The Political Report – May 5, 2023

The best way to gauge the 2024 battleground states is to look at where the campaigns are spending money.

Since Republicans are still gearing up for the primary season, only President Biden is running advertising intended for the general election campaign.

Biden’s first ad of his re-election campaign ran in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Wisconsin. None of those states are surprising as Biden narrowly won all of them in 2020.

Biden’s second ad will run in those original six states plus North Carolina and Florida, two states he lost in 2020, according to the Miami Herald.

There are two big surprises in this early list of eight battleground states.

First is the inclusion of Florida, which Biden lost in 2020 and has no Democratic statewide officials. It wouldn’t seem to be a battleground after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) won re-election last year by nearly 20-points.

Second is the omission of New Hampshire, which Biden won in 2020 and remains closely divided. It’s far from a lock for Biden, especially since he’s instructing the Democratic party to bypass the state as the nation’s first presidential primary in 2024.

It’s still very early, but it’s nonetheless instructive to see what the Biden campaign is thinking.

PHILADELPHIA MAYOR. Former City Council member Cherelle Parker on Monday secured endorsements from two unions within AFSCME District Council 33 even though the larger organization remains committed to businessman Jeff Brown in the May 16 Democratic primary, but its leaders made it clear why they were going ahead with what the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sean Walsh called a “highly unusual” move.

The head of the union that represents sanitation workers took issue with Brown’s slogan, “Pick up the damn trash,” and he sported a shirt bearing the words “we do pick up the trash.” The head of DC 33, though, said last week that the organization was sticking with Brown despite his recent travails, declaring, “If the ship fucking sinks with Jeff Brown on it, then goddammit, grab two life jackets.”

Parker later in the week also secured an endorsement from Maria Quiñones Sánchez, a former City Council colleague who was the only Latino in the primary before she dropped out of last month.

RHODE ISLAND 1ST DISTRICT. “It’s rare to have an open congressional seat in Rhode Island. So when there is one, ambitious pols pounce on what could literally be a once-in-a-generation shot to go to Washington,” Politico reports.

“More than a dozen Democrats have declared their candidacy for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District — a crowded field that has formed before outgoing Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, who has represented the district for over a decade, even officially resigns.”

OREGON SECRETARY OF STATE. Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said Tuesday that she would resign on May 8, a rapid fall that came just days after the Democrat acknowledged she’d been doing paid consulting work for a cannabis company at a time when her office was finishing an audit into how the state regulates such businesses. Deputy Secretary Cheryl Myers will take over for Fagan until Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek appoints a successor to a post that will next be on the ballot for a full four-year term in 2024, and state law requires her to pick a Democrat.

Until last week, Fagan looked like a likely future contender for higher office. In 2020 she flipped the secretary of state’s office back to her party by defeating her fellow state senator, Republican Kim Thatcher, 50-43, a victory that made her first in line to become governor in the event of a vacancy. (Oregon is one of five states that lacks a lieutenant governor, though Arizona will start electing one in 2026.)

But her situation began to deteriorate Thursday when the Willamette Week reported Fagan spent the last two months consulting for an affiliate of a cannabis company owned by two of her major donors, revelations that came the day before her office released a report arguing the state needed looser regulations for the industry. While auditors have insisted that Fagan had no role in their conclusions, it didn’t help that state and federal revenue collectors have filed a total of $7 million in liens against those owners and their businesses while vendors have also sued them.

Kotek responded to the news by asking state officials to investigate the matter, while Fagan’s chief of staff soon announced she’d be quitting. Fagan said Monday she’d left that $10,000 a month gig, which paid significantly more than her $77,000 salary as secretary of state, and argued she’d followed state ethics rules, though she acknowledged she’d shown “poor judgment.” She also said she’d recused herself from the audit days before signing on as a consultant, though the report was almost complete by then.

None of this was enough to stop Fagan’s former allies from arguing she needed to resign, with the head of the powerful SEIU Local 503 saying her problems were distracting from the legislature’s work. Kotek and the legislature’s top four Democrats responded to her Tuesday departure by saying her move was necessary to restore trust in state government.

NEW YORK 3RD DISTRICT. Former state Sen. Anna Kaplan filed FEC paperwork Monday for a potential Democratic primary bid for the seat still held by scandal-drenched incumbent George Santos.

Kaplan, a Jewish refugee from Iran who came to the United States as a child, was a North Hempstead town councilwoman when she took fourth place in the 2016 nomination fight for a previous version of this seat. She had far more success two years later when she decisively unseated Republican state Sen. Elaine Phillips, but Kaplan went on to lose her 2022 general election to former state Sen. Jack Martins 53-47. Martins himself didn’t rule out a campaign of his own against Santos in January, though he didn’t sound likely to go for it.

