The Political Report – August 9, 2023

If you look at the presidential elections since World War II, you’ll find that incumbents usually win reelection. When incumbents lose, it’s usually because the economy has serious problems.

President Biden has overseen a period of still high but moderating inflation, strong job growth and declining risk of recession. Consumer sentiment is also finally rising. Curiously, his approval rate on the economy remains low. But he’s finally traveling the country taking credit for “Bidenomics” and the other very popular parts of his agenda, such as infrastructure and green energy spending.

If inflation surges again, or a recession actually arrives, Biden’s re-election chances will certainly be hurt. But if economic growth and a strong jobs market continue through the election while inflation continues to recede, Biden should be able to take full credit. That means that if the economy is behaving next year like it is today, Biden will have the advantage in the election.

If we get a Biden-Trump rematch next year, there will be plenty of other issues on the ballot. Abortion rights, the future of democracy and Trump’s criminal behavior will all be hot topics. But I’ll bet the economy is still the most important in predicting the election outcome.

MISSISSIPPI LT. GOVERNOR. While Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann goes into Tuesday’s Republican primary with far more money available than his far-right challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the top conservative megadonor in America is doing his part to help the challenger pull off an upset for this powerful post.

McDaniel first rose to national prominence in 2014 when he nearly ousted the late Sen. Thad Cochran in a nasty primary runoff in this dark red state, a defeat the challenger never accepted. (Like Donald Trump, he was still insisting years later that he believed he’d won.) His contest with Hosemann has likewise been an ugly and expensive affair.

Mississippi Today’s Geoff Pender reports that a super PAC called Invest in Mississippi raised $885,000 through late July, with a little more than half of that cash coming from dark money groups that don’t need to disclose their donors. However, the balance was from Save Our Constitution PAC, an Ohio-based organization funded almost entirely by Illinois billionaire Dick Uihlein. Save Our Constitution PAC was founded this year to pass a constitutional amendment in Ohio that would make it far harder to ever change the state’s governing document again, but it also seems to be functioning as a vehicle for Uihlein to direct some of his largesse toward the Magnolia State.

Invest in Mississippi has been using that money to air ads accusing Hosemann of having “served as the vice president of the South Jackson Women’s Clinic, an abortion clinic that has since been shuttered.” These allegations first surfaced all the way back in 1998 when Hosemann sought the GOP nod for a U.S. House seat, prompting his current campaign to reissue a 25-year-old memo from the clinic’s president attesting that the facility didn’t perform abortions while the candidate was affiliated with it. (Hosemann went on to win the nomination but lose to Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows.)

McDaniel, however, was not remotely appeased. “Frankly, I don’t trust the word or the credibility of an abortion doctor in any event,” he told the Mississippi Free Press. The state senator repeated the same charges days later at the Neshoba County Fair while still insisting that, despite labeling his opponent “Delbert the Democrat,” he has “respect for Delbert Hosemann.” Hosemann responded, “If he respected me, he’d pull his ads today. He knows they’re lies.”

That hasn’t been the only line of attack that McDaniel has been employing, though. The lieutenant governor controls committee assignments in the 52-member Senate, including chairmanships, and Hosemann has handed out gavels to 13 of the 16 members of the Democratic caucus.

While all of Hosemann’s recent Republican predecessors, including now-Gov. Tate Reeves, have appointed similar numbers of Democratic chairs, McDaniel has pledged to end the practice. (The chamber has a total of 41 standing and joint committees, the vast majority of the Senate’s 36 Republicans run a committee; Pender notes that, while there’s no rule against having one senator chair multiple panels, that would create a “heavy workload” for one person to handle.)

The incumbent, though, hasn’t been afraid to go on the offensive himself. Hosemann filed a complaint months ago accusing McDaniel of breaking campaign finance law by setting up a PAC that raised $475,000 from a Virginia-based dark money organization, which in turn shipped almost all of those funds to McDaniel’s campaign—far, far beyond the legal donation limit of $1,000.

