The Political Report – July 28, 2023

What a difference three months makes. The country is making real progress in the areas where Biden has been most vulnerable. Consider the following:

  • Inflation is retreating and consumer sentiment is the highest its been in two years.
  • Illegal border crossings dropped to the lowest level in over two years under Biden’s more restrictive asylum rules.
  • Violent crime rates, including murder, are down across the board.

Despite the good news, Biden’s approval rate hasn’t budged. That’s certainly curious but perhaps explainable. And, well, none of us — including Biden — are getting any younger. But the broad case that Republicans were building against Biden just a few months ago suddenly doesn’t look so good.

RAMASWAMY 2024. “Before he was an upstart candidate for president and a philosophical leader of what he dubs the “anti-woke” movement, before he was a New York Times bestselling author and billionaire biotech entrepreneur, Vivek Ramaswamy was a rapper,” Politico reports.

“During his time as an undergrad at Harvard, Ramaswamy had a side-hustle as a libertarian-minded rap artist who went by the stage name ‘Da Vek.’ The gig was an early sign of the extroverted, self-assured personality that has propelled him far further in the primary than virtually anyone expected.”

Vivek Ramaswamy “notably asserted in two interviews released on June 30 and July 12 that he did not vote until 2020, when he backed former President Donald Trump over now-President Joe Biden,” the Washington Examiner reports.

“However, the wealthy entrepreneur actually first voted in the 2004 presidential election for the late Libertarian nominee Michael Badnarik, according to Ramaswamy as well as Ohio database records in Butler and Franklin counties.”

Said Ramaswamy: “It was a throwaway vote.”

Politico: “While some lobbyists are doling out cash, others are fearful that any type of public opposition to the former president could make them persona non grata in D.C. should he get back to the White House.”

DESANTIS 2024. Axios: “82% of the total raised from individual contributions by Trump’s campaign since the start of the year came from small-dollar donors — amounting to more than $44 million, according to FEC data.”

“DeSantis has brought in just 17% from small-dollar donors — while 71% has come from people donating $2,000 or more.”

“So far Ron DeSantis has run a failing campaign. But here’s the good news: DeSantis has developed skills which, in some instances, can be applied for his personal benefit.”— Larry Sabato, on Twitter or X or whatever it’s called now.

“Ron DeSantis scrapped two Hamptons fundraisers last weekend due to a lack of interest,” the New York Post reports.

Said a source: “The DeSantis experiment is dead. Donors aren’t coming to his events because they don’t see any return on investment.”

Playbook: “It seems especially notable that this piece was reported by the NY Post. Could it be another sign that Rupert Murdoch is cooling on the Florida governor?”

“Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign is expanding the number of staff it’s cutting to include more than a third of his payroll as the Florida governor looks to get his primary bid back on track,” Politico reports.

A GOP consultant set to be the next deputy campaign manager for presidential hopeful Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was part of the infamous astroturfing campaign against net neutrality, the Daily Dot reports.

Playbook: “Behind the scenes, there are serious doubts whether the layoffs will do anything to address a fundamental weakness of DeSantis’ presidential bid: the rising tension and distrust brewing between his campaign and the main super PAC supporting him, Never Back Down.”

“The disconnect has occasionally come into view, such as when super PAC sources told RealClear Politics recently that they expected DeSantis to skip the upcoming GOP debate if Trump does. Yet a few days later, DeSantis said he planned to attend.”

“Beyond the peripheral disputes, however, is a more fundamental disagreement over who should truly be in charge: the nominal campaign, which is under the direct control of the candidate and his closest advisers, or the super PAC, which can accept massive checks from wealthy donors but is barred from coordinating with DeSantis or the campaign.”

“Because they can’t legally sit down and talk it out, the two poles of DeSantis world have instead tried to communicate through leaked memos and — more recently — testy background quotes in the media.”

