The Political Report – July 25, 2023

NEW YORK 17TH DISTRICT. Former Rep. Mondaire Jones’ (D-NY) comeback bid appears to be off to a strong start, Politico reports.  An internal survey from mid-July found Jones leading his top primary opponent, Liz Whitmer Gereghty (D), 43% to 8% with 51% undecided.

This survey, which was conducted about a week after Jones launched his comeback campaign, is the first we’ve seen of this nomination contest. The poll did not test former Bedford Town Supervisor MaryAnn Carr, who did not report raising any money through June 30. The winner of the primary faces freshman GOP incumbent Mike Lawler.

COLORADO 3RD DISTRICT. Adam Frisch (D) “is amassing a formidable campaign cash advantage over Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District ahead of a 2024 race that could decide which party controls Congress,” the Colorado Sun reports.

“Frisch outraised Boebert for the second quarter in a row, bringing in $2.6 million from April through June, more than three times the incumbent’s $818,000.”

CALIFORNIA 22ND DISTRICT. Former Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas on Tuesday launched his long-awaited rematch against Republican Rep. David Valadao, who beat him last year 52-48 after an intensely expensive battle for California’s 22nd District. Joe Biden carried this district, which is based in the southern Central Valley and eastern Bakersfield area, by a 55-42 margin in 2020, which makes it one of the bluest seats the GOP holds nationally; only New York’s Long Island-based 4th would have favored Biden by a larger margin.

Valadao, though, has a long history of running well ahead of the top of his party’s ticket, and both parties are prepared for another pricey battle. The congressman himself raised $710,000 during the second quarter of the year, and he finished June with $980,000 in the bank.

The incumbent proved he wasn’t quite invincible in 2018 when Democrat TJ Cox narrowly denied him a fourth term in what was one of the biggest shocks of that year’s blue wave, but Valadao won their second bout the following cycle by a tight 50.4-49.6 margin as Biden was carrying the old version of the seat, then numbered the 21st District, 54-44.

A third successive major battle ensued the following cycle, though Democrats had hopes of avoiding Valadao altogether. Just days after being sworn in for his new stint in the 117th Congress, Valadao became one of the 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack, a decision Democrats thought might again cost him his seat—this time, in the top-two primary.

It almost did. The House Majority PAC, a top Democratic super PAC, aired commercials ahead of the primary aimed at boosting Valadao’s far-right intra-party foe, former Fresno City Councilman Chris Mathys, by ostensibly attacking him as “100% pro-Trump and proud.” The congressman’s allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund, though, deployed even more money on their own ad campaign to sink Mathys, an investment that helped Valadao fend off the upstart 26-23 for the second spot in the general election. (Salas, the only Democrat on the ballot, easily took first with 45% of the vote.)

Despite the fact that Valadao had survived his brush with Mathys, Democrats still believed that Salas, who had established a moderate image in the legislature, would put up a strong fight, especially since the state’s independent redistricting commission had made the district a bit bluer. Republicans, though, did all they could to puncture Salas’ centrist profile by trying to link him to a 2017 bill that increased the state’s gas tax to fund road repairs even though he’d voted against that legislation.

Both parties were also aware that, since Democrats historically struggle to turn out their Central Valley base in non-presidential years, the electorate would be considerably more conservative than the one that delivered Biden his 13-point win. Altogether HMP, CLF, and their respective allies at the DCCC and NRCC collectively spent $22 million—more than they put into any other single House race in America last year.

Valadao ended up prevailing by a 3-point margin in a race that took weeks to call, though he actually ran slightly behind Republican Brian Dahle’s 4-point win over Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom here. Valadao’s victory made him, along with Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse, one of only two Republicans who’d favored impeachment to return for another term. Salas, however, quickly filed paperwork for a second go-round, and Inside Elections wrote in June that Democratic operatives were convinced he’d face little intra-party opposition.

The former assemblyman kicked off that new effort on Tuesday with a video portraying Valadao as a puppet for Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the “Trump lackey [and] insurrection apologist” who represents the neighboring 20th District. Salas himself also noted he’d be “the first ever-Central Valley Latino” to serve in the House. (Valadao is one of several people of Portuguese descent who have represented this heavily Latino area.) The NRCC, meanwhile, quickly made it clear it would reprise the same tax attacks it used against Salas last time.

FLORIDA 9TH DISTRICT. Politico reports that former Osceola County Commissioner John Quiñones, whose 2012 quest for a previous version of this seat ended after Democrats successfully meddled in the GOP primary, will file to challenge Democratic Rep. Darren Soto “in the coming days.” Joe Biden carried this Orlando-area seat 58-41, but Soto defeated an unheralded Republican foe by a smaller 54-46 last year. Florida data expert Matthew Isbell also says that GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis outright carried the 9th 50-49 in 2022, while Democrat Val Demings edged out Republican Sen. Marco Rubio just 51-48.

