The Political Report – May 16, 2023

Kentucky Republicans will choose their gubernatorial nominee in Tuesday’s primary, with Trump Administration UN Ambassador Kelly Craft and state Attorney General Daniel Cameron in a tight race and state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles also in contention. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear faces token opposition.

Also on Tuesday, Pennsylvania primary voters will choose candidates for the state’s appellate courts, and Philadelphians will choose mayoral nominees.

The final Emerson College Polling/Fox 56 Lexington survey of Kentucky Republican primary voters finds Attorney General Daniel Cameron with 33% support, followed by former UN Ambassador Kelly Craft with 18%.

Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles trails with 13%, and Eric Deters holds 10%.

Donald Trump canceled an outdoor rally planned for Saturday evening in Des Moines, citing possible severe weather, the Des Moines Register reports.

“The scheduled appearance had drawn additional attention because it was scheduled the same day as likely presidential contender Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was in the state for events in Sioux Center and Cedar Rapids.”

Politico: “Trump fans began lining up hours before the scheduled outdoor rally in Des Moines. They continued waiting for Trump behind metal barriers even as the skies opened.”

“The scene was a reminder of the lengths to which Trump’s loyal base will go to support and defend him, and that DeSantis has a tough road ahead convincing a sizable chunk of the Republican electorate to move on.”

Decrying a Republican “culture of losing,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) sought Saturday to weaken Donald Trump’s grip on the GOP as tornado warnings interrupted a collision of leading presidential prospects in battleground Iowa, the AP reports.

Said DeSantis: “Governing is not about entertaining. Governing is not about building a brand or talking on social media and virtue signaling. It’s ultimately about winning and producing results.”

Politico: “The Florida governor — who caught a break in Iowa over the weekend when severe weather kept Trump away from counter-programming his trip to the state — is seeking to persuade Republicans he’s their only hope of defeating President Joe Biden. But implicit in DeSantis’ argument that he is a more electable alternative to Trump is the idea that Trump actually lost.”

“The fundamental problem for DeSantis — underscored even by blunter messaging from the super PAC supporting him — is that he can’t bring himself to say it.”

“One of the biggest immediate consequences if Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket in 2024: Republicans may campaign aggressively in fewer Senate battleground races,” Axios reports.

“If Trump’s endorsements of weak candidates hurt GOP prospects in 2022, it’s the prospect that Trump will lead the GOP presidential ticket that could jeopardize purple-state opportunities in 2024.”

“Democratic-held Senate seats in Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada would typically be toss-ups with a less Trumpified GOP, with Maine, Virginia and New Mexico representing second-tier opportunities.”

“But McConnell only mentioned Wisconsin and Nevada as other races he’s keeping an eye on.”

MONTGOMERY COUNTY (PA) COMMISSIONERS. Five Democrats and three Republicans are competing Tuesday in a pair of competitive party primaries for the three-member Board of Commissioners for Montgomery County, a populous community in suburban Philadelphia. All three Commission seats are elected countywide, but each party may only nominate two candidates: There’s little question, though, that the two Democrats who take the most votes this spring will go on to win seats on the Commission for what’s become a heavily blue community.

Appointed Democratic Commissioner Jamila Winder, who is the first Black woman to serve on the body, has formed a ticket with Whitpain Township Supervisor Kimberly Koch and urged voters to select both of them. (The other Democratic incumbent, Ken Lawrence, is retiring.) Winder and Koch, whose joint win would make them the first team of women to run the county, each has endorsements from the local Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, and prominent local party donors.

Only Winder has the backing of the county Democratic Party, though, and the Philadelphia Inquirer says that critics argue that, by forming this alliance with Koch, she “undermine[d] the party’s decision not to endorse for the second seat.” That move came in February when the party leadership originally planned to support both Winder and state Rep. Tim Briggs only for party delegates to vote to issue no endorsement for anyone but Winder following a contentious convention. Briggs ultimately decided to stay out of the race, though the whole matter remains a source of intra-party contention.