Nate Silver: “DeSantis has run in five previous elections and won all five — three races for the U.S. House and two for governor. How impressive were the results? Other than 2022, not particularly impressive — about in line with what you’d expect from a generic Republican…”

“So you have four cycles of essentially league-average performance, and then one cycle where DeSantis killed it. This is basically the politics equivalent of the year that Luis Gonzalez somehow hit 57 home runs.”

“What made the difference in 2022? Performance-enhancing drugs? Nah, it was probably Covid.”

BURGUM 2024. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) has qualified for the first GOP presidential primary debate, Politico reports. He’s the seventh candidate to punch a ticket to Milwaukee next month. Politico has a good tracker of who has qualified so far.

SUAREZ 2024. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is trying to buy his way onto the GOP debate stage by giving away $20 gift cards to anyone who donates at least $1.

Suarez received a $500,000 donation from an online flower shop that allegedly violated federal campaign financing laws, Bloomberg reports.

KENNEDY 2024. “Public campaign finance disclosures from Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign reveal numerous payments to individuals and groups whose ideologies differ significantly from traditional Democratic Party politics,” CNN reports.

“Kennedy’s campaign paid a litany of prominent activists – which includes some anti-vaccine advocates, public health conspiracy theorists and Republicans, either individually or through their businesses – the filings show. One anti-vax activist, whose company was paid by Kennedy, once famously compared vaccine mandates to prosecution of Jews during the Holocaust.”

Gov. Ron Desantis said he would not choose Robert F. Kennedy Jr as his running mate, but would consider him to be in charge of the FDA or CDC “if he’d be willing to serve.”

PENCE 2024. USA Today: “Those turning out to meet him frequently commented on his character. They called him a man of morality. A man of his word. A good dude. A Christian. A gentleman. They praised his calm demeanor and his dignity. But there were also questions about whether that’s enough.”

TRUMP 2024. “The symbolism was hard to miss: Former President Trump, fighting to return to the White House and avoid prison, dropped in on a night of UFC fights in Las Vegas this month and was a guest on a UFC podcast,” Axios reports.

“It was a collision of two longtime Trump obsessions — combat sports and crafting a macho image — at a time when he faces the prospect of being indicted for a third and potentially fourth time.”

Donald Trump shifted away from his previous stance against early voting, expressing his support for the RNC’s Bank Your Vote initiative for 2024.

Said Trump: “While Republicans have worked to share our beautiful values with voters, Democrats and dangerous groups funded by the far left have simply focused on collecting ballots. But you know what? It turned out to be not such a bad idea.”

“Get ready to hear a lot about Marjorie Taylor Greene as next year’s congressional elections rev up,” Semafor reports.

“Democrats are looking to make the Republican from Georgia one of their chief foils as they attempt to wrestle back control of the House next year, and one major political group is already laying the groundwork to link other GOP members with Greene.”

“The new ‘MAGA Scorecard‘ released Thursday from the Center for American Progress Action Fund stacks up all 222 House Republicans against Greene’s voting record. The report indicates that the vast majority of the House GOP conference has voted alongside her 92% of the time.”

“Mitch Daniels said that he has had informal conversations with backers of the centrist group No Labels about their efforts to run a third-party presidential ticket,” Politico reports.

“But the former Indiana Republican governor scoffed at the idea that he would be a candidate for such a unity campaign.”

FLORIDA 9TH DISTRICT. Former Osceola County Commissioner John Quiñones, who had reportedly been gearing up for a bid against Democratic Rep. Darren Soto, officially kicked off a bid on Tuesday in the hopes of putting a traditionally left-leaning seat in play for Republicans.

Joe Biden carried the Orlando-area 9th District 58-41, but Soto defeated an unheralded Republican foe by a smaller 54-46 last year. Florida data analyst Matthew Isbell also says that GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis actually carried the 9th 50-49 over Democrat Charlie Crist in 2022, while Democrat Val Demings edged out Republican Sen. Marco Rubio just 51-48. Republicans naturally hope that the midterm results, combined with their increased success with Florida Latinos in recent years, will give them an opening.

