The Political Report – April 15, 2023

A new Franklin & Marshall poll in Pennsylvania finds Sen. Bob Casey (D) leading potential challenger Dave McCormick (R), 42% to 35%.

In a match up against Doug Mastriano (R), Casey leads 47% to 31%.

ARIZONA 6TH DISTRICT. Arizona Democrat Kirsten Engel announced Wednesday that she would seek a rematch against Republican Rep. Juan Ciscomani in the 6th Congressional District, a constituency in the Tucson area that she came unexpectedly close to winning in 2022 even after national Democratic groups canceled their planned spending. Engel, who is a former state senator and environmental lawyer, is the first serious candidate to challenge Ciscomani in a contest that could be key to a future Democratic majority.

Ciscomani and Engel competed last time to succeed Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who announced her retirement months before Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission drew up a new sprawling 6th District that Biden would have carried by a tiny 49.3-49.2 margin—a sizable drop from Biden’s 55-44 win in Kirkpatrick’s old 2nd District. Indeed, none of the nation’s new 435 House districts hosted a tighter 2020 presidential contest than this.

National Republicans quickly identified Ciscomani, who was a former senior adviser to then-Gov. Doug Ducey, as a key recruit and rising star, and the Congressional Leadership Fund even spent $1 million to ensure he defeated a primary foe backed by far-right figures. And until Election Day, it looked like Ciscomani was on track to decisively win in what both parties expected would be a GOP wave year.

Pessimistic Democratic groups gradually canceled their TV reservations and redirected the money to what they believed were more competitive races, though their better-funded GOP counterparts still deployed millions to help their recruit. Ultimately, CLF and its allies at the NRCC threw down a total of $4.7 million to aid Ciscomani, while the Democratic House Majority PAC expended all of $73,000.

It was therefore a huge surprise when early tabulations showed Ciscomani with a slim edge, and he ended up prevailing just 51-49 when all the ballots were counted. That huge Republican resource advantage may have made all the difference in a year where Arizona’s two leading Democrats ended up far outperforming Biden in this constituency. Sen. Mark Kelly, according to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, took the 6th District 54-44, while Katie Hobbs won 52-48 here in her successful contest for governor.

That near-miss, though, didn’t prevent Ciscomani from emerging as a GOP rising star. The new incumbent, who is the first Republican Latino to represent the Grand Canyon State in Congress, was mentioned as a possible Senate candidate even before he was sworn in. He went on to deliver the party’s Spanish-language response to the State of the Union. The freshman hasn’t outright ruled out a campaign for the upper chamber next year, though he sounds far more likely to defend his competitive House seat.

Engel, for her part, kicked off her rematch by trying to shred the pragmatic image Ciscomani built up during their 2022 matchup. “[W]hat we are seeing from the congressional Republicans—and Juan Ciscomani is in there supporting them—they are attacking access to abortion, they are rolling back our efforts to fight the climate crisis, and work which is fundamental to working on our water issues,” the Democrat said. She added, “We need to take this seat back and put somebody in there, me, who will fight for our freedom to choose when, if, and how to start a family.”

ARIZONA 1ST DISTRICT. Kurt Kroemer, who recently stepped down after a seven year stint as CEO of the Red Cross in Arizona, on Wednesday entered the Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. David Schweikert. Kroemer joins a nomination contest that includes state Rep. Amish Shah, businessman Andrei Cherny, and orthodontist Andrew Horne.

Democrat Hiral Tipirneni announced Monday that she would not seek a rematch against Republican incumbent David Schweikert, who defeated her 52-48 in a 2020 campaign for what was then numbered the 6th District.

OHIO 9TH DISTRICT. Ohio Republican J.R. Majewski, who was one of his party’s very worst nominees for any office in 2022 even before the Associated Press reported that he’d lied about serving in Afghanistan, announced Wednesday he’d seek a rematch against Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur. Former state Rep. Craig Riedel, who is also trying again following his upset primary loss to the QAnon ally, greeted the entry of his once and future foe by alluding to his 57-43 landslide loss to the congresswoman, declaring, “This primary is going to be a clear choice between someone who can’t win and a principled conservative that can.”

