The Political Report – May 3, 2023

Harry Enten: “Things have gotten so bad for DeSantis that a recent Fox News poll shows him at 21% – comparable with the 19% that Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has pushed debunked conspiracy theories about vaccine safety, is receiving on the Democratic side…”

“The Fox poll is not alone in showing DeSantis floundering. The latest average of national polls has him dropping from the low 30s into the low 20s.”

“This may not seem like a big deal, but early polling has long been an indicator of how well presidential candidates do in the primary the following year.”

CBS News Poll: “To the extent the Republican primary is a contest at all right now, it looks like it’s one between Donald Trump and a sentiment one might call ‘Trump fatigue.’ And Trump is winning that matchup easily.”

“Here’s why: MAGA-sounding ideas are widely held in the Republican electorate, an environment that plays heavily to Trump’s advantage.”

“There’s big demand for a candidate who says Trump won in 2020, who challenges woke ideas, who doesn’t criticize Trump and, for good measure, makes liberals angry. Trump leads in all of these areas.”

“Meanwhile there are some GOPers who say they’re ‘exhausted’ by Trump, and that he’s too controversial, but they are greatly outnumbered today.”

WASHINGTON GOVERNOR. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared Monday that he wouldn’t seek what would have been a historic fourth term as chief executive of the Evergreen State, a move that will set off a battle to succeed him next year. Under state election law all the candidates will run on one ballot rather than in separate party primaries, and the top two contenders, regardless of party, will advance to the general election. Republicans haven’t won this office since the late John Spellman prevailed in 1980, though Inslee himself only narrowly prevailed the last time this post was open in 2012.

Two of Inslee’s fellow Democrats, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, have long said they’d be interested in running whenever he retired, and the Seattle Times relays that each of them are “expected to quickly announce” their bids. King County Executive Dow Constantine, though, said in March he’d be staying put.

The GOP has a small bench in this longtime Democratic bastion, and it remains to be seen if the party will be able to mount a strong effort at a time when it has no statewide elected officials to turn to. The Dispatch reported in February that former Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler was interested, though we haven’t heard anything new since. Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, however, took his name out of contention over a month ago.

MARYLAND U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin announced Monday that he would not seek a fourth term next year in Maryland, a decision that marks the beginning of the end for a political career that started in 1966 when he was still in law school. There’s little question that Cardin’s party will hold his seat in a state that favored Joe Biden 64-32 and where Republicans last won a Senate race in 1980, but there’s already a great deal of interest among Old Line State Democrats in succeeding him.

Politico reported back in February that Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who would be the first Black woman to represent Maryland in the upper chamber, was already hiring people for a campaign, and she said that same month she would consider running if Cardin didn’t. The chatter only intensified Monday after the incumbent revealed his plans: Politico says she’d “almost certain” to jump in, while Maryland Matters’ Josh Kurtz anticipates she’ll launch “before the end of the month.” Alsobrooks was elected in 2018 to lead her populous and very blue community in the D.C. suburbs, and observers have credited her support for now-Gov. Wes Moore as an important factor in his close primary victory last year.

Another contender that Politico writes is all but assured to compete is Rep. David Trone, the Total Wine & More co-founder whom Insider ranked as the 17th wealthiest member of Congress in 2021. The moderate congressman, says the story, already knows who would likely be his campaign manager, and while Trone declined to answer Monday when asked if he intends to seek a promotion, Kurtz adds that his launch could come as soon as this week. Trone self-funded what was a record $13 million in his failed 2016 primary bid for the 8th Congressional District before pumping in a total of $33 million during his subsequent three victorious campaigns for the 6th, and Time Magazine reports he’s told allies he intends to deploy as much as $50 million of his own money to succeed Cardin.

Another name to watch is Rep. Jamie Raskin, a progressive favorite who defeated Trone in that 2016 primary. Raskin, who recently finished a successful treatment for diffuse large B cell lymphoma, said through his aides he was considering a statewide campaign. Kurtz, though, believes it’s more likely the congressman will stay in the lower chamber. 

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando, meanwhile, said two weeks ago he was thinking about a Senate bid, and Maryland Matters now writes he’s “preparing to run.” The councilmember, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria, would be Maryland’s first Black senator. Jawando also competed in that 2016 primary for the 8th District and finished with just 5%, but he won his current countywide seat two years later; Kurtz predicts that, should Raskin go for Senate after all, Jawando would instead run for the 8th again.  

