The Political Report – May 21, 2023

A new Landmark Communications poll of likely Republican voters in Georgia finds Donald Trump atop the Republican presidential field with 40%, followed by Ron DeSantis at 32% and Brian Kemp at 7%.

A new Morning Consult poll finds Donald Trump crushing Ron DeSantis among Republican voters nationally, 61% to 18%.

NEVADA U.S. SENATOR. The Nevada Independent, citing an unnamed consultant close to Army veteran Sam Brown, reports that NRSC chair Steve Daines is trying to recruit him to take on Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen next year. The only notable announced contender is 2022 secretary of state nominee Jim Marchant, an election conspiracy theorist the GOP establishment very much does not want as its standard bearer.

Brown, whose great uncle is Cincinnati Bengals’ owner Mike Brown, last year ran an unexpectedly strong campaign for Nevada’s other Senate seat, though he ultimately lost the primary to Adam Laxalt 56-34. The defeated candidate soon showed interest in running against Rosen, though he’s yet to publicly commit to a bid.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. While actor Hill Harper did not announce a bid for the Democratic nod in April as an unnamed source predicted, his political advisor tells the Detroit News that Harper remains interested in running. Harper’s team didn’t say when he planned to make up his mind, though the paper writes he’s “widely expected to announce this spring or summer.”

On the GOP side, Rep. Bill Huizenga tells The Dispatch he’s “hoping to have a decision probably this quarter,” though he noted the state presents a “tough environment” for his party.

Michigan Board of Education President Pamela Pugh has filed FEC paperwork for a bid for the Democratic Senate nod. Pugh would be in for a challenging primary battle against Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA analyst and Department of Defense official who earned an endorsement this week from VoteVets.

MARYLAND U.S. SENATOR. Telecom executive Juan Dominguez has formed an exploratory committee for a potential run for the Democratic nomination, and he tells Maryland Matters he’ll decide in the late summer. The story notes that Dominguez, whose prior experience in elected office was on a municipal council in New Jersey in the 1990s, has also donated to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans. Dominguez himself says he’d bring a “business approach” and “a bipartisan approach” to office.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. “The battle lines are drawn in what could be the hardest-fought election of 2023: Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear will run for a second term against Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron,” NBC News reports.

“Cameron started the GOP primary as the front-runner, but before he won the nomination Tuesday, he had to manage a challenge from opponents including Kelly Craft, the former ambassador to the United Nations, who sank millions of her own dollars into an unsuccessful bid. Now Republicans turn to the general election, where they face a new fight: dethroning the popular Beshear, no easy task even with the state’s rightward lean.”

After Daniel Cameron (R) won the Republican nomination to challenge Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D), the Cook Political Report rates the race as Lean Democrat.

Cameron prevailed in Tuesday’s nasty and expensive Republican primary for governor by defeating Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles 48-22, with self-funder Kelly Craft taking just 17%. Cameron will now try to unseat incumbent Andy Beshear, who is the only Democrat left holding statewide office, in what will be a closely watched general election showdown in November.

Beshear has posted strong approval numbers throughout his tenure, and he’ll once again need to win extensive crossover support in a state Donald Trump carried in a 62-36 landslide. The only poll we’ve seen testing a general election battle between the governor and Cameron came in January when Mason-Dixon showed Beshear ahead 49-40 as other Republicans performed even worse. And because the Democrat didn’t have to worry about winning renomination, he was able to stockpile a hefty $6.1 million war chest through mid-May that he can use to defend himself this fall.

Cameron, by contrast, had to get through a financially draining intra-party battle against Craft that leaves him without much starting cash. The former ambassador to the United Nations, with the help of a super PAC funded by her husband, spent the past two months airing ads labeling Cameron a “soft establishment teddy bear” and portraying him as hostile to the state’s coal industry. Craft also launched commercials trying to link Cameron to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who also happens to be Black.

But the attorney general and his allies pushed back by highlighting Trump’s endorsement of his campaign and portraying his opponent as an “ultra-rich” liar. Quarles tried to pitch himself as an alternative for the voters who had soured on Cameron and Craft, but this was only enough to earn him a distant second place.

