The Political Report – June 18, 2023

Politico: “One might be forgiven for expecting the past three-and-a-half weeks to have produced a healthy shakeup of the race for the GOP presidential nomination. Former President Donald Trump’s leading contender entered the race, as did a former vice president and the only senator running. Oh, and Trump himself was indicted for allegedly jeopardizing the government’s most closely held secrets.”

“And yet, the polls have barely moved.”

“Trump remains well ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — both nationally and in the states that will vote earliest in the nominating process — according to independent polling. The other candidates remain far behind those two.”

CALIFORNIA 45TH DISTRICT. Immigration attorney Jimmy Pham, who describes himself as a “moderate liberal,” this week became the latest Democrat to enter the top-two primary to face GOP Rep. Michelle Steel. Pham, who is a member of Westminster’s traffic commission, ran for the city council last year and lost 44-33.

VIRGINIA. Criminal justice reformers in Virginia scored key victories in 2019, but three of those freshman prosecutors in populous Northern Virginia communities now face challenges in the June 20 Democratic primaries: Fairfax County’s Steve Descano, Arlington County’s Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, and Loudoun County’s Buta Biberaj.

This trio of races are in fact the party’s only contested primaries for prosecutor anywhere in the state, and the dynamics are similar in each of them. As DCist recently reported, the challengers are all framing their criticisms as complaints about how the incumbents are running their offices while downplaying ideological differences—framing that those same incumbents have rejected.

All of these battles are taking place on blue turf: Each jurisdiction gave Joe Biden over 60% of the vote in 2020 and decisively backed Democrat Terry McAuliffe in his unsuccessful campaign for governor the following year. Whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee in each race should be the favorite in November, but the stakes are still high.

We’ll start with Descano, who is state’s attorney for both Fairfax County―which is by far the most populous locality in the state―as well as the separate and considerably smaller City of Fairfax. His intra-party foe is defense attorney Ed Nuttall, who has made a name for himself representing officers in police shooting cases. “There’s a morale problem in the police department now due to the conflict between the commonwealth’s attorney’s office and the police department,” said Nuttall, who has also faulted the office’s performance in several recent cases.

Descano, who stopped asking for cash bail in his first year in office, has pushed back on these complaints by declaring, “It takes more than one term to undo decades of bad policy, decades of injustice.” He’s also argued that Nuttall, whom he’s dubbed “a Republican wolf in Democrat’s clothing” is too close to police unions and would reverse the four years he’s spent “building a system of equality, justice and fairness.” When the Associated Press asked Nuttall if he considered himself a reformer, he responded, “Sure, why not?”

Descano has outraised Nutalle $490,000 to $220,000 through June 8, but his opponent is getting some high-profile support. Nuttall has formed an alliance with Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and state Sen. Chap Petersen, and all three candidates are encouraging voters to back the trio as an unofficial ticket next week. Both Kincaid and Petersen enjoy huge financial edges over their own respective primary opponents, Kelvin Garcia and Saddam Azlan Salim, and the senator appears to be making use of his war chest to benefit the whole slate. Ken Reid, who is the only Republican running for Petersen’s seat, recently complained that his would-be foe has been running ads on Fox News that appear to be aimed at getting conservatives to participate in the Democratic primary.

Dehghani-Tafti, who is commonwealth’s attorney for both Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, faces a challenge of her own from a former subordinate, Josh Katcher. Katcher has accused the incumbent of prosecuting fewer felonies as crime rises, while Dehghani-Tafti has countered by saying he’s employing “scare tactics” in what remains “a low crime community.” Dehghani-Tafti, who has also refused to ask for cash bail, has outraised her opponent $550,000 to $340,000 through last week.

Finally, in Loudoun County, Biberaj is trying to fend off former public defender Elizabeth Lancaster, who has deployed similar arguments as those leveraged by Nuttall and Katcher. Unlike her counterparts, though, Lancaster has struggled to wage an organized campaign. She raised less than $5,000 through late March, though the public only learned of her diminutive haul after she filed her financial reports a month-and-a-half late, and she also missed Monday’s deadline to submit updated reports. However, a conservative group called Mission America PAC has deployed $50,000 to aid her campaign. Biberaj, for her part, has taken in $560,000.