The candidate with the most money by far is attorney Neil Makhija, whose backers helped stop that Briggs endorsement from happening and whose $840,000 haul through May 1 was more than what his four opponents took in combined. Makhija, who has endorsements from Sen. John Fetterman and former Gov. Ed Rendell, would be Pennsylvania’s first Asian American county commissioner.

Makhija’s detractors have highlighted how Makhija only relocated from Philadelphia a few years ago, a decision the move says he and his wife made when they decided “this is where we’re going to raise our family.” The other two Democratic contenders are Montgomery Township Supervisor Tanya Bamford and Prothonotary Noah Marlier, a countywide elected official who is in charge of administering civil court documents.

Incumbent Joe Gale, who is the only Republican member of the Commission, is also running again, but his party rebuked him in March by endorsing the other two GOP candidates, former school board member Tom DiBello and Upper Dublin Township Commissioner Liz Ferry.

Gale, who took all of 2% in last year’s primary for governor, said he was “banned from attending” the gathering where the party made its decision. He argued he was being punished because the leadership doesn’t want him to “share my opinion that endorsements do little more than serve the selfish interests of party bosses who desire to control handpicked candidates and influence the outcome of primary elections.”

WASHINGTON GOVERNOR. Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson transferred $1.2 million in leftover cash from his old campaign to his exploratory committee for governor ahead of a Thursday vote by the state’s Public Disclosure Commission to put in place new guidance for these sorts of “surplus” funds. State law bars individuals from contributing more than $2,400 to a candidate per election, and the PDC determined that any donations moved from a surplus fund to a new campaign count toward that limit.

While the Seattle Times notes that the PDC’s “guidance doesn’t have the force of law,” Ferguson, who has an additional $1.6 million in his surplus account, said he “look[s] forward to following the new rules going forward.” It remains to be seen, though, if the decision applies to the transfers the attorney general made before Thursday: Ferguson’s campaign said it doesn’t, but the PDC said it would decide later if this is the case. What is clear is that he starts out with a fundraising head start over the only notable declared contender. Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz had only $27,000 in her own surplus fund when the Democrat joined the top-two primary on Wednesday.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. Former state Rep. Leslie Love said Thursday she would seek the Democratic nomination for Senate, a move that came as she resigned as a state natural resources commissioner. Love, who would be Michigan’s first Black senator, begins as the primary underdog against Rep. Elissa Slotkin, and she also acknowledged last month that unnamed African American leaders were looking to recruit actor Hill Harper rather than her.

“Not to take anything away from him, but he has never lived in Michigan and has no experience at all in politics or government,” Love told the Toledo Blade of Harper, who reportedly planned to announce a bid in April but still hasn’t. State Board of Education President Pamela Pugh, who is also Black, has expressed interest in running as well.

MISSOURI REFERENDUMS. Missouri Republicans unexpectedly failed to pass an amendent aimed at thwarting citizen-backed initiatives to roll back the state’s near-total ban on abortion ahead of a Friday deadline to conclude legislative business for the year. However, the GOP proposal, which would have made future amendments harder to enact by raising the required level of voter support from the current simple majority to a 57% supermajority, could still be revived next year.

While the House had approved the amendment, the Senate crumpled into paralysis after a handful of far-right renegades held up legislative business in order to promote their own pet issues. Republicans have long held supermajorities in both chambers, but internal party divisions have often run deep: A similar split last year nearly threw the once-a-decade redistricting process to the courts despite the GOP’s hammerlock on state government.

This time, the final day of the legislative session saw action grind to a halt thanks to a late afternoon filibuster by Republican Sen. Bill Eigel, who accused his colleagues of having failed, like Anakin Skywalker when he turned to the Dark Side, their “Darth Vader moment” by refusing to take up his bill to cut property taxes. (“You’ve seen the movie, right? Episode III.”) Noting that Eigel is preparing a bid for higher office next year, one frustrated fellow Republican retorted, “We’re not all running for governor, so we are trying to do things in an orderly fashion.”

