The Political Report – April 17, 2023

A new Navigator Research survey of how Republicans in Congress are handling their jobs after 100 days in power and finds both the party and its leadership very unpopular.

The numbers are just brutal.

The reason? More than half of Americans — 53% — say Republicans in Congress are focused on “oversight of the Biden administration,” while only 15% of Americans say that is a top four issue priority for them personally.

And 49% say “Republicans in Congress will overreach” in such investigations.

DESANTIS 2024. New York Times: “As he prepares a presidential campaign, Mr. DeSantis has had to determine how to persuade Republicans to peel away from Mr. Trump and support him instead. If Mr. DeSantis attacks Mr. Trump, which he has so far largely avoided, he may alienate supporters who still hold the former president in high regard. But if he campaigns as the heir to the mantle of Trumpism, he risks repelling one-fifth of Republicans who say they don’t like Mr. Trump.”

“The Florida governor’s choreography of this political two-step will color every speech he delivers and each bill he signs.”

Punchbowl News on this week’s meet-and-great in Washington, D.C. with Gov. Ron DeSantis:

“Simply attending this meeting is putting a target on your back in Trump World. The attendees of the meeting will definitely leak out — we’ll be reporting on it! — and if they’re considering throwing their support to DeSantis, Trump won’t be happy. We know Trump has been out of Washington for a few years, but his passion for vengeance on those who cross him appears undimmed.”

Also important: “Every Republican who goes to this event will be asked whether they support DeSantis’ approval of a new Florida law to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.”

“Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political operation has started calling Republican members of the Florida congressional delegation in an effort to consolidate support after four members publicly backed Donald Trump in his 2024 presidential bid,” NBC News reports.

“Sources with four of the six members contacted by DeSantis’ team shared the outreach with NBC News; each requested anonymity to confirm the calls.”

“As Trump continues to lead in the polls for the GOP presidential nomination, the governor is trying to stop defections in his own backyard ahead of his expected run. DeSantis currently has no endorsements from the state delegation.”

“Ron DeSantis’ critics have spent weeks knocking his national political rollout, attacking his operation’s slow-motion pace and raising doubts about whether he’s already fallen irrevocably behind Donald Trump in the 2024 GOP presidential primary,” the Miami Herald reports.

“Now, even some of the Florida governor’s own early supporters are starting to question his strategy.”

“In interviews with more than 20 Republican strategists, DeSantis allies and current and former elected officials, many expressed a growing anxiety about DeSantis’ approach, fretting that a politician who started the year with so much momentum is starting to falter before he even formally becomes a presidential candidate.”

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies are sharpening their message nationally and in early GOP primary states as he copes with a drop in his poll numbers and sustained attacks from Donald Trump,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The former president has enjoyed a bump in GOP support since his indictment in New York on hush-money charges, as many Republicans rally to his side. But Mr. DeSantis is making an implicit argument within the party that Mr. Trump is incapable of winning a general election and trying to appeal to those tired of constant turmoil. The governor’s team is seeking to reassure Republican leaders and donors that there is a long campaign ahead, as the first primaries are still nine months away.”

SCOTT 2024. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) “has quickly discovered how tricky abortion politics can be when forced to discuss them on the national stage,” Politico reports.

Rather than explain what he said, it’s best just to watch his answer.

The Economist: “It is treacherous to posit mathematical laws for something as chaotic as politics. Nevertheless, if you scrutinise the likely contenders for the Republican presidential nomination for 2024, you can see an inverse relationship between shamelessness and viability.”

“At the top is Donald Trump, unhumbled by loss, insurrection or indictment, who this week said he would not stand down even if convicted of crimes… Next is Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, willing to abandon his past allegiance to Mr Trump and his past hawkishness on Russia when expedient. Those who try to cultivate a public sense of decency, like Mike Pence, a former vice-president, and Asa Hutchinson, a former Arkansas governor, are far down.”

“If the relationship holds true, it bodes poorly for Tim Scott, a senator from South Carolina.”

Politico: “The South Carolina senator, who announced an exploratory committee on Wednesday, remains a mysterious factor in the Republican primary field. Donors float him as a potential alternative to Donald Trump, should Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fumble. And Scott’s genteel personality and lack of past Trump entanglements could give him unique appeal to independents and a newer swath of GOP voters.”

“A foregone conclusion, though, is that evangelicals — with all their subsets and denominations — will be his top constituency.”