The GOP contest to take on Kaptur, a 21-term incumbent who is one of just five House Democrats who represent a district carried by Donald Trump, also features two other candidates, both of whom once served as mayors of small communities: Steve Lankenau of Napoleon and Dan Wilczynski of Walbridge. The current version of the 9th District, which is based in the Toledo area and northwestern Ohio, backed Trump 51-48, but the GOP will have the chance to gerrymander the map all over again.

Buckeye State Republicans last cycle thought they had Kaptur on the ropes after they utterly transformed her formerly safe seat, but all that changed after Majewski unexpectedly beat Riedel 36-31 in the primary. Kaptur and her allies, as we recently detailed, soon launched a series of commercials highlighting the nominee’s presence at the Jan. 6 Trump rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol (Majewski claims he never actually entered the Capitol building) to argue he was a danger to law enforcement. Democrats also ran ads highlighting Majewski’s ties to QAnon, his pro-secession comments, and him rapping in a video titled “Let’s Go Brandon Save America.”

National Republicans still stuck with the badly funded Majewski until September, when the AP reported that military documents showed that their nominee, an Air Force veteran who had previously said he “lost my grandmother when I was in Afghanistan,” had never been stationed in the country. The NRCC quickly canceled its planned TV spending and left the self-described “combat veteran,” who was beset by more unflattering stories about his actual military career, to fend for himself.

Majewski continued to insist that he’d been honest about being in Afghanistan despite all available evidence to the contrary, and he was hardly deterred by his double-digit loss in November. “Last cycle we started a movement,” he stubbornly declared Wednesday, adding, “This cycle we win.”

Real estate broker Steve Lankenau, who served as mayor of the small community of Napoleon from 1988 to 1994, has announced that he’s joining the GOP primary to take on Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

PENNSYLVANIA 17TH DISTRICT. Republicans got their first candidate this week when Jim Nelson, a pastor and retired local law enforcement official, declared that he’d take on freshman Democratic Rep. Chris Deluzio in this 52-46 Biden seat in the Pittsburgh suburbs.

Nelson, who would be the first Black Republican to represent Pennsylvania in D.C., appears to be a first-time contender, though he’s not quite a stranger to GOP politics. Inside Elections’ Erin Covey reminds us that Nelson last year starred in a Congressional Leadership Fund ad where the former cop tried to tie DeLuzio to “radicals” who want to defund the police. Nelson went on to urge the audience to support Jeremy Shaffer, who’d lose to DeLuzio 53-47: Covey recently reported that Shaffer is mulling another try despite that setback.

RHODE ISLAND 1ST DISTRICT. State Rep. Marvin Abney and state Sen. Ana Quezada have each announced that they’ll seek the Democratic nod in the special election primary, which is planned for September, while former GOP Attorney General Arlene Violet says she won’t run as an independent.

Abney and Quezada, like several of their opponents, would each be the first person of color to represent Rhode Island in Congress: Abney, who chairs the powerful Finance Committee, is Black, while Quezada is originally from the Dominican Republic. “I’m very happy to see so many Latina women running in this race,” said Quezada of a field that also includes Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and state Sen. Sandra Cano.

Former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg declared Monday that he would compete in the upcoming special election while his fellow Democrat, state Rep. Steve Casey, has filed FEC paperwork and says he’ll also announce soon. Regunberg in 2018 waged a primary bid against Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who had long had an uneasy relationship with progressives and unions. The challenger, who accused McKee of accepting “dark money” from PACs, also benefited from the support of several major labor groups, and it was almost enough to unseat him.

But McKee, who argued that he’d be better positioned to lead the state should Gov. Gina Raimondo leave office early, maintained the backing of most Ocean State politicos, and he held on 51-49 before decisively winning the general election. The scenario the incumbent predicted indeed came to pass in 2021 when Raimondo became U.S. secretary of commerce and McKee replaced her as governor.

Gabe Amo on Monday resigned his post as a White House aide in what political observers are interpreting as a sign that he plans to enter the Democratic primary.

CALIFORNIA 47TH DISTRICT. Former Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda said Tuesday he was ending his comeback campaign because of a “moderate traumatic brain injury” that resulted from a fall last month. “Thankfully, my doctors say that I have started on the path to a full recovery,” he wrote, though he said he was dropping out “on their advice.”

