The Political Report – July 10, 2023

President Biden’s approval rate is dismal 40.5% to 54.2%, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling average.

That’s the lowest since Jimmy Carter had at this point in his single term as president.

But it’s important to note a few things about approval ratings:

  • No national politician has good approval ratings right now.
  • Biden’s approval rate was at a similar level in the 2022 midterms and Democrats did far better than expected.
  • Bill Clinton had an approval rate of 42% in 1995 and Barack Obama had an approval rate of 44% in 2011. Both were re-elected decisively.
  • It’s nearly impossible to have a good approval rating in a polarized country when the other side unanimously disapproves.

If there’s one thing Democrats should worry about, it’s perceptions of Biden’s age.

But fortunately, the antidote to that is the same thing for improving Biden’s approval rating. He must be seen traveling the country, telling people about his popular policies and showing how he gets things done.

At the end of the day, voters care more about results than about anything else.

NORTH CAROLINA GOVENROR. “In a series of previously unreported social media posts, Mark Robinson, the GOP frontrunner for governor of North Carolina, repeatedly minimized Nazi atrocities and promoted conspiracy theories about Hollywood and the media using Yiddish ethnic slurs, among other incendiary assertions,” Jewish Insider reports.

Said Robinson: “It’s hard for me to understand how so many can remain blind to the fact that Communism, not Nazism was, and still is, the biggest threat to American freedom… wake up and see the real enemy.”

He added: “After all, who do you think has been pushing this Nazi boogeyman narrative all these years?”

Politico: “This week, Ron DeSantis flew to New Hampshire for a campaign swing that coincided nearly exactly with the path of a private plane connected to a wealthy supporter.”

“Daniel Doyle, Jr., who runs a printing company in Central Florida, owns a plane whose flight path lines up with DeSantis’ July 4 trip to the Granite State… Neither DeSantis’ presidential campaign nor representatives for Doyle would say if DeSantis was aboard.”

“It’s a recurring pattern where DeSantis and the organizations assisting him remain quiet about who is bankrolling his travels and his frequent use of private charter jets.”

NEBRASKA 2ND DISTRICT. Democratic state Sen. Tony Vargas announced Wednesday that he’d seek a rematch against Rep. Don Bacon, the Republican who beat him 51-49 in last year’s expensive campaign for Nebraska’s 2nd District. Vargas, who is the son of immigrants from Peru, would be the first Latino to represent the Cornhusker State in Congress. He currently faces no serious intra-party opposition as he seeks to avenge his 2022 defeat, and unnamed Democratic sources also the Nebraska Examiner they don’t expect that to change.

This constituency, which includes Omaha and several of its suburbs, favored Joe Biden 52-46, but the four-term Republican has been tough to dislodge. Vargas and his allies ran ads last year emphasizing Bacon’s supports for a bill banning abortion nationally after 15 weeks, something the congressman tried to pass off as a moderate option. The GOP, meanwhile, hit back with commercials accusing Vargas of voting “to release violent prisoners.” Vargas, who favored bipartisan legislation that would have made prisoners eligible for parole after two years instead of halfway through their term, responded by stressing his support for law enforcement, but it wasn’t enough.

Bacon’s profile has risen nationally since that tight win, and he’s emerged as one of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s most outspoken allies. The Nebraskan made news during the speakership vote when he suggested that members of both parties could unite behind one candidate as a “last resort,” arguing that such an outcome would be the fault of “six or seven” far-right Republicans. Bacon has continued to denounce his colleagues in the Freedom Caucus, but while he continues to muse, “I’m of the position that at some point we gotta just do coalition government with the Democrats and cut these guys out,” he’s yet to take any obvious action to actually make that happen.

A few other things will be different for the 2024 cycle. Vargas’ Republican colleagues in the officially nonpartisan legislature passed a bill in May banning abortion after 12 weeks. Vargas, who opposed the measure, used his kickoff to emphasize how he’d “work to protect abortion rights” in Congress. But rather than try to downplay the issue, as many other Republicans have, Bacon has responded by claiming that Vargas “wants zero restrictions” on the procedure. (Vargas argued last year that “elected officials like me should be playing absolutely no role” over women’s health decisions.)

The presidential election could also complicate things, especially since Nebraska, along with Maine, is one of just two states that awards an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district. Bacon ran well ahead of the top of the ticket in 2020 and prevailed 51-46 even as Donald Trump was losing the 2nd 52-46 (the presidential numbers were the same under both the old and new congressional maps thanks to GOP gerrymandering), but Democrats are hoping that he’ll have a much tougher time winning over ticket-splitters next year.

ILLINOIS 12TH DISTRICT. Darren Bailey, the far-right former state senator who was the GOP’s nominee for governor of Illinois last year, used a Fourth of July celebration at his family farm to announce that he’d challenge Rep. Mike Bost for renomination. Bost, who confirmed last month that he’d seek a sixth term in downstate Illinois’ dark red 12th District, is himself an ardent Trumpist who voted to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the hours after the Jan. 6 attacks.

