The Political Report – April 19, 2023

A new CBS News/You Gov poll found that 67% of Americans said that GOP lawmakers shouldn’t interfere with the investigations involving Donald Trump, while 33% said that GOP lawmakers should make an effort to stop law enforcement investigations into Trump. 

A new CBS News poll finds Republicans’ general desire for loyalty to Donald Trump has risen. The poll finds 76% say it’s at least somewhat important to them that Republicans be loyal to Trump — an 11-point jump since January.

A new Gallup poll finds that a record 49% of Americans see themselves as politically independent — the same as the two major parties put together.

NEW YORK 3RD DISTRICT. Daily Beast: “Rep. George Santos (R-NY) announced Monday that he would, counter to previously reported promises, run for another term in Congress. But it’s his latest campaign finance report—filed just a few days earlier—that’s truly mystifying watchdogs, as Santos made yet another seemingly inexplicable change to a central question about his finances: How, and now when, did he loan his campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars?”

“The latest filing changed four things about the more than $700,000 in questionable loans that Santos made to his 2022 campaign: the dates he made them, the dates they came due, the amounts of the individual loans, and the total amount.”

Just minutes after serial liar George Santos announced he’d seek a second term representing New York’s 3rd Congressional District on Monday, he drew his first big-name Democratic challenger, Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, who ran for the same seat in 2022 but finished third in last year’s primary.

Fittingly, Santos had reportedly told GOP leaders he wouldn’t run for reelection before he was even sworn in, so it’s only natural that that was a lie, too. And in a perfect twist, Santos launched his bid the same day he introduced legislation named for vaccine conspiracy theorist Nicki Minaj.

Santos’ decision came just days after the world learned the scandal-plagued Republican’s campaign is almost bankrupt and apparently owes the candidate $715,000. Lafazan, meanwhile, managed to haul in $345,000 during the first quarter of the year after opening a fundraising account in January when he was still exploring the race.

Just ahead of Santos’ kickoff, an unnamed source told The New York Post that the congressman had “called big donors and sat down with supporters and believes he can raise $500,000 to $750,000 in the second quarter of 2023.” The paper did not say whether a single one of those donors believed a word of that, especially since Santos raised less than $5,400 during the first three months of the year, which was less than the $8,400 he refunded to previous contributors. It’s also not clear who these “big donors” are, especially since exactly one person donated more than $200 to Santos during the first quarter of the year.

Santos’ fellow Republicans have made it very clear they want pretty much anyone else as their standard bearer in the 3rd District, a Long Island-based constituency that favored Biden 54-45 in 2020, and there’s no question the incumbent will face a tough primary challenge if he’s even still in office next year. Santos in fact has already drawn intra-party opposition: Business executive Kellen Curry last week became the first Republican to announce a bid, though numerous others have been mentioned. Likewise, there’s a long list of Democrats who could join Lafazan in the primary.

Ali Alexander, a key figure in the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” campaign, has apologized after being accused of asking teenage boys for sexual pictures, the Daily Beast reports.

Alexander explained in a statement that he was “battling with same-sex attraction.”

After Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was outmaneuvered and humiliated in a power play by Disney late last month, he tried to recapture the initiative today by threatening to build a prison adjacent to Disney World.

It continues the attempt by DeSantis to be harsher than Trump in nearly every way.

While Trump promises “I am your retribution” in speeches, DeSantis is showing how he will actively use the power of the government to hurt his enemies.

As Jonathan Chait writes: “He’s doing this to send a message to both every private business and his party that his performative domination of Disney is a model for how he plans to campaign and, if successful, govern. It’s a clear message to Republican voters: “I will seek revenge on those who have wronged you. I don’t just talk about it.”

It also suggests that DeSantis is still very committed to running for president despite his recent slippage in the polls.

One of the most remarkable things about the Donald Trump-era is how quickly Republican politicians have fallen in line behind him. New research from three political scientists — Seth Masket, Rachel Blum and Mike Cowburn — sheds some light on why this happens.