McDaniel, who blamed the transaction on “clerical errors,” ultimately returned the money and closed the PAC; Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch has shown no obvious interest, though the Friday before the election, she did announce an investigation into separate allegations regarding Invest in MS. McDaniel went on to argue that the problem lay with the state’s campaign finance laws, not anything he did; Mississippi Today noted, “Oddly, McDaniel during his long tenure as a state senator loudly championed stricter campaign finance laws and transparency for the public on sources of political money.”

Hosemann has also used the last week of the campaign to argue that his opponent likely doesn’t actually live in his southeastern Mississippi Senate district, which would mean he’d voted illegally. The lieutenant governor cited work by journalist William Browning, who reported last month that McDaniel’s home in Ellisville doesn’t appear to have used much, if any, water from May 2020 to March 2023. (McDaniel also spent 2014 asking if Cochran still lived in Mississippi.)

The challenger has pushed back by insisting that this house “remains occupied and central to the McDaniel family’s daily lives” but claims he’s been “forced to spend nights elsewhere” because of a black mold infestation. (McDaniel did not respond to Browning’s inquiries if that “elsewhere” is located in his district.)

However, while McDaniel said he would have to “tear out part of the walls and the flooring” to remediate the problem, Browning, who lives less than a mile from the residence, wrote that he’d never seen any sign of work being done and reported that other Ellisville residents “have told me over the years that the place is unoccupied.” A reporter for the Clarion Ledger and Hattiesburg American also showed up at a later date and discovered “no activity at the house.”

Hosemann, for his part, has held a huge financial lead throughout the campaign, and he went into the final days with a giant $2.09 million to $307,000 cash on hand advantage. The lieutenant governor also publicized endorsements during the final week of the campaign from U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both of whom have a history with McDaniel.

McDaniel launched a primary bid against Wicker in 2018 only to quickly switch races after a special election was called to succeed Cochran, who had resigned for health reasons. But the state senator, despite support from Uihlein, had trouble gaining traction against Cochran’s appointed successor, Hyde-Smith, and he came nowhere close to beating her.

The Hosemann-McDaniel showdown may not wrap up on Tuesday, though, because of the presence of a little-known third contender named Tiffany Longino. Mississippi requires candidates win a majority of the vote in order to avoid an Aug. 29 runoff, and if things are tight enough, Longino could keep either of her opponents from hitting that threshold.

McDaniel himself found out the hard way nine years ago how much of an impact one minor candidate could have when he outpaced Cochran 49.5-49.0 only for Some Dude Thomas Carey to take the remaining 1.5%; Cochran used the extended three-week campaign to encourage the state’s heavily Democratic Black electorate to vote in the runoff, a strategy that resulted in the incumbent’s 51-49 win. McDaniel and his allies responded by arguing in court that Democratic voters had illegally voted in the GOP primary (the state has no party registration) and demanded a new election, which he never got.

We haven’t seen any polling here in months to indicate whether things are close enough for a similar thing to happen again, however. But whoever wins the GOP nomination in August, whether it’s this Tuesday or three weeks hence, will be the favorite in the fall against Ryan Grover, who has the Democratic side to himself.

TENNESSEE STATE HOUSE. Democrats Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who were expelled from the Tennessee House by their Republican colleagues in April, both resoundingly won special elections to reclaim their former seats on Thursday night. The results, including a third race in a dark red district, also continue to show Democratic candidates outperforming recent presidential results—a trend that should worry the GOP.

Following their removal from the House for participating in a protest in favor of gun safety legislation on the chamber floor, both Jones and Pearson were swiftly returned to the legislature under a state law that allows vacancies to be temporarily filled by the governing body in the home county of the lawmaker whose seat needs to be filled. Special elections were still required, however, to elect permanent replacements, though the two Democrats, who rose to national prominence thanks to their ordeal, faced little opposition in their safely blue districts.

Pearson, who represents the 86th District in the Memphis area, crushed an independent candidate by a lopsided 94-6 margin; last month, he won a primary by a similar 95-5 spread. Jones, whose 52nd District is in Nashville, didn’t face a primary but he did dispatch a Republican opponent 78-22—a 55-point victory. That beat out Joe Biden’s 69-28 margin in the same district by 14 points.

That overperformance was also very similar to one by another Democrat who ran in the extremely conservative 3rd District in East Tennessee, Lori Love. While Love lost to Republican Timothy Hill, who’d previously represented the district during the 2010s, Hill’s 75-25 win was actually 13 points behind Donald Trump’s 81-18 score in 2020.