Bailey did not mention the incumbent in his kickoff or subsequent launch video, preferring instead to praise Trump and denounce “weak-kneed politicians who refuse to stand up and fight.” The also posted a picture on Facebook reading “Hands off my AR” on Tuesday—the first anniversary of the mass shooting in Highland Park. (The Chicago Tribune reminds us that last year, before the gunman was even caught, Bailey urged his followers to “move on and let’s celebrate — celebrate the independence of this nation.”)

The NRCC wasted no time making it clear that it was firmly in Bost’s corner and previewed some of the material it might use. “Darren Bailey moved to a downtown Chicago penthouse to get blown out by JB Pritzker, now he’s back seeking another political promotion,” said in a statement. Bailey, who filed a 2019 bill to kick Chicago out of Illinois, sought to explain why he’d taken up residence in the Windy City last year. “You can’t deny there’s problems here,” he argued. “And if we keep denying these problems, the problems are going to get worse.”

Just a day after 55-42 drubbing by Pritzker, the Tribune reported that Bost’s allies were worried the senator would turn around and take on the congressman—and they may have good reason to fret that he could put up a fight. According to an estimate from OurCampaigns, Bailey ran slightly ahead of Trump’s 71-28 performance in the 12th District, carrying it 73-25 last year. Bost, though, also bested Trump’s showing, winning his own race 75-25.

Trump has lent his support to both men in the past, so there’s no telling whether he’ll take sides this time. Just ahead of last year’s primary, he endorsed Bailey—much to the delight of Democrats, who spent a fortune to help him win the nod in the ultimately correct belief he’d prove a weak opponent for Pritzker. Trump also headlined a rally for Bost in 2018, when the congressman was in the midst of a tough reelection battle. (Democrats later redrew the 12th District to make it much redder by packing in as many Republican voters as possible.)

NEW YORK 17TH DISTRICT. Former Rep. Mondaire Jones announced on Wednesday that he’d seek the Democratic nomination to take on freshman Republican Rep. Mike Lawler in New York’s 17th District, a lower Hudson Valley constituency that Joe Biden carried 54-44 in 2020. Jones, who unsuccessfully ran in New York City last year because of a strange set of redistricting-induced circumstances, used his intro video to emphasize his local roots in Rockland County and record securing funds for the area during his one term in D.C.

Before Jones can focus on reclaiming this seat, though, he has to get through what could be an expensive primary against local school board member Liz Gereghty, the sister of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Gereghty, who launched her campaign in mid-May, announced this week that she’d raised $400,000 though the end of last month. The field also includes former Bedford Town Supervisor MaryAnn Carr, but it remains to be seen if she’ll have the resources to run a strong campaign.

In the 2020 election cycle, Jones sought what was, at the time, a safely blue seat held by Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey. Lowey, however, retired soon after Jones launched his campaign, and he won a competitive, multi-way battle for the Democratic nomination. Jones made history with his comfortable victory that fall by becoming the first openly gay black member of Congress, a distinction he shared with fellow New York Democrat Ritchie Torres. (It was only after she died in 1996 that news accounts identified legendary Texas Rep. Barbara Jordan as a lesbian; she never discussed her sexuality during her lifetime.)

Two years later, Jones seemed to be on track for another easy win, but everything changed after New York’s highest court rejected state’s new Democratic-drawn congressional map and substituted in its own lines. Fellow Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who represented a neighboring district and also chaired the DCCC, infuriated Jones and many local Democrats when he decided to seek reelection in the 17th District rather than defend the 18th, a slightly more competitive seat that included the bulk of his current constituents.

Jones decided to avoid a primary by campaigning for the open 10th District, an open seat based in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan that was far from his home turf, though he offered an explanation for his change of venue. “This is the birthplace of the LGBTQ+ rights movement,” he tweeted, “Since long before the Stonewall Uprising, queer people of color have sought refuge within its borders.”

But while Jones enjoyed the support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he had a tough time in a primary dominated by politicians with far stronger ties to New York City. Former federal prosecutor Dan Goldman, a self-funder who served as House Democrats’ lead counsel during Donald Trump’s first impeachment, massively outspent the rest of the field and secured the influential support of the New York Times. Goldman ultimately beat Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou in a 25-24 squeaker, while Jones finished third with 18%.

Maloney, for his part, acknowledged months before his own general election that “there are a lot of strong feelings” among Democrats who felt he’d sent Jones packing. “I think I could’ve handled it better,” he admitted. He’d soon have more reasons for regret: One local progressive leader would recount to Slate that volunteers canvassing for Maloney would be asked, “Isn’t he the guy that pushed Mondaire out of this district?” Maloney ended up losing to Lawler 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.)

