult poll from earlier this year showed him with a 64-31 approval rating.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. Former U.N. ambassador Kelly Craft continues to hammer the frontrunner for the GOP nomination for governor, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, over his 2021 recommendation against allowing a utility company to impose a $67 million surcharge on customers in order to upgrade a coal-fired power plant, without which the plant would have to close by 2028. In her latest spot, Craft tries to link Cameron with Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, claiming the attorney general “had a chance to keep a coal-fired plant running that serviced 165,000 Kentuckians” but instead “decided to close it.”

In response to Craft’s earlier ad on the topic, Cameron snarked, “Is Kelly Craft running for Governor of West Virginia?”, noting that the plant in question is based in that state and saying it “provides no economic value to” Kentucky.” Craft is now firing back by emphasizing the customers served by the plant, known as the Mitchell Plant, though it’s in fact just one of two operated by the utility, Kentucky Power; the other is a natural gas plant that is, in fact, located in Kentucky.

Incidentally, West Virginia regulators voted to allow the Mitchell Plant to remain in operation until 2040, as its owners had asked, despite a contrary decision from their counterparts in Kentucky.

MISSOURI U.S. SENATOR. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced on Friday that she would not run to succeed retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow, leaving Rep. Elissa Slotkin as the only major contender currently seeking the Democratic nomination. Several other Democrats are still considering bids, though, including state Board of Education President Pamela Pugh.

NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who hasn’t ruled out seeking an unprecedented fifth two-year term as governor, says he’ll decide on whether to pursue a longshot campaign for president “sometime in the summer.” However, Sununu could still run for governor even if a White House bid crashes and burns, since New Hampshire’s primary for state office—in contrast with its presidential contest—is always one of the last in the nation: It’s always held in September, with the filing deadline in June.

MARYLAND U.S. SENATOR. Politico’s Holly Otterbein reports that “many expect” Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin to retire rather than seek a fourth term next year, though it’s not clear what exactly these beliefs are based on. The 79-year-old Cardin previously said he’d decide by the end of March. Otterbein’s piece is mostly focused on renewed GOP attempts to recruit former Gov. Larry Hogan to run for Senate, but an unnamed Republican operative privy to a recent discussion between Hogan and NRSC chair Steve Daines shot down the notion, saying, “The governor reiterated that he has never been interested in the Senate.” Last cycle, Hogan turned down similar entreaties to challenge Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen.

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) on Sunday announced he won’t make a run for Senate next year and instead endorsed Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) campaign to replace retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), The Hill reports.

NEW YORK 3RD DISTRICT. CNN reports that Republican Rep. George Santos has reached a deal with Brazilian prosecutors in a 2008 case in which Santos used a stolen checkbook to rip off a clothing store. Santos will apparently pay restitution to the victim but face no other penalties. However, multiple other investigations into the congressman at the federal, state, local, and congressional levels remain ongoing.

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

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