Including both the Pearson and Love races, Democrats nationwide are now outperforming 2020 presidential numbers by an average of 7.5 points in special elections that have featured Democratic vs. Republican matchups, according to our Daily Kos Elections tracker. Though no single race can be predictive of future outcomes, special elections tend to closely correlate with U.S. House results in the ensuing general election when taken collectively. While much can change between now and November of next year, if current trends hold, Democrats are likely to enjoy a considerable advantage in 2024.

NORTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL and 8TH DISTRICT. Far-right Rep. Dan Bishop, an election denier who rose to prominence after spearheading North Carolina’s transphobic “bathroom bill” in 2016 while in the state Senate, announced Thursday that he’d run for state attorney general next year. The congressman quickly earned an endorsement from the well-funded Club for Growth for his bid to become the first Republican to hold this office since 1975, though he currently faces former state Rep. Tom Murry in the primary.

Bishop, however, may not be the only sitting congressman who ends up running to succeed incumbent Josh Stein, the Democratic frontrunner in next year’s race for governor. The very same day, Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson declined to rule out a bid of his own. Jackson told the News & Observer’s Danielle Battaglia that he’d only start thinking about a campaign after the state’s Republican-run legislature passes a new congressional map sometime this fall, which could leave the freshman without a seat he can win.

Jackson, however, was quick to make clear how he’d go after Bishop. “I did hear his announcement,” he said, “and as a prosecutor, I don’t think that anyone who supported overturning an election should be talking about law and order.” The Democratic field currently consists of Marine veteran Tim Dunn and Navy Reserve veteran Charles Ingram, but both reported having minimal cash stockpiles at the end of June.

Bishop did indeed vote to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the hours following the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, a move the congressman justified by echoing Donald Trump’s lies about mail-in votes. “In the 2020 election, the national Democratic Party carried out a highly coordinated, massively financed, nationwide campaign to displace state regulation of absentee ballots by means of a flood of election-year litigation,” Bishop wrote just before the riot, and he’s continued to spread the Big Lie since then. The congressman fired off an evidence-free tweet last year claiming that Jack Dorsey “and Twitter put their thumb on the scale in the last election to help Biden.” (Unsurprisingly, Bishop has a far more favorable view of that site’s new owner.)

Before Bishop devoted himself to enabling conservative extremists in Washington, D.C., he was a state lawmaker who indirectly helped cost the GOP the governorship in 2016. That year, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the Bishop-crafted House Bill 2, which required anyone using bathrooms at schools or public facilities to use the restroom associated with the sex on their birth certificate, regardless of their gender identity. That legislation sparked a national backlash that led several major corporations to cancel planned expansions in the state, and voters responded by narrowly booting McCrory in favor of then-Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Bishop’s career, though, survived and thrived even after Cooper signed a law rolling back HB 2. The state senator unexpectedly got the chance to run for Congress in what was then numbered the 9th District in 2019 after the results of the previous year’s election were voided because of election fraud carried out to assist Republican nominee Mark Harris. Bishop decisively won the primary and went on to narrowly defeat 2018 Democratic nominee Dan McCready 51-49 after an expensive campaign for a gerrymandered constituency that Trump had taken 54-43 in 2016.

But despite that underwhelming victory, as well as a new court-supervised map that made the 9th District a shade bluer, Bishop turned in an easy 2020 win in a contest that national Democrats didn’t target. His constituency was soon renumbered the 8th District following the 2020 census and became safely red turf that Bishop had no trouble holding last year. The congressman then used the first days of the new Congress to cast 11 straight votes against making Kevin McCarthy speaker, but he eventually flipped; McCarthy rewarded Bishop afterward with a spot on the GOP’s Orwellian-named “Weaponization of the Federal Government” subcommittee.

Republican legislators were recently given the green light to once again gerrymander to their hearts’ content after the newly conservative state Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the court’s previously Democratic majority that had banned the practice. They’ll likely draw up another safe seat to replace the one Bishop currently represents, and there’s already chatter about who could run to replace him.