Rouda’s departure leaves state Sen. Dave Min as the Democratic frontrunner in the top-two primary to succeed Senate candidate Katie Porter, who is supporting Min. The Democratic field also includes businesswoman Dom Jones and former attorney Joanna Weiss, who are each active in local party politics, while former Orange County GOP chair Scott Baugh faces no serious intra-party opposition. Biden took this coastal Orange County seat 54-43, while Porter fended off Baugh 52-48 last year.

CALIFORNIA 45TH DISTRICT. Attorney Aditya Pai announced Monday that he would campaign as a Democrat against Republican Rep. Michelle Steel in next year’s top-two primary for a constituency Biden carried 52-46. Pai, who immigrated from India as a child, would be the first Indian American to represent an Orange County-based seat in Congress.

Also in the running are two fellow Democrats: Garden Grove City Councilwoman Kim Bernice Nguyen and attorney Cheyenne Hunt, a former consumer advocate from Public Citizen whom Politico says enjoys a “substantial TikTok following.”

COLORADO 3RD DISTRICT. “The 2024 elections are still more than a year away, but outside groups are already targeting Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) after she nearly lost her bid for re-election against Adam Frisch (D) last November,” KDVR reports.

The liberal organization Progress Colorado has released a survey from the Democratic firm GSG showing far-right incumbent Lauren Boebert deadlocked 45-45 in a rematch against Democrat Adam Frisch in a western Colorado district that Donald Trump took 53-45 in 2020. Frisch in February kicked off his second campaign months after falling short by just 546 votes in a contest few thought he could win, and he has no serious intra-party opposition.

PENNSYLVANIA 7TH, 8TH, and 17TH DISTRICTs. Inside Elections’ Erin Covey surveys the potential Republican fields in a trio of Democratic-held House seats in Pennsylvania, though no big names have so much as publicly expressed interest in running yet.

We’ll start in Democratic incumbent Susan Wild’s 7th District in the Lehigh Valley, a constituency Joe Biden took just 50-49 in 2020. Covey reports that Lisa Scheller, whom Wild narrowly held off in both 2020 and 2022, hasn’t ruled out another try, though unnamed Republicans doubt she’ll wage a third campaign. There’s been some chatter about state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie and Kevin Dellicker, who lost last year’s primary to Scheller just 52-48, though no word if either is interested.

The situation is similar in Rep. Matt Cartwright’s 8th District just to the north, a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre constituency that Donald Trump carried 51-48. Another two-time nominee, Jim Bognet, reportedly hasn’t closed the door on another attempt, but a GOP source tells Covey there’s “definitely donor fatigue” about him. State Sen. Rosemary Brown and gastroenterologist Seth Kaufer have been talked about as alternatives, but a party operative acknowledges, “It’s been oddly quiet at this point in terms of people talking with other people about potentially running.”

There seems to be a bit more interest in taking on freshman Democratic incumbent Chris Deluzio in the 17th District across the state in the Pittsburgh suburbs, though still no takers yet for this 52-46 Biden seat. Covey writes that 2022 nominee Jeremy Shaffer, who lost to Deluzio 53-47, “has shown some interest” in a 2024 attempt, as has state Rep. Rob Mercuri. A few other Republicans have also been mentioned including 2022 primary runner-up Jason Killmeyer; businesswoman Tricia Staible, who dropped out before the primary; Allegheny County Councilman Sam DeMarco; and former state House Speaker Mike Turzai.

INDIANA 5TH DISTRICT. Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings this week became the first notable candidate to announce a campaign to succeed Rep. Victoria Spartz, a fellow Republican who is retiring from this gerrymandered seat. The new candidate is currently in his seventh term as the top prosecutor for a community that’s home to 17% of the 5th District’s denizens.

Cummings, though, seems determined to portray himself as the candidate who isn’t from Hamilton County, which makes up another 46% of the seat. “People kept saying that candidates for the seat have always been from Hamilton County and that I could run well in Madison and other counties in the district,” he said, adding, “The representatives from Hamilton County don’t represent the other five counties in the district. I have the skill set to represent the entire district.”