The Senate ultimately didn’t to do anything at all in any fashion, orderly or otherwise, in its waning hours, causing multiple Republican priorities to wither, including bills to legalize sports betting and limit foreign ownership of agricultural land. But the collapse of the amendment to increase the threshold to pass initiatives was the most significant immediate outcome.

Had it been adopted, the amendment would have gone to voters for their approval, with only majority support needed for it to pass. The legislation defining the proposal would also have given Republican Gov. Mike Parson the power to hold a special election on the amendment at any point, which would have allowed him the opportunity to pick a date when turnout would likely have favored the GOP (such as the state’s presidential primary in March). In such a scenario, had voters greenlit the amendment, the new supermajority requirement would have come into effect before an abortion rights amendment could appear on the ballot.

A new group called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom is currently attempting to qualify 11 different initiatives that would, in varying ways, amend the constitution to restore access to abortion. It appears that organizers intend to settle on a single version at some point in the future, which would then go before voters in November of next year if backers can obtain the required 172,000 signatures. Because of the failure of the GOP’s amendment, any abortion amendment would—for the moment—need just a simple majority to pass.

But the Republican plan is not dead yet, and party leaders aren’t concealing their intentions. Chastising the upper chamber for its inaction on Friday, House Speaker Dean Plocher had a warning for his colleagues. “I think the Senate should be held accountable for allowing abortion to return to Missouri,” he said, should the Republican amendment fail to pass. Minority Leader Crystal Quade responded that Plocher had said “the quiet part out loud.”

With the abortion initiatives still very much alive and the GOP no less eager to derail them, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Republicans are “all but certain to take another shot next year” when the legislature convenes again in January. “The fact that we didn’t pass it this year puts more pressure on us next year, no doubt,” said Caleb Rowden, the president pro tem of the Senate. But given the longstanding fissures within Republican ranks, they may have no greater success next time.

P.S. Why 57%? Republicans offered no clear explanation as to why they chose such an unusual figure. The state constitution specifies that certain bond measures require fourth-sevenths support, or just over 57.14%, so there’s some precedent in state law for a number in this realm, but Rowden would only say, “[T]hat’s just the number we settled on.”

“Maine’s secretary of state has formally warned a national organization that is trying to form a new political party in all 50 states against mischaracterizing its intentions to prospective voters,” the Portland Press Herald reports.

“Shenna Bellows sent a cease-and-desist letter Thursday to Nicholas Connors, director of ballot access for the group No Labels, expressing concerns that their efforts have confused voters who think they are merely signing a petition but are enrolling in a new party.”

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told Fox News that No Labels will launch a nominating committee soon to begin putting together possibilities for a centrist presidential ticket.

Said Lieberman: “If we get to the point that we’re going to start considering candidates before we decide whether to run a ticket next year, we have to be ready. We’re going to look inside the box of people who have been in elective office, but also outside the box at people that have not.”

Politico: “The polling industry whiffed every year Trump has been on the ballot. In 2016, Trump upset Hillary Clinton to win the presidency. And after spending four years trying to fix what went wrong, the polls were even worse in 2020. Trump ran far more competitively with now-President Joe Biden than the preelection surveys suggested.”

“Pollsters are breathing a sigh of relief after largely nailing last year’s midterm elections. But presidential years have been a different story in the Trump era.”

“And now, with Trump expanding his lead over his GOP primary rivals, pollsters are fretting about a bloc of the electorate that has made his support nearly impossible to measure accurately.”

Amy Walter: “A race between two well-defined candidates like Trump and Biden, in a country as politically polarized as this, will be very, very close. Even so, given the antipathy among the public for a Trump v. Biden contest, I’m still not convinced that we’ll see a rematch between these two men in 2024.”

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

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