They looked at the 2022 Republican primary season and found the following:

  • Trump’s endorsees enjoyed a huge vote bump. In contests where Trump endorsed, his candidate got an average of 16 points more than the non-endorsed candidates.
  • Trump’s endorsement was like money in the bank, allowing the candidate to spend relatively less than candidates who did not get Trump’s endorsement.
  • Trump’s endorsement tended to help his endorsees raise money and boost their polling numbers.
  • It’s worth noting that election deniers – those who denied the results of the 2020 presidential election – did about four points worse than others.

It’s also not clear from the research whether there was a causal relationship between Trump’s endorsement and the primary result. After all, Trump tended to pick candidates who were already pretty likely to win the primary.

And this research focused only the Republican primaries. Trump’s endorsement actually hurt the candidate in the general election.

But it’s fairly obvious why Trump is feared among Republicans candidates.

As Masket explains: “Even those who disagree with him or think he’s bad for the party or for the country do not want him angry at them. Imagine being a comfortable officeholder with substantial advantages in fundraising and name recognition, and all of a sudden Trump endorses a little-known opponent of yours because you made him mad, and that person gets a 16-point boost.”

That’s terrifying for a politician, and they’ll do pretty much anything to avoid such an outcome.

Former Gov. Chris Christie (R) “is talking to potential donors, thought leaders, staffers, and others to discuss a possible campaign for president in 2024,” CNN reports.

“If we go forward, we want all of you to be with us. Thank you to all of you for everything you’ve already done for us. It’s been really, really an amazing ride. And you know what? It might not just be over yet.” — Former Gov. Chris Christie (R), quoted by Politico, speaking to more than three dozen former staffers about a possible presidential run in 2024.

Former Gov. Chris Christie (R) told Semafor that he doesn’t think Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is a conservative, based on his public feud with Disney.

Christie said that “as a conservative, the job of government is … to stay out of the business of business.”

He added: “Where are we headed here now that if you express disagreement in this country, the government is allowed to punish you? To me, that’s what I always thought liberals did.”

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. The Republican pollster J.L. Partners, which did not mention a client for its Arizona survey, quizzed respondents about who they want to be the GOP’s Senate nominee, but there’s a caveat we need to address before we get to the results. The firm surveyed “registered Republicans and undeclared voters who would request a ballot in [the] 2024 presidential primary,” a contest that will attract a different electorate than the Senate primary that’s set to take place about four-and-a-half months later.

Now to the numbers:

  • 2022 gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake: 38
  • 2022 gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson: 10
  • Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb: 8
  • 2022 Senate nominee Blake Masters: 7
  • 2022 attorney general nominee Abe Hamadeh: 4
  • 2022 Senate candidate Jim Lamon: 3
  • Someone Else: 2
  • Undecided: 29

The firm also shows Lake with a 54-22 edge in a one-on-one with Lamb, who is both the only person in this group who has actually announced as well as the only one who didn’t wage a losing campaign last year.

It’s very unlikely the field will look like this as both Masters and Hamadeh have signaled they’d defer to Lake, while Lamon says he’s for Lamb right now. Taylor Robson, meanwhile, seems content to keep everyone in suspense, as an unnamed source tells The Dispatch she “isn’t feeling a ton of urgency to make a decision anytime soon.”

While wealthy businessman Jim Lamon still hasn’t closed the door on another Senate bid, he recently told a crowd of fellow Republicans that, in the words of the Washington Post, “he so far was supporting” Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb’s run.

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. While we haven’t heard anything about Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s interest in this race in the two months since the National Journal first relayed that he was considering, the Washington Post now says he’s one of the two people that national Republicans want to recruit to take on Democratic incumbent Jon Tester. The other is wealthy businessman Tim Sheehy, a Navy SEAL veteran whose name first surfaced last month and whom NRSC chair Steve Daines reportedly has been trying to land. The Post adds these same insiders don’t want Rep. Matt Rosendale, who lost to Tester 50-47 in 2018, to be their nominee again.

This isn’t the only way Daines has been trying to intervene in his home state, though, as the New York Times’ Nick Corasaniti reports that one of his allies played a key role in drafting the bill to adopt a top-two primary system intended to weaken Tester. Corasaniti writes that lobbyist Chuck Denowh wrote to the legislation’s sponsor, state Sen. Greg Hertz, “We would like it to apply only to United States Senate races,” and, “We’d like a sunset in 2025.” Denowh didn’t specify who he meant by “we,” but one state senator told his colleagues the bill “came from Daines” and was the “brainchild” of the NRSC’s executive director.