While Cameron was focused on fending off Craft, whose side spent more than twice as much money for TV and radio ads, the GOP began previewing its attacks on Beshear. The attorney general used his primary ads to insist the Democrat had “ignored the Constitution and shut churches down,” though of course he didn’t mention that these shutdowns were part of the public health measures Beshear took early in the pandemic. The Republican Governor’s Association last month also demonstrated it would weaponize transphobia with its own spot targeting Beshear for vetoing a bill that bans gender-affirming care for young trans people, something the GOP-dominated legislature quickly overrode.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is launching his first TV ad campaign on Monday, and the GOP firm Medium Buying says the incumbent is putting at least $454,000 behind it. The commercial does not mention Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who won Tuesday’s GOP primary, and instead focuses on a first term where Beshear acknowledges, “We’ve been through a lot these past four years, and some days have been tougher than others.”

The governor, who is seated in a church, continues by touting his record bringing jobs to Kentucky, establishing clean drinking water “to folks who’ve been overlooked and underserved,” and working on disaster recovery. “My granddad and great-granddad were preachers in this church,” he says before informing the audience, “It was flattened by the tornadoes. But when Kentuckians get knocked down, we get right back up again and we rebuild stronger and better than before.”

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. “Top officials in the Arizona Democratic Party are growing increasingly bothered that national party leaders – from President Joe Biden to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee – have not detailed how they plan to handle Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s potential reelection bid in 2024,” The Messenger reports.

“It’s a complicated situation for national Democrats. While Arizona figures are eager to prop up the party’s eventual Senate nominee and were hurt by Sinema’s party switch, national leaders know they still need to play nice with an unpredictable figure who maintains a powerful vote in the Senate.”

NORTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT. Longtime jurist Mike Morgan, one of the last two Democratic justices on North Carolina’s Supreme Court, announced on Thursday that he would not seek reelection when his current eight-year term is up next year. His decision leaves open a critical seat that Democrats must defend as part of a long-term plan that represents their only realistic path toward rolling back the GOP’s iron grip on state politics.

Morgan’s 54-46 victory over Republican incumbent Robert Edmunds in 2016 gave Democrats control of the court for the first time since the late 1990s, putting it in a position to finally impose some curbs on GOP lawmakers. Those same lawmakers, however, reacted to Morgan’s win by transforming what had previously been nonpartisan elections into partisan contests, meaning that Supreme Court candidates would be identified by their party labels on the ballot.

But that change failed to achieve the outcome Republicans wanted as Democrat Anita Earls flipped a second GOP seat in 2018. And thanks to the resignation of the Republican chief justice the following year, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was able to appoint a replacement, extending Democrats’ majority to 6-1. Under Democratic leadership, the court handed down rulings in many areas that clamped down on Republican power-grabs and efforts to undermine democracy, including a critical decision just last year holding that partisan gerrymandering violated the state constitution.

That era did not last long. Republicans narrowly won two Democratic seats in 2020, including one by just 401 votes, then won two more last year by margins of 4-5 points. That string of victories returned the GOP to the majority and left Morgan and Earls as the only Democrats and only Black justices on the court. It also immediately ushered in a series of decisions that saw the Republican justices overturn multiple rulings in favor of voting rights by the previous Democratic majority, including the case outlawing gerrymandering.

As a result, Republican legislators will once again be able to draw maps that favor them in the extreme, allowing them to lock in supermajorities despite North Carolina’s perennial swing-state status. And the road back to fair maps is a narrow one. North Carolina doesn’t allow its citizens to pass laws or amend their constitution through ballot initiatives, and the governor lacks the power to veto redistricting plans. With federal courts closing their doors to partisan gerrymandering challenges thanks to the far-right majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, the only option is for Democrats to focus all their energies on winning back the state Supreme Court.

The road, however, is a long one. It starts with defending Morgan’s seat in 2024, though if Democrats are successful, his decision not to run again would come with a silver lining: Morgan would have faced mandatory retirement at the age of 72 in 2027, less than halfway through a second term. A younger justice, by contrast, would be able to serve the full eight years.

They’ll then have to ensure Earls wins reelection in 2026 (she would not hit the mandatory retirement age until 2032). After that, they’d have to win two of the three Republican seats that will be up in 2028 for a 4-3 majority. It’s also critical that they elect Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein to succeed Cooper next year, since he’d be able to fill any vacancies that arise, including when Republican Chief Justice Paul Newby turns 72 in 2027. A Stein victory would also prevent Republicans from adding two seats to the court that a GOP governor could fill, a plan Republicans have been contemplating for some time.

Republicans also have more immediate designs on changing the rules to benefit themselves. A Republican bill would raise the retirement age to 76, which would allow Newby to complete his term, which otherwise would conclude at the end of 2028, and even run for reelection that year. That would also prevent Stein, should he prevail, from naming a Democrat to Newby’s seat in 2027. This retirement provision is included in the GOP’s recently unveiled budget, suggesting it’s likely to pass before the legislature adjourns this summer.

