The Political Report – March 29, 2023

A new Monmouth poll finds 44% of Democrats do not want President Biden to seek re-election, even though 74% have a favorable opinion of him.

Also interesting: 51% of the Democratic electorate cannot offer a name when asked who they would like to see as the party’s nominee if Biden does not run.

Among those who do have a preferred alternative, Vice President Kamala Harris (13%) is the only potential contender who registers above single digits.

HOUSTON MAYOR. “Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), a mainstay in Houston politics for more than three decades, is running for mayor,” the Houston Chronicle reports.

Jackson Lee has represented the Houston area in Congress since 1995, after she won a landslide 63-37 primary victory over then-Rep. Craig Washington, who had opposed projects important to the region such as the International Space Station. During the ensuing three decades, Jackson Lee burnished her reputation as an outspoken progressive and became one of the most prominent Democrats in the city, giving her instant name recognition. She also won’t necessarily have to give up her safely blue House seat (which includes 20% of Houston’s population) in order to seek the mayoralty, since voters will decide this November, with a runoff the following month if no candidate takes a majority.

That seems likely, given the large number of hopefuls already vying to run Texas’ largest city. The most notable of these is state Sen. John Whitmire, a Democrat who’s been running since 2021 and has a $10 million war chest. He also has the support of a number of major Republican donors as well as Democratic Rep. Sylvia Garcia, who represents a district that neighbors Jackson Lee’s.

A pair of conservative organizations, the Houston Region Business Coalition and Protect and Serve Texas PAC, responded to Jackson Lee’s announcement by releasing a month-old survey from Republican pollster Ragnar Research showing Whitmire with a slender 20-19 lead over the congresswoman, with three other candidates in the low single digits and a large 46% plurality undecided. The two groups, however, emphasized a head-to-head matchup between the two that had Whitmire in front 45-33. Both say they have not endorsed in the race, though HRBC has backed Whitmire in the past despite typically backing Republicans.

While the race is officially nonpartisan, almost all of the credible candidates are Democrats. No Republican has been elected mayor of Houston, which voted for Joe Biden by a 64-32 margin, since Jim McConn won a second two-year term in 1981. (Mayors only began serving four-year terms in 2015.) Houston is also a very diverse city, with an eligible voter population that’s 34% white, 31% Hispanic, and 28% Black. Like Jackson Lee, two of the contenders named in the Ragnar poll, former City Councilor Amanda Edwards and former Harris County interim Clerk Chris Hollins, are Black, while Whitmire is white and City Councilor Robert Gallegos is Latino.

“If Donald Trump is indicted in New York in the coming days as expected, the political and legal bombshell would defy historical precedent, upend the former president’s reality and throw the race for the 2024 Republican nomination into highly uncertain territory,” the New York Times reports.

“With the grand jury in a Manhattan court expected to return on Monday afternoon, and an indictment possible as soon as that day, perhaps the biggest electoral question is whether Mr. Trump would continue to rally his supporters in the G.O.P. primary to his side.”

NBC News: “Some disagreed with his judgment in playing a video that exalts those who took part in the attack on the Capitol and were arrested, rejecting the narrative in pro-Trump circles that the rioters were ‘peaceful’ protesters. Other Republicans said it is an unwise political strategy for Trump to focus on the attempted insurrection as he seeks a comeback bid in 2024.”

“You have to be fearless, because he will come back — and right at you. And that means you need to think about who’s got the skill to do that, and who’s got the guts to do that, because it’s not going to end nicely.”  Chris Christie, quoted by Politico, saying Republicans need to find someone who can do to Trump “what I did to Marco Rubio.”

New York Times: “Yet for all that Mr. Christie sounded ready to enter the fray, there are unanswered questions. Unlike some other potential candidates, he has no campaign team in waiting. He has spoken to heavyweight donors at Republican retreats in Texas and Georgia, but he is not raising money because there is no campaign to give to. Most crucial is the question of whether there is a lane in the Republican primary contest for such an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump — who has the avid support of about one in three primary voters.”

Josh Kraushaar: “DeSantis’ biggest political asset is that he’s viewed favorably by nearly all of the Republican Party’s voters — across the ideological spectrum.”

“His biggest challenge is that those sky-high approval numbers are likely to falter now that he’s sparring with former President Trump — and as he makes tough decisions on where he stands on hot-button national issues.”