ILLINOIS 17TH DISTRICT. Former state Rep. Dan Brady revealed Tuesday that he was considering seeking the GOP nod to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Eric Sorensen, though he also said he was interested in returning to the legislature. Brady, who said he’d be considering “[o]ver the next few weeks,” served two decades in the state House before running for secretary of state last year, but that campaign ended in a 54-44 defeat to Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.

The only Republican who has launched a bid against Sorensen so far is businessman Ray Estrada, who responded to Brady’s interest by declaring, “I’m not running to be someone or cling to power like many tired, old politicians.” Sorensen won this constituency in the north-central part of the state 52-48 two years after it favored Joe Biden 53-45.

MISSISSIPPI LT. GOVERNOR. Siena College, polling on behalf of Mississippi Today, shows Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann leading far-right state Sen. Chris McDaniel 47-32 in the Aug. 8 Republican primary, which is just below the majority needed to avert a runoff three weeks later; another 21% are undecided, while support for two minor candidates rounds out to 0%. This is the first survey we’ve seen of the contest for one of the most powerful offices in the state.

McDaniel, who is a longtime ally of neo-Confederate groups, attracted national conservative support in 2014 for his almost-successful bid to topple the late Sen. Thad Cochran, but he’s struggling to bring in cash for his newest bid. New campaign finance reports show that Hosemann outraised McDaniel $960,000 to $110,000 in May, though the lieutenant governor’s team says that McDaniel’s haul includes $10,000 that he’d previously disclosed. The incumbent also posted a massive $3.7 million to $390,000 cash on hand advantage.

RHODE ISLAND 1ST DISTRICT. Katherine Gregg of the Providence Journal asked state House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi if there was anything behind rumors that he’s had a change of heart and has decided to enter the special September Democratic primary “as early as next week,” and he very much refused to shoot down the idea.

Shekarchi, who said in March that he wouldn’t run, first offered responses like, “I enjoy being in the House, all the same reasons [that] existed when I made my decision before, nothing has really changed.” Gregg, though, recognized that this was not a no and kept asking if he’d ruled out a campaign, and the speaker finally answered, “I never like to rule anything out. You know how I am.” Potential candidates have until June 30 to file.

Former state official Nick Autiello has launched the very first TV ad of the Sept. 5 special Democratic primary, and WPRI says he’s spending less than $20,000 for a week-long buy. The spot features Autiello declaring, “It’s time we ban assault weapons, make healthcare affordable, and deliver for Rhode Island.”

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos has released the first poll we’ve seen of the packed Sept. 5 special Democratic primary, and her internal from Expedition Strategies gives her a 22-9 edge over former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg. A hefty 43% plurality remain undecided with almost three months to go before the contest.

HOUSTON MAYOR. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee on Thursday publicized a high-profile endorsement from her fellow Democrat, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, ahead of the Nov. 7 nonpartisan primary for mayor. Hidalgo leads a county that includes about 98% of Houston (in Texas, county judges are the top executive offices rather than judicial posts), with the rest split between Ford Bend and Montgomery counties.

Jackson Lee’s main foe in the race to succeed termed-out incumbent Sylvester Turner appears to be another Democrat, state Sen. John Whitmire. The field also includes City Councilman Robert Gallegos; bond investor Gilbert Garcia; attorney Lee Kaplan; and former City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who lost the 2020 Democratic primary for Senate. Attorney Tony Buzbee, a self-funding independent who lost the 2019 runoff to Turner 56-44, also showed interest in another campaign in April, but he’s since signed on to represent Attorney General Ken Paxton at the Republican’s upcoming impeachment trial. The candidate filing deadline isn’t until Aug. 21, and it’s not clear if Paxton’s trial before the state Senate will have started by then.

MAINE STATE HOUSE. Tuesday brought us a special election in Maine for a Democratic-held state House seat that Donald Trump carried in 2020. Democrat Clinton Collamore, who was charged with forging signatures in order to qualify for the state’s public financing system, resigned in February after pleading not guilty, and two former state representatives are competing to replace him. Trump, according to data from Dave’s Redistricting App, scored a 52-45 victory in the 45th District, which includes portions of Knox and Lincoln counties.