An unnamed source tells the National Journal’s James Downs that Harris and Dan Barry, who took a distant fifth in the 2012 primary for the 9th District several maps ago, are “names to watch.” Harris chose not to run in the 2019 special election that Bishop ultimately won, but while the consultant responsible for the fraud that wrecked his campaign went to prison, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman announced the following year that she wouldn’t charge the candidate as part of her probe.

P.S. While Bishop would be the first Republican to serve as attorney general in 50 years, the last member of his party to actually win this office was Zeb Walser all the way back in 1896. Republicans last held the attorney general’s office in 1974 when GOP Gov. James Holshouser appointed James Carson to fill a vacancy, though Carson lost the ensuing special election a few months later to Democrat Rufus Edmisten.

MAINE BALLOT REFERENDUMS. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills unexpectedly announced Wednesday that a referendum to replace Maine’s current state flag with one that was in use from 1901 to 1909 will take place in November 2024 rather than this fall. Mills was able to delay the referendum by not signing or vetoing the bill authorizing the vote, a move that ensured it would only take effect when the legislature reconvenes in January. “Rather than sign the bill and rush the question to ballot in little more than three months, she will … allow time for robust public debate and discussion on all sides of the issue,” her team explained.

Maine’s existing flag features, in the words of the Associated Press, “the state’s coat of arms, which includes a pine tree, a moose, a seafarer and a lumberjack, against a blue background.” The 1901 design, by contrast, shows just a green pine tree and blue star across a yellow backdrop, which proponents argue makes for a more distinctive image. Critics of the existing flag also argue that the design is far too cluttered.

However, as the Boston Globe recently explained, the fight over what flag to fly goes far beyond aesthetic preferences. “They want to take the farmer and the fisherman off the flag, to disappear them,” a supporter of the status quo told the paper, continuing, “and to me that’s like what’s been done to the lobstermen and the fishermen in real life, over-regulating them and making it harder if not impossible to make a living.”

OREGON SECRETARY OF STATE. State Treasurer Tobias Read, who lost last year’s Democratic primary for governor to Tina Kotek 56-32, this week became the first notable candidate to launch a bid for secretary of state. The post is held by LaVonne Griffin-Valade, whom Kotek appointed in late June after Democratic incumbent Shemia Fagan resigned in May following her admission that she’d been doing paid consulting work for a cannabis company at a time when her office was finishing an audit into how the state regulates such businesses. The Oregon Capitol Chronicle writes that Griffin-Valade “has said she doesn’t plan to run for a full term,” though there’s no quote from her.

Because Oregon is one of a few states that lack a lieutenant governor’s office, the secretary of state is normally first in line to succeed the governor if the latter office becomes vacant. However, because that provision only applies to elected secretaries, Read took over the top spot in the line of succession once Fagan resigned, and if he’s elected secretary of state next year, he would remain first in line despite switching offices.

NORTH DAKOTA BALLOT REFERENDUM. North Dakota officials on Friday gave the green light to advocates for term limits to start collecting signatures for a proposed amendment to the state constitution to bar anyone older than 80 from representing the state in Congress. The measure could, however, have a tough time surviving a court challenge, though it joins a long history of conservatives testing the limits of a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that states cannot add further qualifications to candidates for Congress beyond those outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

That 1995 ruling, known as U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, struck down an Arkansas ballot initiative that tried to impose term limits on members of the state’s congressional delegation. The court’s 5-4 decision, which saw swing Justice Anthony Kennedy join the four liberal justices, explained that the only restrictions states could impose on congressional candidates were the ones spelled out in the nation’s governing document: namely, a minimum (but not maximum) age, a minimum period of U.S. citizenship, and residency in the state they’re seeking to represent at the time of election. Clarence Thomas, however, wrote a dissent that three fellow conservatives joined, saying he would have allowed Arkansas’ law to stand.

Last year, Republicans in Tennessee decided to test whether Thomas’ views might now hold sway on the Supreme Court, whose membership is now considerably further to the right than it was three decades ago. The GOP-dominated state legislature imposed a requirement that U.S. House candidates must have voted in the previous three statewide general elections to be eligible to run, a move that seemed to be aimed at blocking Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department spokesperson, from seeking the open 5th Congressional District. (Ortagus had only relocated from D.C. in 2021.)

