The Political Report – June 21, 2023

A new Monmouth poll finds a majority (55%) of Americans are very concerned that their fundamental rights and freedoms are under threat – with Republicans (63%) being somewhat more likely than Democrats (53%) or independents (51%) to feel this way.

Another 29% of the general public is somewhat concerned about threats to their rights and about 1 in 6 is either not too (11%) or not at all (5%) concerned.

Nathaniel Rakich: “After eight years, Americans have made up their minds about former President Donald Trump. And it appears that not even a federal indictment is swaying them. According to polls conducted before and after Trump’s indictment on June 8, Trump’s support levels in both the primary and general election don’t appear to have budged, even though a large majority of Americans view the charges as serious.”

“In the Republican primary, he is currently at 53.5 percent support, according to FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average. That’s little changed from June 7, the day before the indictment, when he was sitting at 53.8 percent.”

“There are rules that make it difficult for the public airwaves to censor you. So I thought maybe I should run.”— Robert F. Kennedy Jr., quoted by NBC News, on why he decided to run for president on his anti-vaccine platform.

TEXAS U.S. SENATOR. Democratic state Rep. James Talarico, who is the subject of a lengthy profile in Politico detailing how the progressive “fights the culture wars by quoting scripture,” tells reporter Adam Wren that he’s considering either challenging GOP Sen. Ted Cruz this cycle or running for governor in 2026. Unnamed Talarico allies, though, say he’s “leaning toward” the latter option now that Rep. Colin Allred is taking on Cruz.

OHIO BALLOT REFERENDUMS. In a 4-3 decision that split along party lines, the Ohio Supreme Court’s Republican majority ruled that GOP legislators had the authority to schedule an Aug. 8 special election for their constitutional amendment that would make it harder for voters to pass future amendments. Republican lawmakers just months earlier had passed a law ending regular August elections, and the plaintiffs had contended that the party could thus only schedule one by enacting separate legislation―something the GOP reportedly lacked the votes to pass. However, the court rejected their arguments.

The GOP’s amendment, which only needs a simple majority in order to go into effect, would raise the threshold to 60% voter approval to pass future amendments. Their measure, which will be identified as Issue 1 on the ballot, would also require voters to gather a certain number of signatures from all 88 counties to qualify their own amendments for the ballot instead of the current number of 44 counties. The existing rules already make it burdensome for progressives to qualify ballot initiatives and pass them in this conservative state, but if voters approve the GOP’s amendment, passing such measures could become all but impossible.

“This is 100% about keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution,” Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a potential candidate for U.S. Senate, said earlier this month as he promoted Issue 1. Indeed, the campaign comes at a time when abortion rights backers are gathering signatures to get their own measure onto the ballot this November, but Republicans made sure the 60% threshold could take effect by then if approved.

The higher signature requirement wouldn’t apply until next year, but this isn’t the only potential ballot measure that Ohio Republicans are looking to stop. A state representative told his colleagues last year that this amendment also aims to thwart a 2024 effort to create an independent redistricting commission and end the GOP’s existing gerrymanders. LaRose, meanwhile, touted Issue 1 by warning, “Who knows what’s next? Marijuana, or maybe we just get rid of that whole pesky keep and bear arms thing that’s in the Constitution?”

The secretary of state months ago was one of the Republicans who successfully called for ending regular August elections, saying, “August special elections generate chronically low turnout because voters aren’t expecting an election to occur. This is bad news for the civic health of our state.” However, he and his allies are now almost certainly hoping that the low turnout they warned about will make the August electorate disproportionately conservative and help Issue 1 earn the majority it needs. “The left has some really dangerous plans,” LaRose said as he promoted it earlier this month, “and this is one of the ways that we can make sure they’re not successful.”

VIRGINIA STATE HOUSE. Virginia holds its legislative primary Tuesday, and several Democratic contests for safely blue seats in the state Senate have turned into expensive battles between two groups: Dominion Energy and the Clean Virginia Fund, a well-funded environmental group that is one of the mammoth energy producer’s most ardent foes. One of the most prominent recipients of Dominion’s aid is scandal-ridden Sen. Joe Morrissey, the self-proclaimed “unapologetically pro-life” lawmaker who has received close to $100,000 from the company.

Clean Virginia, which was founded by hedge fund CEO Michael Bills, has in turn donated $190,000 to former Del. Lashrecse Aird, with another $125,000 coming from his wife, Sonjia Smith. Aird, who has endorsements from U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Rep. Jennifer McClellan, has outraised Morrissey $1.6 million to $670,000 in the 13th Senate District, which includes communities near Richmond.