Jones soon made it clear that he was interested in returning to his home base to challenge Lawler, saying in December, “I’ve also learned my lesson, and that is home for me is in the Hudson Valley.” (The Daily Beast reported in February that Jones hadn’t ruled out waging a primary against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, but there was little indication he’d ever seriously considered the idea.)

The once and perhaps future congressman continues to express strong feelings about how the midterm elections went down. “I never imagined that I would wake up one day and would have to decide against primarying a member of the Democratic Party at a time when we were seeing an assault on our democracy,” he told News12 Westchester on Wednesday. “To that extent, yeah, I do regret not being the Democratic nominee last cycle.”

Gereghty’s team, though, made it clear they’d use his campaign in New York City against him. “Liz Whitmer Gereghty has lived in the Hudson Valley for 20 years,” her campaign said in a statement, “and the reason you’ll never see her moving to Brooklyn to chase a congressional seat is because the only place and only people she wants to represent are right here in the Hudson Valley.”

UTAH 2ND DISTRICT. Former state Rep. Becky Edwards and RNC member Bruce Hough both turned in signatures ahead of Wednesday’s filing deadline, but election officials still need to determine if either Republican submitted enough valid petitions to join Celeste Maloy on the Sept. 5 special primary ballot to succeed Maloy’s former boss, outgoing Rep. Chris Stewart. Two other Republicans, Navy veteran Scott Hatfield and the memorably named Remy Bubba Kush, did not submit signatures, so their campaigns are over.

RHODE ISLAND 1ST DISTRICT. Candidate filing closed Friday for the special election to succeed former Rep. David Cicilline, and 22 of his fellow Democrats are campaigning for this 64-35 Biden constituency. The notable candidates competing in the Sept. 5 Democratic primary appear to be (deep breath):

  • State Rep. Marvin Abney
  • former Biden administration official Gabe Amo
  • former state official Nick Autiello
  • Lincoln Town Councilor Pamela Azar
  • Navy veteran Walter Berbrick
  • State Sen. Sandra Cano
  • Businessman Don Carlson
  • State Rep. Stephen Casey
  • Providence City Councilman John Goncalves
  • Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos
  • Narragansett Aboriginal Nation tribal elder Bella Machado Noka
  • State Sen. Ana Quezada
  • former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg

The field isn’t quite set, though, because candidates still need to turn in 500 valid signatures by July 14. The general election will be Nov. 7.

MICHIGAN 7TH DISTRICT. Former state Sen. Curtis Hertel on Wednesday filed FEC paperwork for his long-anticipated campaign for this competitive open seat, a development that came days after the Democrat stepped down as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s director of legislative affairs.

COLORADO 8TH DISTRICT. Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann, who took second in last year’s GOP primary, says she won’t try again this cycle.

TEXAS U.S. SENATOR. Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) raised nearly $6.2 million in roughly the first two months of his campaign against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the Texas Tribune reports. He also transferred an additional $2.4 million from his House campaign account.

COLORADO 3RD DISTRICT. Adam Frisch, the Colorado Democrat running to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert in next year’s election, raised more than $2.6 million in the second quarter, smashing records for the most money raised from donors by a challenger in a House race in an off-year,” Colorado Politics reports.

OREGON 5TH DISTRICT. 2022 Democratic nominee Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who lost to Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer 51-49, has a rally and “special announcement” set for Saturday. McLeod-Skinner would join a primary that already includes state Rep. Janelle Bynum and Oregon Metro Council President Lynn Peterson.

TEXAS 34TH DISTRICT. Former GOP Rep. Mayra Flores expressed renewed interest this week in seeking a rematch with Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, telling the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek that she “will make a decision soon.” Flores might not have a clear Republican primary if she gets in, though, as former Secretary of State Carlos Cascos says he’s also considering and will make his own decision after Labor Day. Svitek writes that the NRCC, however, very much wants Flores to be its standard-bearer, and its latest recruitment efforts include the release of a late May internal from 1892 polling showing a 42-42 tie with Gonzalez.

The 34th District, which is based in the eastern Rio Grande Valleybacked Joe Biden 57-42, though Republicans hoped that Flores’ win in a June special election for the prior version of the seat would set them up for another victory. Major outside groups on both sides wound up spending a collective $11.1 million, but Gonzalez prevailed by a decisive 53-44 spread; according to Svitek, Democrat Beto O’Rourke also carried this district by 13 points in his unsuccessful campaign for governor.

Cascos, for his part, previously served as county judge (a post that is similar to county executive in other states) in Cameron County, which is home to about 55% of the 34th’s denizens. He resigned in 2015 to accept an appointment as secretary of state, a stint that lasted for two years, before twice trying to regain his county post. Cascos’ 2018 comeback effort ended in a 60-40 defeat against Democratic incumbent Eddie Treviño, while Treviño won their second bout by a much smaller 53-47 margin last year.

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

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