Howey Politics reports that GOP state Rep. Chuck Goodrich plans to launch his campaign for this gerrymandered open seat after the legislative session ends on April 27. Goodrich previously filled out FEC paperwork in mid-March.

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, who has been an ardent ally of far-right causes, on Tuesday became the first major Arizona Republican to announce a campaign for the Senate seat held by Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema. Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego quickly greeted his rival’s entry by releasing a statement from former Capitol Hill Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell that excoriated the sheriff for his “continued perpetuation of the ‘Big Lie’ that led to the attack on me and my fellow officers and his attempts to excuse the violent actions taken by the January 6th rioters.”

Lamb was elected in 2016 as the top lawman for Pinal County, a reliably Republican bastion between Phoenix and Tucson, in an election that coincidently took place as prominent xenophobe Joe Arpaio was losing re-election as sheriff in Phoenix’s neighboring Maricopa County. While Lamb said during his first campaign that he’d keep his focus at home and even asked rhetorically, “If Fox calls, what are they going to do for me,” he soon took Arpaio’s place on national TV as an anti-immigration hawk.

Lamb, who has shown sympathy for the fringe belief that sheriffs are the top legal authority in America, attracted more attention during the early months of the pandemic when he refused to enforce then-Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order. Naturally, he went on Fox to promote his decision to defy his fellow Republican. (Lamb himself came down with COVID in June of 2020.) Around that same time, he also formed a civilian “posse” in response to Black Lives Matter protests, even though none of those protests took place in his county.

He later reacted to the Jan. 6 attack by telling a pro-Trump rally that took place that same day, “This is about the other issues that have happened—the Hillary Clintons that have gone unpunished.” Lamb also used that gathering to denounce the Supreme Court for declining to hear a case to overturn Trump’s defeat, declaring, “This is about the fact that our Supreme Court isn’t hearing our voices. This is the fact that our governor and our governments are not hearing our voices.” The sheriff added, “​​I don’t know how loud we have to get before they start to listen to us and know that we will no longer tolerate them stripping our freedoms away.”

Lamb later in 2021 would later tell Politico that the Jan. 6 rioters were “very loving, Christian people” who “just happen to support President Trump a lot,” and he’d also appear on a network infamous for its antisemitic content. Lamb would support Kari Lake’s failed 2022 campaign for governor, declaring at one of her rallies, “We are going to make sure that we have election integrity this year. Sheriffs are going to enforce the law—this is about the rule of law.” Lamb ominously added, “We will not let happen what happened in 2020.”

Lamb may not be enough of a Big Lie backer for Lake, though, who is mulling a Senate bid even as she continues to deny she lost the governorship to Democrat Katie Hobbs. While NBC reported in December that Lake was encouraging Lamb to run for Sinema’s seat, an unnamed Lake advisor now tells the Washington Post that she might attack him over his “hypocrisy” for telling Congress this year he’d seen “zero evidence” of “material, large-scale fraud.” Lamb himself, though, tried to shore up his far-right defenses Tuesday when he argued he was only talking about Pinal County, with the Associated Press writing he “sidestepped questions about whether voters can trust that the last two elections were fair.”

The sheriff, for his part, stressed his old anti-immigration platform rather than election lies in his kickoff video. He highlights how his son, who he said “struggled with drug addiction,” died in a December crash with Lamb’s 1-year-old granddaughter, with the candidate declaring, “I know what deadly drugs and the criminals peddling it are doing to families and communities.” Lamb goes on to say, “It’s time to declare the drug cartels terrorist organizations and use military force to wipe them out just like we did to ISIS.”

Several other Republicans are also mulling bids ahead of what will be one of the top Senate races of 2024, including several of last cycle’s losers. Blake Masters and Abe Hamadeh, who were the party’s respective nominees for Senate and governor, have each shown interest even as they’ve signaled they’d defer to Lake. The same cannot be said of Karrin Taylor Robson, who narrowly lost the gubernatorial primary to Lake, or Jim Lamon, a fellow self-funder who failed to deny Masters the nomination, though neither has committed to anything.

Sinema herself, meanwhile, is keeping everyone guessing if she’ll run again now that she’s abandoned her party affiliation, while Gallego has no serious intra-party opposition.

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

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