But wait, there’s more! Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s team also says their boss is interested, and unlike the aforementioned four officeholders, his geographic base of support comes from the Baltimore suburbs rather than the D.C. area. (Baltimore County is a separate jurisdiction from the neighboring city of Baltimore.) The executive, though, has also been eyeing a campaign for the 2nd District should veteran Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger retire; a spokesperson for the 77-year-old congressman said Ruppersberger “has not made any decisions about the next term, nor does he have a timeline to do so.”

Kurtz additionally names Rep. John Sarbanes as another person who is “expected to consider,” though there’s no word from the congressman. Sarbanes is the son of Cardin’s predecessor, the late Paul Sarbanes, and he mulled a bid for the state’s other Senate seat in 2015 before opting to stay put. The congressman, though, doesn’t appear to have been getting ready for a campaign for his father’s old seat, though, as he raised just $10,000 during the first three months of 2023.

FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley also offers former DNC chair Tom Perez, who narrowly lost this primary to Moore last year, as a possibility, though Perez doesn’t appear to have said anything about a bid. There’s additionally talk that Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous, who badly lost the 2018 race for governor to Republican incumbent Larry Hogan, could go for it, though a former Jealous aide tells Politico “he has made clear to them that his preference is for Jamie Raskin to run.”

The GOP wish list, by contrast, pretty much starts and ends with Hogan, who left office earlier this year, but he once again doesn’t sound at all likely to go for it. The party unsuccessfully recruited the outgoing governor to take on Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen last year, and a source told Politico that his response to their new charm offensive was to again say that “he has never been interested in the Senate.” On Monday, the head of Hogan’s political organization forwarded Maryland Matters that article when asked if the former governor was now thinking about making the race.

TEXAS U.S. SENATOR. Rep. Colin Allred, reports Politico, plans to announce “as soon as this week” that he’ll challenge Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a development that would give Democrats a prominent candidate in a tough state.

“A former NFL player-turned-civil rights attorney, Allred has been quietly prepping for a run against Cruz for months. During his two successful reelection bids since ousting an entrenched incumbent in 2018, Allred has proven a prolific fundraiser. He’s well-liked within the Democratic Caucus and has also picked up positions in leadership, now serving as a member of House Minority Whip Katherine Clark’s (D-MA) team and as previously part of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) expansive leadership team.”

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. We’ve seen two lengthy profiles of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) over the last few days. But neither really sheds light on whether she’s planning to run for re-election.

McKay Coppins in The Atlantic: “Sinema tells me she hasn’t decided yet whether she’ll seek reelection, but she talks like someone who’s not planning on it. She’s only 46 years old; she has other interests.”

Robert Draper in the New York Times: “Nothing she said in our conversations left me with the impression that she was putting a few final touches on her senatorial legacy on her way out the door to the private sector.”

PHILADELPHIA MAYOR. With just over two weeks to go before Philadelphia’s all-important May 16 primary, we finally have our first independent poll of the race to succeed termed-out Mayor Jim Kenney. These new numbers from SurveyUSA show five different contenders within striking distance of capturing the Democratic nomination.

  • former Controller Rebecca Rhynhart: 19
  • former Councilmember Cherelle Parker: 17
  • former Councilmember Helen Gym: 16
  • former Councilmember Allan Domb: 15
  • businessman Jeff Brown: 12
  • Others: 6
  • Undecided: 15

Each of the top three candidates in this poll would be the first woman to serve as mayor of one of America’s oldest cities. Gym would also make history as Philly’s first Asian American leader, while Parker would be the first Black woman to hold the post. Whoever wins the primary should have no trouble in the November general election against the one Republican in the race, former Councilmember David Oh, in a loyally blue city that last elected a GOP mayor in 1947.

The survey was conducted for the good-government organization Committee of Seventy in partnership with several other nonaligned groups including FairVote, which promotes ranked-choice voting. While Philadelphia does not currently employ RCV—only a plurality is needed to win—the poll also asked respondents how they’d vote in a hypothetical scenario where they could rank their choices. The first first-round results were very similar: Rhynhart leads Parker 22-20, while Domb squeaks ahead of Gym 20-19. But in the seventh and final round, Rhynhart would lead Parker 55-45 after a simulated instant-runoff process.

The only other poll that was released in all of April was a GBAO internal for Domb conducted April 16-19, and it also found Rhynhart leading in a tight field. The former city controller this time edged out Gym 21-19 with Domb and Parker just behind at 17% and 16%, respectively; Brown was also in fifth with 13%, while another 14% were undecided and minor candidates took the rest. The memo, though, argues that Domb has improved by 4% since earlier in the month to help make its case that he can prevail in a “fluid” contest.