The plan recently passed the state Senate, and two Republican members also informed Corasaniti that Daines’ team pressured them into backing it. Critics argue this is no more than a scheme to weaken Tester, and Tester only, in a state where Republicans frequently complain that Libertarian Party candidates cost them vital support: Indeed, one legislator says party officials outright told them that beating Tester was the plan’s purpose. However, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich’s recently wrote, “You can’t just assume that every Libertarian voter would have voted Republican if the Libertarian candidate hadn’t been on the ballot; elections don’t work like that.”

Indeed, Rakich went on to highlight that, not only would the GOP candidates have needed to take the Libertarian vote overwhelmingly in 2006 and 2012 to beat Tester, they’d also have needed almost all of those third-party backers to show up in the first place even without their candidate on the ballot. No amount of Libertarian support would have saved Rosendale, though, as Tester won his third term with a majority of the vote.  

GOP Gov. Greg Gianforte said of the bill, which is set to receive a vote in a House committee on Monday, “I think it’s kind of an interesting idea, but we won’t take a firm position until we actually see the final legislation.” There may be a change in store, though, as Hertz introduced an amendment to the lower chamber to require the top-two system be used for all U.S. Senate races rather than just Tester’s 2024 contest. Republicans are also waiting for Gianforte’s signature on legislation to ban instant-runoff voting, which is not in use in Montana.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. The GOP firm Medium Buying reports that the RGA put at least $317,000 behind its opening ad buy against Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear.

WISCONSIN U.S. SENATOR. “Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-WI) this week signaled he’s considering a 2024 Senate run against incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), buying two website domain names in preparation for a potential bid,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

“No Republican has declared a formal challenge to Baldwin for the swing-state seat that could help determine which party controls the Senate.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has said that he hopes to decide on his 2024 plans sometime after the legislative session ends June 30. The incumbent, who is mulling a presidential bid, recently joked, “I am not saying I am not running [for governor] again, but I’ve got to get a real job,” something that intensified speculation that he won’t seek a fifth two-year term.

Former state Sen. Tom Sherman, meanwhile, says he’s considering a second campaign for this post, a development that comes months after Sununu defeated the Democrat 57-41. Sherman highlighted how this was a big improvement from the governor’s 65-33 win from 2020, adding, “We made sure that Sununu stayed on the issues and that he didn’t have much in the way of coattails.” Steinhauser additionally relays that Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington is also mulling seeking the Democratic nod, though there’s no word directly from her.

Reporter Paul Steinhauser takes a look at potential contenders who could campaign to succeed their fellow Republican. Before we dive in, though, we’ll note that, while Sununu sounds unlikely to seek what would be a historic fifth two-year term, he could still run for re-election in 2024 even if his White House flirtations go bust and render all of this chatter moot.

Perhaps the most familiar name in Steinhauser’s story belongs to former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, whom he reports “has been talking with people about running for governor.” Ayotte was last on the ballot in 2016 when she lost re-election to then-Gov. Maggie Hassan in a 48.0-47.8 squeaker, a contrast that took place as Sununu was reclaiming the governor’s office for the GOP after 12 years of Democratic control. The former senator was talked about as a potential candidate for governor in both 2019 and 2021 in the event that Sununu ran for the Senate, but the incumbent opted to stay put.

State education commissioner Frank Edelblut, meanwhile, recently confirmed he’s interested in running to replace his boss and former rival. Edelblut, who is a former member of the 400-member state House, campaigned for governor in 2016 and used his personal fortune to outspend both Sununu and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas in the primary. Sununu and Gatsas focused their attacks on one another near the end of the contest while ignoring their wealthy foe, and this was almost enough for Edelblut to pull off an upset.

Sununu, though, ended up fending off Edelblut 31-30―a margin of just over 1,000 votes―while Gatsas ran behind with 21%. The new governor soon picked Edelblut to run the state Department of Education even though he’d home-schooled his children rather than send them to public schools.

The commissioner last year set off protests when he published an opinion piece decrying that “activist educators” were teaching elementary schoolers that “there are totally more than two genders!” He also said parents “should not be concerned, as occurred in another New Hampshire classroom, that the introduction to art will begin with a lesson in pronouns and links to Black Lives Matters for kids and LGBTQ+ for kids.” Edelblut, though, did not heed calls for his resignation and continues to hold this post.