TRUMP 2024. Sen. Ted Budd (R-NC), the freshman U.S. Senator who just won in the 2022 midterm elections, is formally endorsing Donald Trump for president in 2024, Breitbart News reports.

“I think ultimately the savvy Democratic strategists know the Manhattan District Attorney’s probe is going to help Trump, and they want him to be the nominee because he is the weakest of the Republican candidates, the most likely to lose again to Biden.”—Former Attorney General Bill Barr, quoted by Fox News.

1Q FUNDRAISING. “House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) raised more than $33 million for House Democrats in the first quarter of 2023 — his first as the party’s leader in the House,” NBC News reports.

The deadline for federal candidates to submit their fourth quarter fundraising totals is April 15.

  • IN-Sen: Jim Banks (R): $1.3 million raised, $2.26 million cash on hand
  • CA-30: Ben Savage (D): $25,000 raised, additional $77,000 self-funded, $83,000 cash on hand
  • CA-40: Young Kim (R-inc): $830,000 raised, $900,000 cash on hand
  • MN-02: Angie Craig (D-inc): $685,000 raised, $430,000 cash on hand
  • NJ-05: Josh Gottheimer (D-inc): $1.1 million raised, $14.2 million cash on hand
  • NV-03: Susie Lee (D-inc): $500,000 raised, $400,000 cash on hand
  • NV-04: David Flippo (R): $131,000 raised, additional $87,000 self-funded, $163,000 cash on hand
  • NY-19: Marc Molinaro (R-inc): $639,000 raised
  • TX-23: Tony Gonzales (R-inc): $1.31 million raised, $1.27 million cash on hand

FLORIDA U.S. SENATOR. Attorney Keith Gross, a Florida Republican who has described himself as a “very wealthy businessman, worth millions,” on Tuesday announced that he’d wage a primary challenge against Sen. Rick Scott. It remains to be seen, though, how much Gross is able or willing to self-fund for what, despite Scott’s horrible relationship with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, will be an uphill battle against an incumbent who deployed $64 million of his own money during his 2018 race.

Gross did not directly mention the senator in his announcement video, opting instead to portray himself as a D.C. outsider. However, Florida Politics notes the challenger appeared to be taking a not-very-subtle shot at the $1.7 billion Medicare fraud fine leveled at Scott’s former healthcare company when Gross called himself “someone that isn’t getting rich by riding fraud and corruption.” Gross added, “I’m not running to exploit votes for my own greedy agenda. I’ve already made my way, and I didn’t have to defraud anyone to do it.” The new candidate also did not draw attention to his 2008 and 2010 bids for the Georgia legislature as a Democrat, though Scott’s allies certainly did.

Plenty of Scott’s Republican colleagues may not be sorry if Gross pulls off an upset against the man who was the subject of a recent Time article titled, “The Least Popular Man in Washington.” Scott, who led the NRSC during what turned out to be a dispiriting cycle for the party, spent last year feuding with McConnell before waging a failed leadership challenge against the Kentuckian. The still-minority leader himself seems to be in absolutely no hurry to make peace now with Scott, whom an unnamed McConnell ally described to Time with just two words: “Ass clown.”

In February, McConnell generated headlines when he castigated Scott’s proposal to sunset all federal legislation, including Medicare and Social Security, as “just a bad idea.” McConnell predicted, “I think it will be a challenge for him to deal with this in his own re-election in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any state in America.” Gross himself wrote around that time, “Rick Scott is untrustworthy and I’m not surprised that he is trying to sunset Social Security because this is exactly what you should expect from someone with his history.”

Still, no one has released any polling yet to suggest that Sunshine State Republicans are looking to fire Scott. Democrats would also love it if an ugly GOP contest gave them an opening in a longtime swing state that’s lurched hard to the right in recent years, but no notable names have stepped up yet.

NEW YORK 22ND DISTRICT. Air Force veteran Sarah Klee Hood on Thursday announced that she’s challenging freshman Republican Rep. Brandon Williams in New York’s 22nd District, a constituency in the Syracuse and Utica areas that Joe Biden took 53-45 but where Democrats have long struggled down the ballot. However, there’s an increasing chance that New York will have a new congressional map next year, which could see the district turn bluer.