Quiñones, who is often identified as “John ‘Q’ Quiñones,” made history in 2002 when he became the first Republican of Puerto Rican descent elected to the state House, and he went on to win a 2010 race for the county commission. Quiñones (not to be confused with the ABC correspondent with the same name) soon set his sights on a bid for the newly-created 9th District, a Democratic-leaning seat with a large Latino population that was predominantly Puerto Rican, and Democrats feared that he could pose a real threat to the comeback hopes of former Rep. Alan Grayson.

Grayson, who is not Latino, responded by running ads ahead of the GOP primary that accused Quiñones of raising taxes. House Majority PAC also went after the commissioner while producing mailers ostensibly attacking his intra-party foe, attorney Todd Long, as a tea partier who “will never compromise with President Obama.” This campaign, which marked one of the last times the bombastic Grayson and the D.C. Democratic establishment were on the same side, worked: Long defeated Quiñones 47-28 before predictably losing to the once-and-future congressman 63-37.

Quiñones, for his part, suffered another defeat two years later when the commissioner narrowly lost reelection 51-49 to Democrat Viviana Janer. Quiñones does not appear to have run for office again during the ensuing decade.

CALIFORNIA 9TH DISTRICT. Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln announced Tuesday that he’d campaign as a Republican against Democratic Rep. Josh Harder in California’s 9th District, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s team confirms he’ll hold a fundraiser Thursday for his new recruit. Joe Biden won this Central Valley seat 55-43, but Republicans are hoping Lincoln has the name recognition to put it into play following his upset 2020 victory against a Democratic incumbent.

Prior to that shock win, Lincoln’s only campaign saw him lose in a landslide in the 2016 general election for a blue seat in the state Assembly. With that background, he initially didn’t look like much of a threat when he decided to challenge Democratic Mayor Michael Tubbs in what was officially nonpartisan race.

But while Tubbs was a nationally prominent progressive who’d even been the subject of an HBO documentary about his mayoralty, the incumbent had spent his four years in office on the receiving end of attacks from a conservative blogger named Motecuzoma Patrick Sanchez, who’d tell Politico’s David Siders after the election that he’d waged “a calculated, four-year, sustained campaign with tactics that represented an overall strategy to remove [Tubbs] from office.”

Sanchez, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, bombarded Tubbs with “relentless, and unfounded, allegations of corruption.” His social media pages, which also published racist memes targeting the city’s first Black mayor, took advantage of the void left by the decline of the local paper, the Stockton Record, to gain a huge following and help take down Tubbs.

But Sanchez wasn’t the only factor in Lincoln’s win; Tubbs’s own prominence may have in fact undermined him. “People resent when somebody gets a statewide profile or, in Michael’s case, a nationwide profile,” one Tubbs supporter argued after the election. “It’s, ‘Who does he think he is? Too big for his britches.” Local concerns, such as the city’s crime rate, the mayor’s conflicts with the local police and firefighter unions, and Tubbs’ unsuccessful attempt to construct low-income housing on a shuttered golf course, also dragged down the incumbent.

Tubbs initially led Lincoln 42-22 in the March nonpartisan primary, and his failure to win the majority he needed to avoid a second round cost him badly. The Republican went on to topple Tubbs 56-44 even as Biden was carrying Stockton 66-32, a win that makes him the mayor for over 40% of the denizens of the 9th District.

Harder, though, has already signaled that he plans to attack Lincoln’s record in office. “He diverted money away from police and now the Stockton PD is short over 100 cops,” his team charged. “Crime and homelessness have soared on his watch.” The congressman has also proven to be a tough opponent for Republicans going back to 2018, when he unseated GOP Rep. Jeff Denham after an expensive battle for the old 10th District.

Following the 2020 census, California’s redistricting commission dramatically reconfigured the state’s congressional map, and Harder originally planned to run in the 13th District last cycle until Democratic colleague Jerry McNerney decided to retire from the slightly bluer 9th. Harder’s party might have benefited had he’d stuck with his original plans and ran for the 13th, which Republican John Duarte would narrowly flip, but the congressman’s presence at least helped ensure the race to succeed McNerney would be a fairly easy hold: He beat San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti 55-45 in a race that attracted little outside spending even as Republican Brian Dahle was defeating Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom 52-48 in the 9th.

Lincoln will now be in for an expensive bout against Harder, who raised $550,000 during the second quarter of 2023 and finished June with a huge $1.9 million war chest. The Republican told KCRA he was running for Congress because “there’s no better time,” though Lincoln doesn’t appear to have used his deliberation period to prepare for the type of questions he can expect on the campaign trail.

