The Political Report – May 13, 2023

An Emerson College Polling/PHL17 survey of Philadelphia Democratic primary voters finds a tight race for mayor ahead of the May 16 election.

Helen Gym leads the field with 21%, followed by Cherelle Parker with 18%, Rebecca Rhynhart with 18%, and Allan Domb with 14%. Jeff Brown trails with 10%.

If you wonder why the Biden team was described as “positively giddy” after Donald Trump’s town hall appearance, it’s because he showed him far out of touch with the majority of Americans.

Consider the following:

  • Trump wouldn’t say if he wanted Ukraine to win the war with Russia, but a recent YouGov poll showed 67% of Americans want Ukraine to prevail.
  • Trump declined to declare Vladimir Putin a “war criminal,” but a recent Quinnipiac poll finds 80% of Americans think he is.
  • Trump said he would pardon a “large portion” of the January 6 rioters at the Capitol, but a recent Morning Consult-Politico poll found that 68% of Americans don’t think they should be pardoned.
  • Trump suggested Republicans allow the U.S. to default on its debt, but a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll finds 58% think that would be irresponsible.
  • Trump took credit for repealing Roe v. Wade, but a recent NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll finds 61% of Americans support abortion rights.

By any definition, Trump’s positions are extreme to the majority of voters. And the best part for Democrats? They have him on video saying all of these things.

Said one Biden aide: “It was quite efficient. Weeks worth of damning content in one hour.”

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. Former GOP Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake met with multiple Republican senators on Thursday amid speculation she is seriously weighing a 2024 Senate bid, Axios reports.

NEW YORK 4TH DISTRICT. New York Democrat Laura Gillen announced on Wednesday that she would seek a rematch with freshman Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito in the 4th Congressional District, a Long Island constituency that’s the bluest seat held by a Republican according to Daily Kos Elections’ calculations of the results of the 2020 presidential election by congressional district.

The move fills a hole for Democrats in a rare Biden district where, to date, there’d been zero chatter about potential challengers. Indeed, Gillen, a former Hempstead town supervisor, had not publicly expressed interest in another campaign for this southern Nassau County district in the months since her 52-48 defeat saw this seat flip to the GOP, prompting the Long Island Herald to call her launch a “surprise.”

But Gillen had not been shy about going after the new congressman or in tying him to his far more infamous colleague right next door, Rep. George Santos: She’s repeatedly tweeted out a picture of a smiling Santos and D’Esposito each giving a thumbs up inside the Capitol and reupped that photo Tuesday after news broke of the former’s indictment. D’Esposito has repeatedly called for his fellow Nassau County Republican to resign, but Gillen has continued to remind her followers about the existence of the still-active “Santos D’Esposito Nassau Victory Committee.”

The presidential numbers, however, don’t tell the full story. Joe Biden carried the 4th District 57-42, but Democrats have struggled in Nassau in the years since that romp. In 2021, Republicans decisively flipped the district attorney’s office and scored an upset in the race for county executive after caricaturing Democrats as weak on crime, a playbook they’d take statewide the following year. The GOP got some more welcome news a few months later when Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice decided to retire after four terms; soon after, the party consolidated behind D’Esposito, a Hempstead town councilman and former New York Police Department detective.

Several Democrats showed interest in running to succeed Rice, but Gillen soon emerged as the frontrunner. The candidate had shocked the GOP establishment in the town of Hempstead, a massive suburb with a population of just under 800,000, when she narrowly unseated a Republican incumbent in 2017 by just a single point to become its first Democratic supervisor in more than a century. Gillen lost reelection in a similarly tight race two years later but remained a prominent figure in local politics, and Rice endorsed her ahead of her lopsided primary victory.

The general election was a much tougher ordeal, however. Both D’Esposito and gubernatorial nominee Lee Zeldin, who represented neighboring Suffolk County in the House, worked to portray Democrats as unconcerned about crime—attacks that seem to have stuck. Gillen, for her part, focused on abortion, but while she ran slightly ahead of Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, it wasn’t enough. Zeldin carried the 4th District 53-47, according to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, while D’Esposito pulled off a 4-point victory.

Gillen kicked off her second House campaign Wednesday by once again emphasizing abortion rights and gun safety while also declaring that the incumbent “has aligned himself” with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green.

It remains to be seen whether she’ll face any serious intraparty opposition this time, though one old critic seems fine with the idea of having her as the Democratic standard-bearer again. While Jay Jacobs, the controversial head of both the state and county parties, said last year he doubted Gillen could win a general election, he responded to her launch Wednesday by declaring she “proved herself a very hardworking candidate in the last election, and she certainly merits serious consideration for the next.”