Indeed, quite a bit has happened in this contest over the last several days. Parker and Rhynhart, as we recently wrote, earned endorsements from Rep. Brendan Boyle and former Gov. Ed Rendell, respectively.

But Gym got some unwelcome news Thursday when a group called the Coalition for Safety and Equitable Growth launched what the Philadelphia Inquirer reports is a $200,000 ad buy attacking her for opposing an unsuccessful 2019 bill that would have put restrictions on pharmaceutical sales representatives at a time when her husband worked as an attorney for a pharma company. The paper notes that Gym had consulted with the city’s Board of Ethics the previous year and was informed that she did not need to recuse herself in the matter or disclose her spouse’s position.

It’s not clear who’s funding the group behind this ad campaign, but the Inquirer says that we should know by May 5, which is the deadline for PACs to submit updated financial reports. Gym’s team, though, has already suggested that Republican megadonor Jeff Yass is orchestrating the offensive, saying the charter school advocate and his allies “want to tear Helen down because they know she stands up for public education, and for everyday people over their narrow and greedy special interests.” Gym, for her part, has the support of the American Federation of Teachers, which has financed its own super PAC to help her.

Until now, most of the negative ads have come from Domb, targeting another self-funder, Brown. A month ago, Domb debuted a commercial going after his rival over old ads that seemed to imply that Michelle Obama had endorsed him (an Obama aide made it clear she hadn’t). Brown, who is the only major contender who has never held elected office, ran an ad of his own showing images of Domb, Gym, Parker, and two former city councilmembers who have since dropped out to argue, “We’ve all seen how crime got worse while these candidates sat in City Hall,” but he didn’t single any of his rivals out.

Brown also experienced a rough week that began Monday when a judge approved a deal between the Board of Ethics and a super PAC allied to him. The PAC agreed to finance only general get-out-the-vote efforts rather than specifically aid him. The agreement came two weeks after the board filed a lawsuit alleging the group had improperly coordinated with Brown, something both they and the candidate deny. In a debate the next day, Brown falsely insisted that the ethics board “settled the case because they didn’t have a case,” even though the agreement wasn’t a settlement at all: The case remains active, and the head of the ethics board said that any claims otherwise are “false and misleading.”

One of the board’s allegations is that a “former candidate for federal office” last year helped Brown meet with potential super PAC donors, and while it didn’t name names, the Inquirer reported on Thursday that the individual in question is a Republican, businessman Jeff Bartos. Bartos, who was the GOP’s 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor and lost last year’s Senate primary, confirmed he was the person being described, though he added, “I don’t recall that I was able to get anyone to do anything.”

NORTH CAROLINA REDISTRICTING. North Carolina’s Supreme Court performed a complete reversal on Friday, overturning its own ruling striking down gerrymandered GOP maps that it had issued just months ago. The court held that claims of partisan gerrymandering were “political questions” that could not be addressed by the judicial system.

“Preordained on 8 November”: In a blistering dissent, one of two remaining Democratic justices castigated the decision, saying it came about not because of any change in the facts of the case but only because Republicans flipped control of the court in last year’s midterm elections.

A 10-4 map—or even 11-3: Last year’s congressional elections were held on a court-drawn map that yielded an evenly split delegation. Now, with unfettered license to gerrymander, Republicans can craft a new House map that gives them 10 or even 11 seats while also locking in their supermajorities in the legislature.

Making a major SCOTUS case moot: To the extent there’s any silver lining, the U.S. Supreme Court may decide it no longer needs to adjudicate an even more radical lawsuit brought by North Carolina Republicans that could bar state courts nationwide from ever weighing in on congressional redistricting disputes.

Vox: “In a close, heavily contested campaign, like that potentially between Trump and DeSantis in 2024, a delegate operation can make all the difference…”

“For Trump and DeSantis, it is not likely that they will be scrimping for money or media attention in the weeks before the first nominating contest. But building up a delegates operation still matters for them — not just for a potential convention fight, but to demonstrate their strength and viability before the first votes are cast.”

Ben Smith: “ABC News is scrambling to find a replacement for Nate Silver’s election forecasting model, which the 538 founder is taking with him when he leaves the news organization at the end of his contract.”

“According to two sources with knowledge of the situation, ABC executives were slow to realize that the company only owned some of the models that 538 used to forecast major elections, and that many were on rent from Silver as part of the initial deal to bring the data journalism site to ESPN ten years ago.”