Yet while 2028 might seem far away, it’s still within reach. North Carolina Democrats had to wait 18 years, from 1998 to 2016, to regain a court majority, while progressives in Wisconsin, another similarly swingy state, at last reclaimed control of their own high court earlier this year after a 15-year drought. The horizon this time is five years off. And given the new 12-week abortion ban Republicans just passed over Cooper’s veto, Democrats will be able to highlight GOP extremism on the issue, an approach that proved very effective in Wisconsin. The path is not easy, but it is navigable, and it’s the one Democrats must take.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. Republican Stephen Waguespack has launched what his team says is an opening “six-figure ad buy” for the October all-party primary less than two weeks after his super PAC allies began a $1.75 million campaign to get the first-time candidate’s name out. Waguespack, who is a former head of the state’s Chamber of Commerce affiliate, introduces himself as “Wags” before bemoaning the state’s economic, education, and public safety struggles.

TEXAS 34TH DISTRICT. Pastor Luis Cabrera tells the Texas Tribune he’s getting ready to challenge Democratic incumbent Vicente Gonzalez in the event that his fellow Republican, former Rep. Mayra Flores, doesn’t run. Cabrera added that he’d support Flores should she seek to avenge her 53-44 defeat in last year’s incumbent vs. incumbent battle.

TEXAS 15TH DISTRICT. Businesswoman Michelle Vallejo announced Tuesday she’d be seeking a rematch against freshman Republican Rep. Monica de la Cruz, a move that makes her the first notable Democrat to launch a campaign for this 51-48 Trump seat in the Rio Grande Valley. De la Cruz won this constituency 53-45 after a contest where the two biggest GOP House outside groups deployed $2.3 million while their Democratic counterparts spent almost nothing.

CALIFORNIA 41ST DISTRICT. Former federal prosecutor Will Rollins announced Tuesday that he would seek a rematch against Republican Rep. Ken Calvert in a California House seat that Donald Trump only narrowly carried, a kickoff that comes months after Rollins held the 16-term incumbent to a surprisingly tight 52-48 victory. Rollins launched his second bid with endorsements from Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and all three major Democratic Senate contenders—Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff—as well as former Sen. Barbara Boxer, who lives in the district.

Rollins isn’t the only Democrat competing in next year’s top-two primary for the 41st Congressional District, which is entirely situated in Riverside County east of Los Angeles, but he looks like the early frontrunner. Lake Elsinore City Councilman Tim Sheridan, who badly lost to Calvert in 2014 and 2016 in the old and reliably red 42nd District, began a third campaign in late March, but he didn’t report raising any money before the quarter ended 12 days later. San Jacinto City Councilman Brian Hawkins, who ran as a “pro-life” Republican last year against Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz in the neighboring 25th District, also recently announced he’d switched parties to run in the 41st.

Calvert was first elected to Congress in 1992 by narrowly beating Democrat Mark Takano, who years later would become his colleague by flipping another Riverside County seat in 2012, and his only other close call over the ensuing decades came during the 2008 blue wave. But things got dicier for Calvert last cycle when his suburban Riverside seat became significantly bluer in redistricting thanks to the addition of the gay mecca of Palm Springs: While Donald Trump won the old version 53-45, he carried the new iteration by just a 50-49 spread.

Rollins spent the 2022 campaign arguing that Calvert’s longtime opposition to LGBTQ rights and allegiance to Trump made him an unacceptable representative, and he raised a hefty $3.7 million to make his case. Neither national party, however, prioritized the contest at a time when California Democrats were largely on the defensive, and none of the four largest House independent expenditure groups directed resources here. It was therefore a surprise to just about everyone that it took almost a week to learn that Calvert had secured his 16th term.

Rollins, who attended freshman orientation during the days when the verdict was in doubt, came close despite the fact that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom was losing the district 55-45 to Republican Brian Dahle, and he’s betting the political climate will be different this time. “The first and foremost urgent threat that I see in this coming election is again to democracy and the rule of law,” Rollins said as he launched his renewed effort. “If Trump is the nominee, and we’ve got a House of Representatives that is unwilling to certify the results of a democratic election, everything America stands for collapses.”

Rollins has rolled out endorsements from 30 of California’s 40 Democratic House members as he seeks a rematch against Republican Rep. Ken Calvert.

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

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