Republicans flipped a long-ago incarnation of this Syracuse-based seat in 1980, and the only two times they’ve lost it during the ensuing four decades of maps were when Democrat Dan Maffei pulled off nonconsecutive victories in 2008 and 2012. Klee Hood, a member of the Town Board for the small community of DeWitt, sought to end that streak last year, and though she raised only about $170,000 when she sought the Democratic nomination she held frontrunner Francis Conole to a 40-35 victory.

Conole reportedly has decided not to run again, and Klee Hood, who currently has the primary to herself, is arguing she’ll do far better on the financial front this time. She told the National Journal that she’s since left her full-time job in order to focus on her campaign, saying, “I have called in the last few weeks more people for fundraising than I had the entire cycle last year.”

Last year, Williams overcame $1 million in primary spending from the Congressional Leadership Fund and defeated businessman Steve Wells, whom the powerful GOP super PAC evidently believed was a more electable option to replace retiring Republican Rep. John Katko. But the CLF and NRCC put aside any doubts about Williams in the general election and spent a combined $5.8 million to help him, compared to $4.3 million its Democratic counterparts shelled out to boost Conole. Williams ultimately won 50-49 in a race where he enjoyed some major help at the top of the ticket: According to calculations from Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, Republican Lee Zeldin beat Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul 53-47 here as Williams was pulling off his tight win.

However, there’s a growing possibility that the new congressman won’t be defending the same boundaries he won in 2022. Hochul and Attorney General Tish James recently filed a brief in support of a lawsuit asking that the court-drawn congressional and state Senate maps used in 2022 be replaced by maps drawn by the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission. A trial-level court rejected that request last year, but plaintiffs have appealed that ruling to an intermediate appellate court. The case could ultimately wind up before the Court of Appeals, New York’s top court, which is about to undergo some major changes.

It was the Court of Appeals, ruling in a separate case last year, that ordered a lower court to draw those new maps in a sharply divided 4-3 decision. But the conservative majority behind that opinion is no more: Chief Judge Janet DiFiore unexpectedly announced her resignation in July, and after Hochul’s previous nomination went down in flames, she’s now nominated one of the dissenters, Judge Rowan Wilson, to take DiFiore’s place. Meanwhile, to fill Wilson’s slot as associate judge, Hochul has nominated Caitlin Halligan, a former state solicitor general.

While Wilson and Halligan have yet to be confirmed by the state Senate, there’s been no sign of sharp opposition that greeted Hochul’s first pick, Judge Hector LaSalle, whom many progressives feared would have been likely to side with DiFiore’s faction on many issues, including this one. There’s no assurance that a new-look Court of Appeals will agree with the plaintiffs in this latest redistricting challenge (and in any event, the intermediate Appellate Division must still rule first), but Hochul’s new brief suggests she thinks it might.

Even with a favorable ruling, there’s no telling how a new congressional map might shape up. The Democratic-run legislature wound up drawing new maps last year after the redistricting commission deadlocked, but the Court of Appeals determined that lawmakers lacked the power to step into the breach. If the courts ultimately sends the process back to the commission, another stalemate is likely, so Democrats may be hoping that this time, the Court of Appeals does in fact allow legislators to create their own map. If so, we can expect the 22nd—as well as several other Republican-held seats—to be reshaped to suit Democrats’ preferences, just as their original map did.

Williams, who resides in GOP colleague Claudia Tenney’s 24th District, cited the uncertainty over the maps to justify why he’s held off on following through on his campaign pledge to move into the district he represents. The congressman, who lives about 2 miles outside of his constituency, tells, “There’s no consensus about redistricting, so we’re not going to make a commitment until we know what’s going to happen.”

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. The RGA’s State Solutions Inc. affiliate is beginning its TV offensive with a spot targeting Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear for vetoing a bill last month that bans gender-affirming care for young trans people, something the GOP legislature quickly overrode. The Dispatch’s David Drucker says the ad is airing for six figures, but there are no other details about the size of the buy.

PHILADELPHIA MAYOR. Former City Council member Derek Green said Thursday he was suspending his campaign to win the May 16 Democratic nomination, a move that came days after former colleague Maria Quiñones Sánchez made the same announcement. Green, like Quiñones Sánchez, noted that most of his main intra-party foes have vastly more money than him, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer he’d decided to leave after “realizing how we get to the end of this race and the dollars that are necessary to do what we need to do.”