Donald Trump will participate in a CNN presidential town hall next week in New Hampshire, CNN reports. The event, hosted by “CNN This Morning” anchor Kaitlan Collins and airing at 9 p.m. ET on May 10, will feature the former president taking questions from New Hampshire Republicans and undeclared voters who plan to vote in the 2024 GOP presidential primary.

Remarkably, Donald Trump hasn’t appeared on CNN since 2016. He’s been calling the cable network “fake news” ever since. ut Trump accepted an invitation from the network for a town hall meeting next week from New Hampshire.

As Benjy Sarlin notes, the move underscores an underappreciated dynamic in the Republican president primary: Trump has a basically normal working relationship with the news media, while Gov. Ron DeSantis has been keeping nearly all journalists at a distance.

The DeSantis strategy doesn’t look so wise after weeks of bad stories about plummeting polling numbers and deserting donors. The numerous profiles of DeSantis as an unlikeable loner are defining him before he even formally announces his campaign.

As Sarlin notes: “Maybe DeSantis’ campaign will recover. But if he turns out to have miscalculated on his media strategy, it will be because he misread the lessons of Trump, whose barebones campaign took off in 2016 with nonstop interviews with any outlet that would talk to him, drowning out opponents in the process.”

DeSantis doesn’t seem to realize that Trump attacks the media as a game. He actually likes most reporters. And as CNN proved in inviting him onto their network next week, the news media is more than happy to play along.

Politico: “The ex-president will participate in a town hall event with CNN, a network he called “fake” and whose reporters he routinely chastised while serving in office. The event, which will take place at New Hampshire’s Saint Anselm College next week, will mark a major moment in the intersection of politics and the media in the still nascent 2024 GOP primary. It also is the latest illustration of an aggressive media strategy that Trump’s team is adopting.”

“The former president and his staff have re-engaged the mainstream press corps after largely shunning them. They have been in talks with sit-downs with several other notable outlets, including NBC. He has also invited an array of reporters from mainstream outlets to fly with him on his plane to and from campaign events.”

“Those in the former president’s orbit believe that by giving interviews and access to mainstream outlets, they can broaden Trump’s message — and create a contrast with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has widely been seen as more closed off toward mainstream outlets while granting interviews to conservative ones.”

“The leading Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, is likely to skip at least one of the first two debates of the 2024 Republican presidential nominating contest,” the New York Times reports.

“In private comments to aides and confidants in recent weeks, Mr. Trump has made it clear that he does not want to breathe life into his Republican challengers by sharing the stage with them.”

“Another motivation for Mr. Trump is revenge: The former president has a history with the two institutions hosting the first two Republican candidate debates.”

“With Donald Trump holding a commanding lead on the rest of the 2024 GOP field, you’d think everyone else would focus on the frontrunner. And with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis being the only Republican within striking distance of Trump, you’d think the former president would train his attention on him,” the Daily Beast reports.

“But there’s a dynamic developing among Republican candidates—one in which GOP longshots avoid potentially ostracizing Trump supporters, and Trump doesn’t focus exclusively on trashing DeSantis.”

“Call it the punch-down primary, where candidates are all going after competitors who are polling well beneath them.”

“Age is one thing. I think experience is another.”— Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), quoted by CNN, on whether President Biden is too old to run for re-election.

WEST VIRGINIA U.S. SENATOR. The Club for Growth, an influential GOP group, is going on air with a minute-long TV ad slamming West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) as “a deadbeat billionaire” who is “delinquent on his financial and moral obligations” and an “embarrassment to West Virginia,” Politico reports.

Meanwhile, Politico reports Justice expects Donald Trump to endorse him soon.

NEW YORK U.S. SENATOR. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), one of Sen. Kyrsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) strongest possible primary challengers, is all but closing the door on a possible run, Politico reports. Said a spokesperson: “She is not planning to run for Senate in 2024. She is not planning to primary Gillibrand.”

That answer, as the story notes, isn’t quite a no, but fellow Rep. Jamaal Bowman adds that he hasn’t heard any discussion of AOC running “for months or weeks.”

Politico adds that, while former Rep. Mondaire Jones mulled his own campaign against Gillibrand a while back, he’s now decided not to go for it and is focusing on his likely bid to regain the 17th Congressional District from Republican incumbent Mike Lawler. Disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s camp, though, characteristically didn’t comment when asked about his own interest in a Senate run, which at least keeps this bit of chatter alive.  

Former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) acknowledges that a potential run against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand would be an uphill battle, but the Republican isn’t completely ruling out a campaign against her in 2024, Politico reports.

Said Zeldin: “We’ll keep an eye on the race.”

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