Another Republican Steinhauser reports is “preparing for a potential gubernatorial campaign” is former state Senate President Chuck Morse, who stepped up to challenge Hassan last year after Sununu dispirited Senate Republicans by passing on the race. But Morse, who was characterized as someone who “is not flashy, and does not have charisma” by a supporter, struggled to get past retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, a Big Lie spreader who didn’t struggle to stand out in the primary.

Bolduc, among other things, called the governor a “Chinese communist sympathizer” with a family business that “supports terrorism,” so it was anything but a surprise that Sununu sided with Morse in the primary. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s allies also spent a hefty $4.6 million on an ad campaign to promote Morse and attack Bolduc as a surefire loser with “crazy ideas.” Democrats, though, also launched an expensive ad campaign of their own tying Morse to lobbyists, a move aimed at weakening him for the general election if they couldn’t keep him from the GOP nomination.

But Democrats got exactly what they wanted in the primary: Bolduc edged out Morse 37-36 two months before losing to Hassan in a 54-44 rout. Morse at least gets one claim to fame though: In January 2017, he technically became the Granite State’s first GOP chief executive in 12 years when Hassan resigned to join the Senate two days before her gubernatorial term ended and Sununu’s began, and Morse even got a security detail during that brief stint.

Former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns, who also lost his last campaign, says he’s considering both a bid for governor or a rematch against Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster in the 2nd Congressional District. Last cycle, Democrats aired ads in the GOP primary designed to help Burns defeat Keene Mayor George Hansel, a self-described “pro-choice” candidate backed by Sununu, and this was another race where that investment very much paid off. Burns won the nod 33-30, only to end up on the receiving end of a 56-44 drubbing by Kuster.

So which Democrats could run to end the GOP’s eight-year control of the governorship? Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig didn’t rule the idea out last month when she announced she wouldn’t seek re-election this year as head of New Hampshire’s largest city, and unnamed sources soon told the Concord Monitor she’s interested in running for the top job. Steinhauser also mentions Cinde Warmington, who is the only Democrat on New Hampshire’s unique and powerful five-member Executive Council, as a possibility.

MISSOURI GOVERNOR. The Republican firm Remington Research’s latest GOP primary poll for the local political tip-sheet Missouri Scout shows Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft leading Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe 29-13 in next year’s contest, with state Sen. Bill Eigel at just 4%.

This new survey, which sampled 778 likely voters from April 11-12, comes about two months after the firm gave Ashcroft a 28-9 advantage over the lieutenant governor as Eigel again clocked in with 4%. Ashcroft launched his long-awaited campaign for the post once held by his father, John Ashcroft, just before Remington returned to the field, while Kehoe kicked off his campaign over two years before; Eigel, by contrast, formed an exploratory committee last September but has not confirmed he’s in.

UTAH U.S. SENATOR. Sen. Mitt Romney’s office tells the Standard-Examiner of the incumbent’s re-election plans, “No new decision or announcement to share, and as the senator has said, he will make a final decision in the coming months,” adding, “In the meantime, we’re ensuring he’s well prepared to run if he chooses.”

State House Speaker Brad Wilson recently formed an exploratory committee for a potential GOP primary bid, while other Beehive State Republicans are also eyeing this seat. Outgoing state party chair Carson Jorgensen doesn’t appear to be one of them, though he added Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs to the list of “rumored names” he’s heard who are. Jorgensen, for his part, also predicted Romney would call it a career based on how few state GOP events he’s been going to.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. The Dispatch reports that former Rep. Keith Rothfus has been offering his name up as a possible “consensus conservative” candidate to GOP leaders and donors even though prominent Republicans have made it very clear they want rich guy Dave McCormick as their nominee against Democratic incumbent Bob Casey.

Rothfus last was on the ballot in 2018 when he lost his bid for a fourth term 56-44 to Democratic colleague Conor Lamb, a contest that took place after court-ordered redistricting led to an incumbent vs. incumbent general election. Rothfus in late 2021 showed some interest in a run for Pennsylvania’s other Senate seat, but he never followed through.  

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

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