Grocer Jeff Brown also earned the backing of the city’s police union on Thursday, an endorsement that comes after a tough few days for him. A judge on Monday issued a temporary order banning Brown’s super PAC allies from spending more money on his behalf, a move that came after the Philadelphia Board of Ethics filed a lawsuit claiming that Brown and the group had improperly coordinated. The candidate called the allegations a “political hit job” at the following day’s debate, but it was his answer about whether Philadelphia should keep sending much of its trash for disposal in the predominantly Black city of Chester that drew considerably more attention.

When moderator Shiba Russell asked Brown if he’d continue this practice despite “accusations of pollution and environmental racism,” he responded that, while he’d need to think about it, “Chester is Chester. I’m worried about Philadelphians and how their lives are.” When Russell followed up by asking, “So you don’t care about Chester?” Brown declared, “I do care, but I don’t work for them if I’m the mayor. I work for Philadelphia, and the trash has to go somewhere, and whoever gets it is going to be unhappy with it.”

Former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and former Council members Cherelle Parker and Helen Gym immediately slammed their opponent’s answer. Parker, who is Black, declared his “response is the same way you treat the Black and brown community,” and she later said at the debate she’d work with local leaders to address public health “including my good friend, Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland of Chester.” Brown’s spokesperson said the next day, “To suggest that his focus on serving Philadelphians over residents of another municipality is somehow racist is a lie and the kind of distortion we’ve come to expect from some of the other candidates.”

The Inquirer’s Anna Orso also writes that, while Brown’s side has been one of the top TV spenders for most of the campaign, that’s changed during the last two weeks. Orso says that Brown has deployed less than $100,000 a week, putting him behind self-funder Allan Domb as well as Gym and Rhynhart.

ALLEGHENY COUNTY EXECUTIVE. Termed-out incumbent Rich Fitzgerald is set to host a fundraiser Monday for Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb, a move that counts as an endorsement in the May 16 Democratic primary whether or not the incumbent uses that word. As we’ve written before, while plenty of politicians like to insist that helping someone raise money is different than actually backing them (Fitzgerald declined to comment when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked him if he was for Lamb in the May 16 Democratic primary), that’s a true distinction without a difference.

After all, it’s not as though the concept of an “endorsement” has any legal significance. If anything, headlining a fundraising event is a much bigger deal than simply slapping your name on a press release announcing you’re endorsing someone: One generates actual dollars, the other generates … a press release. If Fitzgerald later helped another of Lamb’s intra-party rivals bring in some cash that would be a different story, but otherwise, we’re going to call this an endorsement whether or not the incumbent is using that word right now.  

In any case, Lamb could use the cash right now. The Post-Gazette, utilizing data from AdImpact, wrote Tuesday that county Treasurer John Weinstein has spent or booked $800,000 in advertising, compared to $292,000 for attorney Dave Fawcett. State Rep. Sara Innamorato, by contrast, has deployed $142,000, while Lamb’s recent opening buy had a mere $19,000 behind it.

OHIO STATE HOUSE. It’s been more than three months since the Democrats joined with a minority of GOP members to elect Jason Stephens as speaker over Derek Merrin, a fellow Republican who was his caucus’ official choice to lead the chamber, but the two warring GOP factions have finally reached an agreement to give them joint custody over the party’s campaign arm.

State Rep. Phil Plummer, who is a Merrin ally, tells that he’ll approve any spending for the Ohio House Republican Alliance along with the speaker’s pick, Jeff LaRe. However, when the paper asked Plummer if this meant the intra-party feud was coming to an end, he responded, “Unfortunately, no. But this just had to be done.”  

INDIANA 3RD DISTRICT. Army veteran Jon Kenworthy, who recently finished a stint as an aide to Sen. Mike Braun, this week joined the GOP primary for this safely red seat.

“New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan said Wednesday he would move to preempt Iowa on the presidential nominating calendar if Iowa Democrats go forward with a caucus-by-mail plan,” the Des Moines Register reports.

NBC News: “An early primary could add $1.12 billion to Georgia’s economy, according to a new economic impact report prepared by economist Tom Smith of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, who has studied the economic impact of major sporting and cultural events on local economies.”

“The 26-page report, commissioned by Democrats and first shared with NBC News, estimates that a 12-candidate field would bring $220 million in direct spending from campaigns, PACs and media outlets, from TV ads and staff members’ salaries to hotel, car, office and event space rentals to extra business for restaurants, caterers and more.”

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

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