Quiñones ran for this seat once before in 2012, a campaign that did not end well. Concerned about his possible appeal to the many Puerto Rican voters in the district—Quiñones was the first Republican of Puerto Rican descent elected to the state House—Democrats successfully kneecapped him ahead of the GOP primary. They did so by deploying tactics similar to those famously used by Claire McCaskill to propel Todd Akin to the Republican nomination for Senate in Missouri that same summer (and would become especially popular among Democrats nationwide in 2022).

Painting Quiñones as a tax hiker and pretending to attack his tea-partying rival Todd Long as someone who “will never compromise with President Obama,” Democrats helped Long win a 47-28 victory. He then predictably got crushed by Democrat Alan Grayson (who was waging a comeback campaign after getting turfed out in the 2010 GOP wave) by a 63-37 margin. Quiñones, meanwhile, lost his bid for reelection to the County Commission two years later and hasn’t been on the ballot since.

Since then, however, voting patterns among Latinos have shifted dramatically in Florida. According to the progressive data firm Catalist, just 44% of Latino voters in the state backed Crist last year, a drop from the 50% who voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and an even steeper decline from the 66% who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016.

However, that includes Florida’s considerable contingent of Cuban Americans, who make up a plurality of Latinos statewide and are typically more conservative than other Hispanics. By contrast, in the 9th, where about half of all voting-age residents are Latino, Puerto Ricans make up at least half the district’s Latino population, if not more. (Detailed census data on ethnicity for the nation’s new congressional districts has yet to be released.)

Florida was also an outlier nationally, as Catalist’s analysis shows: Latino support for Democratic candidates for Senate and governor in every other state matched or even exceeded 2020 levels. The central question for Democrats and Republicans alike, then, is whether Florida represents the start of a new trend, whether it will continue to stand on its own, or whether it might even return to its previous form.

UTAH 2ND DISTRICT. Businessman Quin Denning, one of several Republicans who lost last month’s party convention to outgoing Rep. Chris Stewart’s former chief legal counsel Celeste Maloy, has filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to remove her from the Sept. 5 special primary election ballot on the grounds that she was ineligible under state law because she was not an active Republican registered voter before filing to run.

The Salt Lake Tribune previously reported that Maloy last voted in Utah in 2018 before taking a job in D.C. working for Stewart, which led election officials to move her to inactive status. The candidate, who appears to have stopped maintaining a residence in the state after moving to Northern Virginia, had explained to KSL, “I didn’t want my absentee ballot from out of state to get flagged as a fraudulent vote. I didn’t want my boss to be answering any questions about my vote.”

Local election officials were in the process of removing Maloy from Utah’s voter rolls before June 15, when she submitted new information to return to active status that gave her sister’s residence as her address. However, she only did so three days after she had filed to run.

State law says that candidates can’t “file a declaration of candidacy for a registered political party of which the individual is not a member.” Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who is Utah’s top elections official, has said that Maloy was eligible to run, but other prominent Republicans have disagreed. Denning’s lawsuit contends that Henderson and Maloy both concealed that she wasn’t properly registered before the convention.

However, it may be too late for the courts to act, since some counties have already sent their ballots to be printed to ensure they can be mailed out on time (federal law requires that absentee ballots be mailed to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before a federal election). But if a court does grant Denning’s request, his lawsuit seeks to have the state GOP central committee pick a replacement for Maloy on the primary ballot, which regardless will include former state Rep. Becky Edwards and former RNC member Bruce Hough, who had both gathered signatures to get onto the ballot.