While CNBC reported a few weeks ago that former Rep. Tom Suozzi is considering running to take back his old seat from serial liar George Santos, he avoided saying as much at a recent appearance with other Long Island Democrats. “There’s no race right now. As of now, there’s no race until 2024,” he said when asked about a comeback.

NORTH CAROLINA 8TH DISTRICT and ATTORNEY GENERAL. Far-right Rep. Dan Bishop, who crafted North Carolina’s transphobic 2016 “bathroom bill” while in the state Senate, is considering leaving Congress to run for attorney general, according to a new report from Axios’ Lucille Sherman. Bishop, who has spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, didn’t publicly confirm his interest in a 2024 run for a post that Republicans last held in 1975, but Sherman says his deliberations have “frozen the field of potential challengers.”

A few fellow Republicans, though, publicly confirmed Bishop was thinking about making this race. A strategist for Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, an unrepentant bigot who is the primary frontrunner to succeed Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, says his boss would back the congressman, while the well-funded Club for Growth also said it wanted him to run.

Former U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray, meanwhile, tells Sherman he halted his own planned campaign launch for attorney general after speaking to Bishop and coming away with the impression he’d be seeking the job himself. An unnamed source also adds that longtime state Senate leader Phil Berger would chair a Bishop campaign to replace Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein, who is leaving to run for governor.

Bishop himself indirectly helped cost the GOP the governorship in 2016 after incumbent Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2, which required anyone using bathrooms at schools or public facilities to use the restroom associated with the sex on their birth certificate regardless of their gender identity. That legislation caused a national backlash that led a number of major corporations to cancel planned expansions in the state, and voters responded by narrowly booting McCrory in favor of then-Attorney General Cooper.

Bishop’s career, though, very much survived even after Cooper signed a law rolling back HB 2. The state senator unexpectedly got the chance to run for Congress in what was then numbered the 9th District in 2019 after the results of the previous year’s election were voided because of Republican election fraud. He decisively won the primary and went on to narrowly defeat 2018 Democratic nominee Dan McCready 51-49 after an expensive campaign for a gerrymandered constituency that Trump had taken 54-43 in 2016.

But despite that underwhelming victory, as well as a new court-supervised map that made the 9th District a shade bluer, Bishop turned in an easy 2020 win in a contest that national Democrats didn’t target. His constituency was soon renumbered the 8th District under the 2022 map and became safely red turf, and Bishop had no trouble holding it. The congressman used the first days of the new Congress to cast 11 straight votes against making Kevin McCarthy speaker, but he eventually flipped; McCarthy afterward placed Bishop on the Orwellian-named “Weaponization of the Federal Government” subcommittee.

Bishop’s House seat will almost certainly remain reliably red no matter if he stays or goes, especially now that the GOP-dominated state Supreme Court has given the state legislature the green light to draw a new gerrymander for 2024. Political observers have speculated that this decision could motivate Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson to run for attorney general should he be left with a hostile seat, though he hasn’t said anything about a potential bid to replace Stein.

P.S. Republicans last took the attorney general’s office in 1974 when GOP Gov. James Holshouser appointed James Carson to fill a vacancy, though Carson lost the ensuing special election a few months later to Democrat Refus Edmisten. The last time Republican to actually win an election for this post, however, was Zeb Walser all the way back in 1896.

WASHINGTON 3RD DISTRICT. Camas City Councilor Leslie Lewallen announced last week that she’d run as a Republican in next year’s top-two primary to face freshman Democratic Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. Lewallen, whose city has a population of just over 27,000, argued, “We already have a plan to raise more than the $5 million it will take to win this seat.” This southwestern Washington constituency favored Donald Trump 51-47.

Lewallen joins a field that already includes Joe Kent, the far-right Republican who announced in December that he’d run to avenge his 50.1-49.9 upset loss against Gluesenkamp Perez from the month before. The incumbent, though, massively outraised Kent $820,000 to $200,000 during the first quarter of 2023, and she finished March with a $660,000 to $210,000 cash-on-edge advantage.

ALLEGHENEY COUNTY (PA) EXECUTIVE. Both Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb and state Rep. Sara Innamorato are getting some much-appreciated help on the airwaves ahead of the May 16 Democratic primary. Termed-out incumbent Rich Fitzgerald, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Adam Smeltz, is using his political committee to spend $50,000 on commercials where he appears alongside the controller and tells the audience he’s backing Lamb even though they “haven’t always seen eye to eye.” Smeltz says that this expenditure is more than twice what Lamb’s campaign, which has spent $70,000 on ads, has reserved for the rest of the contest.

The Working Families Party, meanwhile, is expending $260,000 on pro-Innamorato spots. Smeltz writes that this matches the amount her campaign has deployed, though he notes candidates get better ad rates than outside groups. Two other contenders, County Treasurer John Weinstein and attorney Dave Fawcett, have respectively spent $760,000 and $510,000, though Fawcett has aired more commercials since late March. The paper, citing data from AdImpact, says that the attorney has had a 15% advantage in gross ratings points, which measure how many times, on average, members of an ad’s target audience have seen it.

