The Political Report – April 2, 2023

“The indictment of former President Donald Trump is likely to deliver a temporary boost to him in the GOP primary — but at the expense of his standing among the broader electorate that will ultimately decide whether he returns to the White House,” Politico reports.

“That’s according to recent polling conducted prior to Thursday’s news of Trump’s indictment.”

David Lauter: “What is clear is that Republicans now face what may be a worst-case scenario: For at least some time, the front-runner for their nomination will be campaigning while facing criminal charges. That’s likely to strengthen him in the eyes of a significant share of the party’s voters even as a majority of Americans view it as disqualifying.”

“If Trump wins the nomination, the party’s fate could be lashed to the outcome of a criminal trial. If he loses, the indictment will give him every incentive to once again cry foul and denounce whoever beat him.”

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. Semafor: “The bluntness of the Democrats’ message in Wisconsin inspired outrage on the right and worried chin-stroking from some liberals, uneasy with the concept of such openly partisan judicial elections. Republicans here warn that ‘the rule of law’ might be replaced by ‘the rule of Janet,’ and that if she wins, hyper-partisan court races will become the norm.”

“As southern Wisconsin braced for a tornado watch Friday afternoon, conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Dan Kelly and the Republican Party of Wisconsin issued its own emergency alert warning voters not to elect liberal Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz on Tuesday,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

“The text message included a video that used alert tones and a scratchy radio voice found on official emergency alerts aired on television and radio.”

Conservative groups have spent millions on ads ahead of Tuesday’s race arguing that progressive Janet Protasiewicz issued too light of a sentence in a rape trial, but the victim at the center of the case has responded by denouncing the commercials for retraumatizing her.

The woman, whom the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel only identified as “Emily,” told the paper that she was “100% satisfied” with the sentence of 2 1/2 years in prison and that same amount of time in extended supervision. Emily also faulted Protasiewicz’s opponents for using a portion of her victim impact statement in their ads to suggest otherwise, saying, “They must have read criminal reports or court records to know identifiable information about me, and if they did, they would know I am just looking for peace of mind.” She added, “I wondered if there was any thought put into the human beings behind the cases.”

Emily’s criticisms did not, however, move the two super PACs behind these ads, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Fair Courts America. The latter insisted, “Our ad is factual, accurate and necessary because Wisconsin so-called journalists refuse to do most stories that might hurt Democrats,” while WMC also defended its commercials.

The Journal Sentinel notes that a similar story played out in 2018, when WMC likewise ran ads attacking another progressive running for the state Supreme Court, Rebecca Dallet, over her sentencing in a sexual assault case. Then, the family involved responded by calling for the spot to be removed from the air. The powerful conservative group refused to heed those pleas, but Dallet ultimately won by a convincing 56-44 margin.

New York Times: “In the hours after a grand jury indicted Mr. Trump, many of his potential rivals for the Republican presidential nomination snapped into line behind him, looking more like allies than competitors. All passed on the opportunity to criticize him, and some rushed to his defense, expressing concerns about the legitimacy of the case.”

“The turnaround by some prospective contenders was so swift and complete that it caught even the Trump team off guard. One close ally suggested to Mr. Trump that he publicly thank his rivals.”

“The reluctance to directly confront Mr. Trump put his strength as a front-runner on full display. His would-be challengers have been sizing up political billiard balls for the possibility of an increasingly tricky bank shot: persuading Republican voters to forsake him, while presenting themselves as the movement’s heir apparent.”

Ron Brownstein: “The dilemma for the Republican Party is that Donald Trump’s mounting legal troubles may be simultaneously strengthening him as a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination and weakening him as a potential general-election nominee.”

Donald Trump’s fundraising efforts in the wake of his indictment on Thursday appear to have paid off, with his campaign raking in more than $4 million within 24 hours, The Hill reports.

Semafor: Trump’s indictment boosts sales of his NFT collection.

DeSantis’s attempt to pander to Trump supporters proved he doesn’t understand the politics either.

A criminal indictment allows Trump to portray himself as the victim of a bad system and further ingratiate himself to his resentful base who already feel society has wronged them too. The indictment is only proof of what Trump has been telling them for years.

In many ways, DeSantis faces the same problem Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Warren was the “more acceptable” alternative to the populist firebrand of her party, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But she could never manage to win over his supporters.

DeSantis — like Warren — might be the favored candidate of the donor class, but Trump is the real deal for his party’s base.

By helping make Trump a martyr, DeSantis is just making his campaign tougher.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Sen. John Fetterman’s office says he’ll return to work the week of April 17 about two months after he checked himself into Walter Reed Medical Center to seek treatment for depression.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. EMILY’s List on Thursday issued an endorsement of Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who is currently the only notable Democrat in the race.  

WEST VIRGINIA U.S. SENATOR. “Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is back in a familiar posture — keeping Democrats in suspense,” the Washington Post reports.

“As Democrats face a dire 2024 Senate map of open seats in red and battleground states, their only hope for holding onto a seat from Trump-loving West Virginia is still keeping them guessing, saying he’ll wait until the end of the year to decide whether to run again — even as national Republicans’ top recruit to take him on is edging closer to his own run.”