CALIFORNIA 22ND DISTRICT. Democratic state Sen. Melissa Hurtado will reportedly enter the race for California’s 22nd Congressional District, according to unnamed sources who spoke with the San Joaquin Valley Sun’s Reid Stone. The news comes as a surprise for multiple reasons. Chief among them, former Assemblyman Rudy Salas announced his own bid a week ago, following his 52-48 loss to GOP Rep. David Valadao last year. Salas had dominated the conversation to such an extent that Hurtado’s name had not previously come up as a possibility. Inside Elections even reported last month that one nameless “Salas skeptic” had concluded, “There is no one else.”

Evidently, there may be. Last year, Hurtado briefly considered a bid against Republican Rep. Devin Nunes but decided not to when Nunes bailed after redistricting dismantled his district. She then went on to survive her bid for reelection by an ultra-skinny 13 votes. Because California’s Senate districts are so enormous—there are only 40 senators compared to 52 members in its U.S. House delegation—Hurtado already represents 96% of the 22nd District, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. It’s not clear how she might differentiate herself from Salas, though, as both have cultivated reputations as moderates.

NEW YORK 4TH DISTRICT. State Sen. Kevin Thomas kicked off his campaign for New York’s 4th Congressional District on Wednesday, making him the third notable Democrat to enter the race for the bluest seat in the country held by a Republican.

Thomas, who emigrated to the United States at the age of 10, scored a huge upset in 2018 when he unseated Republican incumbent Kemp Hannon, who had served in the legislature continuously since 1977. The unknown Thomas received almost no assistance from the Senate Democrats’ campaign committee and ran no TV ads, but as Newsday’s Yancey Roy put it, he ran an aggressive door-knocking campaign that “strategically wooed minority voters in a demographically changing district” with a burgeoning South Asian population.

Hannon’s district had favored both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but he’d survived many challenges by close margins during his long career. This time, though, he seemed to be caught off-guard and failed to spend most of his considerable war chest. The end result was a 51-49 victory for Thomas that Roy characterized as New York’s biggest surprise on an election night filled with them. The win also made Thomas the state’s first Indian American member of the Senate.

Two years later, Thomas again won by a 51-49 margin, but following redistricting, the state’s new court-drawn map made his 6th District considerably bluer: The old version had supported Joe Biden 53-46 but the new one would have backed him 67-31. As a result, Thomas won a third term last year by a comfortable 59-41 spread in his new district, which makes up 37% of the 4th Congressional District’s population according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.

Thomas, who would also be the first Indian American to represent New York in Congress, now joins two others for the right to take on freshman Rep. Anthony D’Esposito: former Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, who was last year’s Democratic nominee, and attorney Sarah Hughes, an Olympic gold-medal figure skater. D’Esposito will be a top target next year by virtue of the fact that the Long Island-based 4th District voted for Biden by a 57-42 margin—the president’s widest margin in any district represented by a Republican.

But the Biden numbers don’t tell the full story. In the years since that romp, Democrats have struggled in Nassau County, where Biden won by a comfortable 54-45. In 2021, Republicans decisively flipped the district attorney’s office and scored an upset in the race for county executive after caricaturing Democrats as weak on crime, a playbook they’d take statewide the following year. Gillen, meanwhile, lost reelection as supervisor four years after her own shocking win to lead the state’s second-largest municipality after New York City.

Gillen nonetheless emerged as the Democrat’s standard-bearer last year to hold the 4th District following Rep. Kathleen Rice’s retirement (the outgoing congresswoman had given Gillen her endorsement). Both D’Esposito and the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee Lee Zeldin, worked to portray Democrats as unconcerned about crime, attacks that seem to have stuck. Gillen, for her part, focused on abortion, but while she ran slightly ahead of Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, it wasn’t enough. Zeldin carried the 4th District 53-47, according to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, while D’Esposito pulled off a 52-48 win.

Democrats, however, are hoping that last year’s low turnout among many of the party’s core voters will reverse itself next year, particularly with a presidential race on the ballot. In addition, there’s a chance that the state’s court-imposed congressional map could change as the result of a pending lawsuit.

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

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