MICHIGAN 7TH DISTRICT. Democratic state Rep. Angela Witwer says she won’t run for this open seat unless, in the words of Gongwer Michigan’s Zach Gorchow, her party “really needed a candidate.” Witwer, though, predicted this wouldn’t come to pass.

MICHIGAN 10TH DISTRICT. Democratic state Sen. Kevin Hertel tells Gongwer Michigan he won’t challenge Republican Rep. John James.  

MARYLAND 6TH DISTRICT. Republicans may have to worry about the return of yet another 2022 electoral disaster because Dan Cox, the election denier who cost his party any chance it had to hold Maryland’s governorship last year, tells Maryland Matters he’s interested in campaigning for the open 6th Congressional District. Joe Biden carried this constituency, which Democrat David Trone is now giving up to run for the Senate, 54-44, while Cox lost it to Democrat Wes Moore by a similar 53-44 margin last year.

A few other Republicans are also mulling entering the race for a seat that includes western Maryland and the northwestern D.C. exurbs. Neil Parrott, a former state senator who was the party’s nominee in 2020 and 2022, says he will “have an event in the next month where I’ll be making an announcement.” Parrott lost his last campaign to Trone 55-45 after the wealthy congressman ran ads blasting him for once proposing that HIV positive people should be denied medicine unless they got a tattoo “in a spot covered by a bathing suit” in order to warn potential sex partners about their status.

Two more Republicans who expressed interest are state House Minority Leader Jason Buckel, who informed Maryland Matters he likely won’t decide before July or August, and former state budget director David Brinkley. The article also mentions Kelly Schulz and Matthew Foldi, who respectively lost their 2022 primaries to Cox and Parrott, as possibilities, but neither responded to requests for comment. Former state Sen. Michael Hough, however, made it clear he wasn’t interested.

The only notable Democrat in the race so far is Del. Joe Vogel, but two more local politicians have now expressed interest. State Sen. Brian Feldman tells Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin he’s interested, while Krish Vignarajah, a former policy director to Michelle Obama who took 8% in the 2018 primary for governor, also said the same to Maryland Matters.

Del. Leslie Lopez is also considering, though it’s not clear when she’ll make up her mind: While she told Rubashkin Monday she’d “likely make a decision soon,” she informed Maryland Matters that same week she’d be taking her time. That story also names Del. Lily Qi as a possibility, but she hasn’t said anything publicly. In the no column, however, are former Montgomery Councilmember Craig Rice, Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman, and former Hagerstown Mayor Emily Keller.

NEW YORK 3RD DISTRICT.NY-03: George Santos pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to 13 counts of money laundering, fraud, theft, and making false statements brought by federal prosecutors in an indictment before a Long Island court. He was released on a $500,000 bond and claimed he has been cooperating with investigators while also calling the prosecution a “witch hunt.”

The charges against the freshman Republican concern three separate purported schemes. In the first, Santos allegedly encouraged donors to give to an entity that he claimed was a super PAC that would run TV ads on his behalf. The vehicle was, however, a limited-liability corporation, which transferred $50,000 in donor money to Santos’ personal bank account that he in turn spent on himself, including on “luxury designer clothing,” credit card bills, and car payments, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors also say Santos fraudulently sought and received unemployment benefits provided by the aid bill Congress passed at the start of the pandemic despite being employed at an investment firm at a salary of $120,000 a year. Finally, the indictment alleges that Santos made false statements on mandatory financial disclosure forms required of all congressional candidates, both inflating his assets by claiming he’d received millions of dollars in salary and dividends from a company he’d founded, the Devolder Organization, and failing to include other sources of income, such as the unemployment benefits he’d collected.

After his court appearance, Santos insisted he would not resign from office early or abandon his plans to seek reelection to New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which he unexpectedly wrested from Democratic control last year. According to prosecutors, Santos could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. He also remains the target of several other investigations by other law enforcement agencies.

OHIO REFERENDUMS. Ohio Republicans passed a constitutional amendment on Wednesday that would make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution in the future—but the amendment itself must go before voters for their approval before it can become law.

60% support to pass new amendments. Amendments currently need just a simple majority to pass in Ohio and all but a few other states. Republicans want to raise that threshold in order to make it easier to defeat progressive policies in this red-leaning state.

The GOP’s aim: preserve their abortion ban and gerrymanders. A top sponsor was caught telling his colleagues that the purpose of the higher threshold is to thwart voter-backed efforts to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution and to create a new independent redistricting commission.

Republicans have set an August election—when turnout will be low. Just months ago, Republicans eliminated regular August elections, but now they want a one-time election this summer for voters to weigh in on their amendment. The goal: pass the new amendment so that it can take effect before a potential November vote on abortion.