The GOP pollster Public Opinion Strategies finds state Rep. Sara Innamorato surging from third to a clear first place in the May 16 Democratic primary in its newest poll for the “business-organized labor-workforce-economic development alliance” Pittsburgh Works Together. Innamorato, who is a prominent local progressive, takes 32%, while County Treasurer John Weinstein and Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb tie for second with 20% each.

Two months ago this firm had Weinstein edging out Lamb 28-24 as Innamorato took 17%, and we’ve seen no other surveys in the intervening time. That first poll was taken while Weinstein had a monopoly on TV, but the ad war described above has obviously affected the race.

Innamorato’s team celebrated their candidate’s showing in this new survey, though WESA’s Chris Potter writes that unnamed “Democrats outside the Innamorato fold” were wondering if this poll was an attempt to help the state representative win the nomination under the assumption that she’d be vulnerable in November against Republican Joe Rockey.

Potter relays that the grumblings came both from the fact that POS is a GOP firm and that Pittsburgh Works Together’s membership “draws heavily from interests that might not seem friendly to Innamorato’s left-of-center campaign: building trade unions as well as corporate interests active in manufacturing and natural gas.” The poll’s sponsor, though, quickly denied it was doing anything to aid or hinder any candidate.

ILLINOIS 17TH DISTRICT. Businessman Ray Estrada on Thursday became the first notable Republican to launch a bid against freshman Democratic Rep. Eric Sorensen in a north-central Illinois constituency that favored Joe Biden 53-45. Estrada, who escaped civil war in Nicaragua as a child, runs a nonprofit his campaign says aids refugees.

INDIANAPOLIS MAYOR. Incumbent Joe Hogsett won his Democratic primary for a third term Tuesday 58-38 against state Rep. Robin Shackleford, who struggled to raise money for her bid to become both the first woman and African American to hold this post. Hogsett will go up against self-funding businessman Jefferson Shreve, who defeated publisher Abdul-Hakim Shabazz 66-26 for the GOP nod, in the Nov. 7 general election.

Indianapolis was a GOP stronghold in the decades after then-Mayor Richard Lugar successfully pushed to consolidate the city with the rest of Marion County in 1970, but Democrats are now very much the party in power. Hogsett’s 2019 landslide win helped propel his party to a supermajority on the City-County Council, while Joe Biden took Marion County 63-34 the following year. Republicans, however, are hoping that Hogsett will experience the same fate as fellow Democrat Bart Peterson, whose 2007 bid for a third term ended with an upset loss to Greg Ballard.

Hogsett himself acknowledged that the wealthy Shreve, who deployed $2 million to win his primary, will have the resources to put up a fight, though the Democrat insisted this could help him turn out voters in November. “I think (Democrats are) maybe even more enthusiastic now than they were three months ago because, in the course of 30 seconds, (Shreve) can write a check that makes this a much more competitive race than it would otherwise be,” he told Axios.

TEXAS 32ND DISTRICT. Democratic state Rep. Julie Johnson, whose 2018 win made her the first Texas legislator with a same-sex spouse, was quick to confirm her interest in running to succeed Senate candidate Colin Allred in a northern Dallas constituency the GOP gerrymandered to be safely blue. Johnson added that any decision would come after the legislative session ends May 29.

CALIFORNIA 47TH DISTRICT. Democratic state Sen. Dave Min was arrested for drunk driving​ Tuesday night in the Sacramento area and released the next day, and the congressional candidate wrote Wednesday afternoon that he’d been “cited for a misdemeanor.” Min, who is campaigning to succeed Democratic Senate candidate Katie Porter in Orange County, continued, “My decision to drive last night was irresponsible. I accept full responsibility and there is no excuse for my actions … I will not let this personal failure distract from our work in California and in Washington.”    

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of intentionally provoking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

MARYLAND U.S. SENATOR. Rep. David Trone (D-MD) officially launched his bid on Thursday for the Democratic nomination to replace retiring Sen. Ben Cardin in Maryland, Politico reports. Trone has told associates that he’s prepared to spend $50 million of his own money for the race, Time reports.

Former Rep. John Delaney on Monday didn’t rule out the idea that he could seek the Democratic nod to succeed retiring Sen. Ben Cardin, telling The Hill, “I do think now is the time to only celebrate Ben, his truly magnificent career and his wonderful partner in all of this Myrna—and not the time to talk politics.” The wealthy congressman didn’t seek re-election in 2018 in order to concentrate on a White House run that, predictably, flopped.

But former Gov. Larry Hogan, who decided earlier this year not to pursue his own hopeless bid for the GOP presidential nomination, has made it clear he doesn’t “have any interest” in being in the Senate.

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

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