When asked if he’d have supported the GOP’s defense bill, which among other things would have restricted abortion access to servicemembers, the mayor replied, “Listen, I haven’t seen that just yet.” He continued, “But the fact of the matter is we’re going to make sure that, um …” before moving on to another topic without completing his sentence.

SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR. The San Francisco Standard reports that Daniel Lurie, who is the founder of an anti-poverty nonprofit and a Levi Strauss heir, has decided to take on Mayor London Breed in next year’s instant-runoff election, though he has not yet said anything publicly yet. Lurie, whom Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin notes is a first cousin once removed of New York Rep. Dan Goldman, would join Supervisor Ahsha Safaí in this nonpartisan race; the Standard also relays that there’s speculation that another supervisor, Aaron Peskin, could run as well.

NASHVILLE MAYOR. Jim Gingrich, who is the former chief operating officer of the global asset management giant AllianceBernstein, announced Monday that he was suspending his campaign in the crowded Aug. 3 nonpartisan primary. Gingrich, whose $2 million loan helped him outspent his many rivals, seemed to acknowledge that his ad campaign wasn’t working when he said he was leaving the race after “consultation with the electoral data available.” He added that he wanted to give voters time to “rally behind another candidate,” though he didn’t endorse anyone.

HOUSTON MAYOR. Veteran Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee dramatically shook up the race to succeed termed-out Mayor Sylvester Turner when she kicked off her campaign in March, though new campaign finance reports show that two of her rivals have considerably more money available ahead of the November nonpartisan primary. The congresswoman raised $1.2 million through June 30 and finished with $1 million on-hand, but her team said she’d be returning $60,000 from donors who exceeded the legal limit.

Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire, meanwhile, was forbidden by state law from raising money all year until June 19 because of the legislative session, but he took in $370,000 during the rest of the month; Houston Public Media says that Protect and Serve Texas PAC also took in $160,000 “on his behalf.” Whitmer, however, finished June with almost $10 million in the bank thanks in large part to the millions he amassed over his decades in the legislature, though it’s still not clear how much he can use for this campaign.

Former METRO board chair Gilbert Garcia raised only $170,000 from donors since his March launch but self-funded another $3.1 million, and he ended June with $2.9 million in the bank. Another contender, attorney Lee Kaplan, took $480,000 during the first six months of the year and finished the period with $1.3 million available. City Council member Robert Gallegos, finally, brought up the rear with just $60,000 raised since his February entry and $150,000 on-hand.

NORTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL and 8TH DISTRICT. Far-right Rep. Dan Bishop acknowledged to Politico that he was “more likely” to run for attorney general than try to lead the nihilistic Freedom Caucus in the next Congress, though the Republican explicitly said he wasn’t ruling out the latter idea. Bishop, whom Axios first reported was interested in a statewide run in early May, added there were undefined “hurdles to clear” before he’d decide whether to run to succeed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Stein. The only Republican currently seeking this post is former state Rep. Tom Murry.

NORTH CAROLINA 13TH DISTRICT. Republican legislative staffer Jeff Hauser tells the conservative Carolina Journal that he’s set up an exploratory committee as he mulls a bid for the seat held by Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel, which the GOP will have the chance to gerrymander when it draws up new maps this summer. An unnamed source close to 2022 nominee Bo Hines, meanwhile, relays that he’s undecided about another try following his 52-48 defeat last time.

NEW YORK 16TH DISTRICT. Westchester County Executive George Latimer confirmed he is thinking about challenging Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the Democratic primary after unnamed party insiders have been urging him to run. Latimer won his first term to lead this populous suburban county directly north of New York City by decisively ousting a Republican incumbent in 2017, and he won reelection by a wide margin in 2021.

Bowman has been one of the most outspoken progressive members in the House following his successful primary challenge against longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in 2020, and he’s one of just a handful of self-identified democratic socialists in Congress. Bowman faced a serious challenge from the right by Westchester County Legislators Vedat Gashi and Catherine Parker in last year’s primary, which he won 54-25 over Gashi while Parker took 19%, but that apparently has not deterred some of his party’s more moderate supporters.

If Latimer does run against Bowman, he could prove to be a far more formidable threat to the incumbent than last cycle’s challengers were since his county already contains 91% of the 16th District’s population, particularly if he can avoid having to compete with other challengers. However, Latimer declined to elaborate on his interest in the race and only said, “I am thinking about the advice I have been given and will have more to come.”

ALABAMA REDISTRICTING. Each chamber in Alabama’s Republican-run legislature passed a new congressional map on Wednesday, but neither complies with a court directive to include “two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.” Both plans retain a Black majority in the state’s 7th District, but the new 2nd District falls well below that mark in each case: In the House version, just 42% of voters are Black, while in the Senate’s, only 38% are. Lawmakers face a Friday deadline to enact a new map. If they fail to do so, or if their final product does not comply with the Voting Rights Act, a federal court will likely impose its own map.

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

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