ALLEGHENY COUNTY (PA) EXECUTIVE. Both county Treasurer John Weinstein and Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb are using the last week of the Democratic primary to air ads targeting state Rep. Sara Innamorato, who posted a clear lead in the only recent poll anyone’s released. Weinstein’s commercial labels the state representative, who was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America when she won her seat in 2018, “Socialist Sara,” which is the type of messaging Republicans usually employ against Democrats.

“Voters should fear Sara Innamorato,” says Weinstein’s narrator, continuing, “Sarah is completely unqualified to be Allegheny County executive. Managing five people in her office doesn’t qualify her to oversee 7,500 county employees.” The spot then plays a clip of Innamorato saying, “My district is like, racist,” before the narrator jumps back in, “We can’t allow the failed progressive agenda that’s destroying our city to destroy our county.” Again, this spot is being aired in a Democratic primary.  

Innamorato during her 2018 uncontested general election for state representative made news when she told a podcast, “My district, which I know is like white working class, poor folk, who are racist, because it’s so much easier for them to look to their side and say, ‘I’m going to blame that person.'” She soon put out a statement reading, “This was the topic of a nearly two-hour-long conversation about race and politics on the podcast, and in no way did I seek to imply that all of my neighbors are racist. Hate begets hate, understanding begets understanding.”

Lamb, for his part, is running an ad that declares that Innamorato “didn’t pass any bills” in her four years in the legislature, though this piece may not get seen by many voters. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said Tuesday that while Weinstein booked $220,000 in TV and radio time for the final eight days of the campaign, Lamb had only $16,000 reserved. Innamorato, by contrast, had $90,000 reserved for the final sprint, while her allies at the Working Families Party were deploying $110,000. A fourth contender, attorney Dave Fawcett, had $70,000 in planned media spending.

NEW YORK 17TH DISTRICT. New York Democrats landed their first prominent candidate to retake a competitive Hudson Valley House seat on Tuesday when local school board member Liz Gereghty, who is the sister of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, announced she would challenge freshman Republican Rep. Mike Lawler in the 17th Congressional District.

Gereghty likely won’t have the 2024 primary to herself: Politico reported last month that former Rep. Mondaire Jones is getting ready to launch a comeback bid sometime in the third quarter of the year. The Democrat who lost to Lawler last year, former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, also hasn’t publicly dismissed the idea, though he seemed unlikely to seek a rematch even before Axios reported last week that Joe Biden intends to nominate him to become ambassador to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Biden carried the current version of this court-drawn constituency 54-44 in 2020, but Democrats learned the hard way last year that this is anything but solidly blue turf. Maloney, who was Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair at the time, infuriated Jones and many local party members when he decided to run here rather than defend the 18th District, a slightly more competitive seat that included the bulk of his current constituents.

Jones decided to avoid a primary by campaigning well to the south in the Brooklyn-based 10th District, but he ended up taking third in the primary to now-Rep. Dan Goldman. Things worked out poorly for Maloney, too, as Lawler edged him out 50.3-49.7 at the same time that Republican Lee Zeldin was beating Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul 52-48 in the 17th, according to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux. (Ironically, Democrat Pat Ryan held the 18th District that Maloney left behind.)

Gereghty, who has lived in the Hudson Valley for over 20 years, kicked off her campaign with a video in which she touts her service on the board of the Katonah-Lewisboro School District, saying, “I’ve seen firsthand how our divisions get in the way of getting things done to the detriment of our children.” The candidate casts herself as a problem-solver going up against an incumbent who aides the GOP leaders “threatening our core rights, our safety, and our economic future.” Gereghty does not mention her sibling, but if Whitmer deploys her status as a celebrity among plugged-in Democrats and her access to a nationwide donor network on her sister’s behalf, it could prove to be a considerable boon.

SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR. San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safaí on Monday became the first major candidate to announce a bid against Mayor London Breed, a former ally he’s fallen out with, in the November 2024 instant runoff election. The contest was originally set to take place this fall, but voters in 2022 overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure to permanently move the mayoral race from odd-numbered to presidential cycle years too bost turnout―a victory that came despite Breed’s insistence that “a group of democratic socialists” were seeking to “have more control and power of being able to get more of their people elected.”

Safaí and Breed, though, have each long been identified as moderates in a dark blue city where the main political conflict usually pits their faction against progressives. Indeed, Safaí’s 2016 win restored moderates to the majority on San Francisco’s legislative body, though he insisted at the time he didn’t identify with either camp. He launched his campaign for the top job this week by telling the San Francisco Chronicle, “People are very dissatisfied with the current mayor, dissatisfied with the condition of the city and they’re looking for change.”

“I’m going to kick their ass no doubt, but it’s going to cost me time, money, energy, effort. Instead of fending off against the Democrats here, I have to go drown crazy Republicans.”— Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX), quoted by the Texas Tribune, on fending off primary challengers.

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

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