Associated Press: “DeSantis’ allies privately scoffed at recent reports of anonymous concerns over the direction of his campaign, noting there is no campaign. The 44-year-old governor isn’t expected to launch his White House bid for at least two more months. And the first presidential primary contest is roughly 10 months away.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) “will be appearing in some early states, per person familiar with planning. He’s expected to focus on the military and governing, but his visits are likely to be taken note of,” the New York Times reports.

“An independent effort backing the presidential ambitions of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has hired a high-powered senior leadership team in a clear indication of group’s central role in the coming GOP presidential nomination battle if DeSantis joins the race,” the Washington Post reports.

“The upper ranks of Never Back Down, a group founded by former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, will include top strategists to Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, a top adviser to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 campaign and senior communications aides involved in former president Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential run.”

“The sheer firepower of the senior team suggests that Never Back Down — which will be able to accept donations of unlimited value and transfers from DeSantis’s state political committee — will have a more expansive role in the 2024 campaign than past presidential super PACs, which have traditionally focused almost exclusively on television and digital advertising.”

“A top communications aide for former President Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign has become the latest former Trump official to join a super PAC supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida amid escalating tensions between the two Republicans,” the New York Times reports.

“Matt Wolking, the deputy communications director for Mr. Trump’s previous campaign, has joined the super PAC, Never Back Down, as strategic communications director.”

“The head of the Florida Democratic Party filed a complaint against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), marking a second possible ethics violation before the Republican governor has even launched a White House bid,” the Washington Examiner reports.

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. While there’s no direct quote, the Arizona Republic’s Ronald Hansen indicates that freshman GOP Rep. Juan Ciscomani hasn’t quite ruled out a Senate bid. “Ciscomani told The Republic recently that he was still learning his way around the U.S. Capitol as a freshman in the House and denied an interest in running for the Senate next year,” writes Hansen, which isn’t exactly a flat “no.” The relatively pragmatic Ciscomani would, however, face a tough time in any primary against unadulterated strains of Trumpism.

NEW JERSEY 7TH DISTRICT. Insider NJ’s Jay Lassiter rattles off a long list of Democrats who could potentially challenge freshman GOP Rep. Tom Kean Jr., though only one has publicly addressed the prospect, former state Sen. Ray Lesniak. The others he mentions include Working Families Party state director Sue Altman; gun safety activist Marci Bandelli; former Lambertville Mayor Julia Fahl; former Clinton administration official Jim Johnson; Joe Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Phil Murphy; Clifton Mayor Janice Kovach; Hunterdon County party chair Arlene Quinoñes Perez; and state Senate President Nick Scutari.

As Lassiter alludes, though, it’s likely that other Democrats will defer to former Rep. Tom Malinowski, who hasn’t ruled out a comeback bid following his closer than expected 51-49 loss to Kean last year.

RHODE ISLAND 1ST DISTRICT. Providence City Councilman John Goncalves joined the large and growing field of candidates running for Rhode Island’s soon-to-be vacant 1st Congressional District on Monday, making him the fifth notable Democrat in the race. Goncalves, who first won a seat on the council in 2020, is the son of immigrants from Cape Verde, who make up a large community in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. (House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, incidentally, traces his roots in part to Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony off the west coast of Africa.)

State Rep. Stephen Casey also says he intends to join the primary, adding that he plans to launch a bid this week. Ian Donnis of The Public’s Radio describes him as having “a somewhat more conservative profile” than the other contenders. Meanwhile, former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg says he, too, is considering a bid and resigned a clerkship for a federal judge to do so. Regunberg ran for lieutenant governor in 2018 and lost by a narrow 51-49 margin to then-incumbent Dan McKee, who is now governor.

Attorney Donald Carlson, a one-time aide to former Massachusetts Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, says he’s “seriously considering” a bid while former Providence City Councilman David Segal, who finished a distant second in last year’s Democratic primary for the state’s other congressional district, isn’t ruling out another run.

Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien, who earlier hadn’t foreclosed a campaign, now says he’s “definitely leaning” toward entering the race and plans to announce his intentions by late April. Patrick Anderson of the Providence Journal also adds that DNC committeewoman Liz Beretta-Perik is “reportedly considering” a run, though there’s no comment from her. In 2021, Beretta-Perik was short-listed as a potential appointee for lieutenant governor after Dan McKee ascended to the top job when then-Gov. Gina Raimondo joined Joe Biden’s cabinet, but McKee instead selected Providence City Council President Sabina Matos, who herself is now running for the 1st District.

CHICAGO MAYOR. With just over a week to go before Chicago’s mayoral runoff, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas has earned a high-profile endorsement from Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.

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