Republican Abden Simmons flipped Maine House District 45 in Tuesday’s special election by defeating Democrat Wendy Pieh 52-48. The Bangor Daily News writes that Simmons’ victory gives his party its first win in a competitive special election since 2015. Democrats maintain an 82-68 advantage in the 151-person chamber, and the paper says that “liberal-leaning independents” hold the other two seats.

UTAH 2ND DISTRICT. Candidate filing closed Wednesday for the special election to succeed outgoing Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, who will “irrevocably resign” effective the evening of Sept. 15, in a gerrymandered seat that Donald Trump carried 57-40, and the state has a list of contenders here. The party primaries will take place Sept. 5―a full 10 days before Stewart is to leave office―and the general election for Nov. 21, dates the legislature also approved in a special session Wednesday.

Contenders have two routes to make the ballot for their respective party primary. The first option is to turn in 7,000 valid signatures by July 5, while the other alternative is to win their party’s convention: The GOP’s convention is set for June 24, while Democrats will gather four days later.

Thirteen Republicans filed overall, and since eight are only going with the convention option, the field will be significantly smaller soon. That’s because, under the state’s special election law, only one person can advance out of the event instead of the maximum of two that are normally allowed. The Republicans who are only going with the convention option are:

  • State party activist Kathleen Anderson
  • Businessman Quin Denning
  • Academic Henry Eyring
  • State party official Jordan Hess
  • Leeds Mayor Bill Hoster
  • former state House Speaker Greg Hughes
  • Perennial candidate Ty Jensen
  • Stewart legal counsel Celeste Maloy
  • The remaining five are trying both routes:
  • former state Rep. Becky Edwards
  • Navy veteran Scott Hatfield
  • RNC member Bruce Hough
  • Some Dude Remy Bubba Kush
  • former congressional staffer Scott Reber

While candidates have the option to bypass the convention entirely and just collect signatures, none will this time. (Edwards originally checked off the box on her filing form saying she’d do this, but she later crossed it out and went with convention and signatures.) The petition process can cause headaches even for well-funded candidates, though, so some of these people may struggle to continue their campaigns if they lose the convention.

Three Democrats are also in, and all three are just competing at their convention: state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, businessman Guy Warner, and perennial candidate Archie Williams. Another six nonaligned contenders are running but, despite some early chatter, 2022 Senate candidate Evan McMullin is not one of them.

TEXAS 32ND DISTRICT. State Rep. Julie Johnson has filed with the FEC for a potential campaign to succeed her fellow Democrat, Senate candidate Colin Allred.

MARYLAND 6TH DISTRICT. An adviser for Hagerstown Mayor Tekesha Martinez told Jewish Insider last month that she’s considering joining the Democratic primary and would decide in “a few months.” Martinez, who was elected to the city council in 2020, became this northwestern Maryland community’s first Black mayor in February after her colleagues appointed her to fill the vacant post. (Hat-tip Primary School.)

MICHIGAN 7TH DISTRICT. While 2022 GOP nominee Tom Barrett has yet to announce his long-anticipated new campaign, party strategists tell Inside Elections’ Erin Covey they believe he will this summer. No other serious Republicans have shown any obvious interest in running for the swing seat that Barrett’s last Democratic foe, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, is giving up to run for the Senate; one person mentioned former state House Speaker Tom Leonard as a possible option in the event that Barrett shocks everyone and stays out.

No notable Democrats are running yet either, but Covey says the party has “largely consolidated behind” former state Sen. Curtis Hertel. The Detroit News previously reported that Hertel, who currently serves as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s legislative director, could launch as soon as next month after the state budget is finished.

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. Montana Republican Senate hopeful Tim Sheehy (R) is being sued for negligence in lengthy litigation over a tragic 2019 plane crash, the Daily Beast reports.

“Sheehy left the scene with minor injuries. He posed for a photo—while spattered in blood—with a man he credited with helping others amid the wreckage. Local news covered the crash in a frenzy. And then the news cycle eventually faded, as news cycles tend to do.”

“But years later, the incident is still playing out.”

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

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