This isn’t the only Democratic primary where both sides are making hefty contributions, though. Over in Northern Virginia’s 35th District, Sen. Dave Marsden has benefited from $90,000 in contributions from Dominion, while activist Heidi Drauschak has received $190,000 from Clean Virginia and Smith. The dynamics are similar next door in the 36th as Sen. George Barker tries to fend off Fairfax County School Board member Stella Pekarsky.

To the south around Charlottesville another Democratic senator, 2009 gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds, is trying to win renomination against Del. Sally Hudson in the 11th. Smith has donated $100,000 to the challenger, while Deeds has received $30,000 from Dominion. Meanwhile back in Northern Virginia, the open 33rd features an expensive clash between two former delegates: Clean Virginia and Smith are for Jennifer Carroll Foy, who lost the 2021 primary for governor, while Dominion is supporting 2021 lieutenant governor nominee Hala Ayala.

However, not every big Democratic Senate primary has become a proxy fight between these two sides. Clean Virginia is helping both Democrats campaigning for Northern Virginia’s 29th, Sen. Jeremy McPike and Del. Elizabeth Guzman. Dominion, meanwhile, has donated to both incumbents jousting for the 18th District in Hampton Roads, Louise Lucas and Lionell Spruill.

Spruill currently represents 44% of this seat compared to 37% for Lucas, but the latter is pointing to her huge advantage in seniority to make her case for renomination. Lucas is also insisting that Spruill is too close to Republicans and has faulted him for avoiding votes on LGBTQ+ rights: She’s also gone so far as to compare her fellow Black Democrat to “those individuals who sold their own people into slavery” in an interview with the Washington Post. Spruill, for his part, has argued he’d do a far better job working with Republicans like Gov. Glenn Youngkin, though he’s also run ads declaring, “He’s sure as heck going to keep taking on Glenn Youngkin.” He’s also pushed back on the idea that Lucas is the more liberal of the pair.

While this is the sole incumbent vs. incumbent battle in the chamber, the Post notes that several other senators face challenging races under a revamped Senate map drawn by the state Supreme Court. Barker, perhaps most notably, currently represents a mere 6% of the seat he’s seeking reelection in, compared to 31% for Marsden. McPike and Morrissey, meanwhile, respectively serve 41% and 45% of their redrawn seats, while Deeds represents about two-thirds of the new 11th.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, one of several GOP presidential candidates, on Sunday warned his fellow Republicans to “back off” allegations that the Justice Department has been “weaponized,” The Hill reports.

Said Hutchinson: “Let’s get back to being the party of the rule of law, of the justice system supporting law enforcement and the equal application of law. Let’s don’t undermine the greatest justice system and criminal justice system and rule of law in the world today, this side of heaven.”

 “Vivek Ramaswamy, a long-shot Republican presidential candidate whose unorthodox views have drawn headlines, suggested without evidence on Thursday that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had mistreated Jews and other religious minorities amid Russia’s invasion,” Jewish Insider reports.

Former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) plans to launch a grassroots organization to register voters across the country “who are willing to fight for free enterprise,” Axios reports.

“The former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery plans to use his business and political skills – as well as the national donor network he cultivated while running the Republican Governors Association — to build a conservative version of Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight Action, which addressed voter fraud in Georgia and the South.”

“Ducey wants to build a 50-state organization that focuses on what he views as threats to the free enterprise system, including poor education and high crime in some metropolitan areas.”

CNN Poll: “Though Trump continues to lead the GOP field by a wide margin in the race for the Republican Party’s nomination for president, the poll suggests that his support has declined, as have positive views of him among Republican and Republican-leaning voters. Nearly a quarter now say they would not consider backing his candidacy under any circumstances. The survey also finds that those GOP-aligned voters not currently backing his 2024 bid have different views on his indictment and behavior than those in his corner.”

“Still, there’s little sign that Republican-aligned voters who aren’t backing Trump are consolidating behind any one of his rivals. Nor are they unified around wanting Trump out of the race entirely, or in feeling that his primary opponents ought to call him out for his alleged actions in this case.”

“Overall, 47% of Republicans and Republican-leaning registered voters say Trump is their first choice for the party’s nomination for president, down from 53% in a May CNN poll.”

Jonathan Last argues that Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential candidacy is a “fifth column.”

“I could be wrong about this, but I believe that Kennedy will absolutely be speaking at a party convention next summer. But it won’t be the Democratic convention. He’ll have a slot speaking at the Republican convention where he will endorse whoever the Republican nominee is.”

“All of which is why it is best to understand the Kennedy campaign not as an intra-party challenge to Biden, but as a the first phase of a two-stage gauntlet Biden is running against Trumpian populism.”

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

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