PHILADELPHIA MAYOR. State Rep. Amen Brown on Tuesday survived an attempt to knock him off the packed May 16 Democratic primary ballot, though a judge used the hearing to blast him for failing to properly file his debt and financial interest disclosures. Judge Idee Fox, who noted he’d run into this same problem during his re-election campaign last year, ordered Brown to submit this paperwork by Friday, saying, “This is your second bite of the apple. There won’t be a third one.”

Brown himself argued that grocer Jeff Brown, who is not related to his rival but is located immediately below him on the ballot, was behind the challenge. Jeff Brown’s team did not confirm or deny this, though the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that a lawyer working for his campaign argued against the state representative in court. However, while Amen Brown’s continued presence in the race could end up drawing some votes from the other Brown, he’s raised very little money and has yet to benefit from any of the $5 million in super PAC support that a prominent developer reportedly predicted would come his way.

So far most of the $8.3 million in TV spending has come from three entities: former City Councilmember Alan Domb, whom the Inquirer said Thursday has spent $4.8 million; Jeff Brown; and Brown’s allied super PAC. Brown earlier in March went negative for the first time with a spot showing images of Domb as well as fellow former councilors Derek Green, Helen Gym, Cherelle Parker, and Maria Quiñones Sánchez, arguing, “We’ve all seen how crime got worse while these candidates sat in City Hall.”

But Domb last week debuted a commercial focused on attacking just Brown over old ads that seemed to imply Michelle Obama was backing him. “Bless his heart,” says Domb’s narrator, “Jeff Brown thought he could fool us into believing Michelle Obama was supporting his campaign.”

Meanwhile, outside groups backing two other candidates recently began their own ads. Fighting Together for Philadelphia PAC last week began a $400,000 buy praising Gym for getting “the city to start sending mental health first responders on some 911 calls,” and pledging she’ll “put an end to the senseless violence and lawlessness that threatens our families and our future.”

Philadelphians for our Future PAC additionally went on to drop $230,000 on ads declaring, “Cherelle Parker knows that making Philly safer should be our next mayor’s top priority.” Parker, who began airing her own ads three weeks ago, also recently earned the backing of the Eastern Atlantic States Council of Carpenters, a well-funded labor group that helped termed-out incumbent Jim Kenney in his 2015 win.

Two more contenders also recently debuted their first spots. Former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart’s commercial touts her support from Philly’s last two mayors, John Street and Michael Nutter, who allude to their famous clashes by telling the audience that one thing they “agree vociferously” on is whom to vote for. Green, finally, is deploying at least $63,000 on his own buy: One ad has him explaining that he fears his autistic son could get harmed even by well-meaning police due to a miscommunication, while the other calls for “real consequences for using illegal guns.”

All of this comes at a time when there’s little polling data to indicate who has the edge in a primary where it takes just a plurality to win. The only recent numbers that have surfaced came from a mid-March FM3 survey for Jeff Brown’s allies at For a Better Philadelphia that gave him the lead with 24%: Gym and Domb took 15% each to Rhynhart’s 12%, with Parker and Quinones-Sanchez at 7% apiece and no one else breaking 2%. A January internal we hadn’t previously seen had Brown edging out Gym 20-15.

WISCONSIN STATE SENATE. Wisconsin state Senate candidate Dan Knodl (R) “says if his election gives Senate Republicans a two-thirds majority, he would ‘certainly consider’ support launching impeachment proceedings against Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.

“Wisconsin Republicans are defending a two-thirds majority in the state Senate that they achieved in November but quickly lost after the retirement of longtime GOP state Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills. If Knodl replaces Darling, Senate Republicans will have enough members to be able to remove state officials who are impeached by the state Assembly.”

NORTH DAKOTA GOVERNOR. Gov. Doug Burgum’s main adviser isn’t ruling out the idea that he could seek the Republican nomination for president this cycle, telling conservative columnist Rob Port that “Doug and his family will focus on what’s next” after the legislative session finishes on April 25.

Burgum’s apparent flirtation with the White House, which so far has consisted of a swing through several Iowa communities and a reported poll testing someone with Burgum’s background, could mean that he’s not inclined to seek a third term next year, though he wouldn’t necessarily need to decide between the two anytime soon. North Dakota’s candidate filing deadline usually takes place in April, well after the presidential primary season is underway.

Legislative Republicans, though, may not be too sad if Potomac Fever keeps Burgum off the ballot at home. The wealthy governor financed well-funded efforts in 2020 and 2022 to deny renomination to members he’d clashed with, including some hardliners, though the results were mixed. Burgum went on to support a successful ballot measure to put term limits in place for governors and state legislators, a drive that GOP legislative leaders opposed. The new law prevents governors from seeking a third consecutive term, though it doesn’t count against the two terms Burgum won in 2016 and 2020.

No matter what, Republicans would be favored to keep the top job in a state where no Democrat has won the governorship since the late George Sinner in 1988. There are no shortage of Republicans who could run for an open seat, though so far there’s no sign any serious contenders are interested in challenging Burgum should he seek re-election.

WASHINGTON GOVERNOR. A consultant for Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee told the Seattle Times earlier this month that the incumbent would decide whether to seek a historic fourth term sometime after the legislative session adjourns on April 23.

OHIO 9TH DISTRICT. State Sen. Theresa Gavarone has announced that she’ll seek re-election next year rather than once again pursue the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur. Gavarone unexpectedly took third in a 2022 primary that was won by J.R. Majewski, who proved to be one of the most disastrous Republican nominees in the nation.

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