The bill didn’t apply last cycle because Gov. Bill Lee only allowed it to become law after the candidate filing deadline had passed. However, the state GOP’s executive committee later used a different state law to eject Ortagus and two others from the ballot for not meeting the party’s definition of a “bona fide” Republican. At least two of the plan’s proponents, though, had much more than 2022 in mind, as they explicitly said they hoped the Supreme Court would overturn U.S. Term Limits. First, though, a candidate impacted by the law would have to file suit, which has not yet happened.

In North Dakota, meanwhile, organizers are seeking to collect signatures to impose a different requirement that, like Tennessee’s, also isn’t found in the Constitution. The proposed amendment would forbid anyone who would turn 81 before the end of their term from being elected or appointed to Congress. The measure also includes a section saying that, in the event that the courts block this maximum age limit, a “ballot advisory” would appear next to the names of congressional candidates on the ballot informing voters how old they’d be when their term would end.

The effort is being spearheaded by Jared Hendrix, a GOP party official who played a key role in electing and defending members of the legislature’s far-right “Bastiat Caucus” (named after the 19th century French economist who championed free markets) and last year helped pass a term-limits measure applying to the governor and state legislators. Hendrix tells the Associated Press’ Jack Dura that his group is aiming to get the measure on the June primary ballot rather than wait for next year’s general election, saying, “Our plan is to aggressively and quickly gather signatures before cold weather hits.”

Hendrix and his allies have until Feb. 12 to turn in about 31,200 signatures, a figure that represents 4% of the state’s population (North Dakota is the only state that doesn’t require voter registration) in order to meet his timeline; if they submit in their petitions later, the amendment wouldn’t go before voters until November 2024. No matter what, though, it would only take a simple majority to pass the proposal at the ballot box.

Congressional elections could experience some major changes coast to coast if the Supreme Court were to chart a new course, but it wouldn’t immediately impact any of the three members of the Peace Garden State’s all-GOP delegation. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer are 66 and 62, respectively, while Rep. Kelly Armstrong is 46. Of course, many members of Congress have served (or currently serve) into their 80s and even beyond: Texas Rep. Ralph Hall was 91 when his career came to an end, while South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond remained in office until he was 100.

TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL. Thursday finally brought some action concerning Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s long-stalled trial for securities fraud, with a state judge agreeing to a request from both prosecutors and the defense to delay scheduling anything until Paxton’s separate impeachment trial concludes sometime next month. Both sides agreed that Paxton would be more likely to try to reach a deal concerning the eight-year-old security fraud indictment if two-thirds of the state Senate votes to remove him from office, with one of his attorneys explaining that this outcome would be “a kill shot to his political career, so it opens the door to a resolution that’s not open right now.”

PENNSYLVANIA STATE HOUSE. Local Democratic leaders on Saturday selected Lindsay Powell, a nonprofit employee and member of the board of Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, to be their nominee in the Sept. 19 special election to succeed Democratic state Rep. Sara Innamorato. Powell, who would be the first Black woman to represent this seat, will take on the GOP nominee, realtor Erin Connolly Autenreith, in a 61-38 Biden constituency. The contest takes place at a time when the  203-member chamber is deadlocked 101-101.

NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE HOUSE. : Have you worshipped the dark lord Molech today? No? Then you simply aren’t doing your part to protect abortion rights!

Think we’re insane? Think we’re kidding? Then you, friend, have not yet heard the good word dispensed by the GOP’s brand-new nominee for a pivotal special election for the New Hampshire state House. Say hello to pastor Jim Guzofski, and please enjoy his 2021 Halloween sermon:

No, it’s a shade of witchcraft! Is probably what you’re seeing. And you don’t want to be bold enough to stand up and speak out against it. See, witchcraft is the religion of the fallen humanity. It’s rooted in murder. Why do you think they fight so hard to keep abortion? I mean, to a lunatic frenzy! Because they know blood sacrifices to their god Molech.

What, you don’t think a fellow like this is the right sort of guy to hold a critical swing district that will literally determine whether or not Republicans maintain their majority? Maybe instead you feel he’s a poor fit because he thinks “the majority of the people” who come down with COVID “are the ones that took the jab” since they “literally infected you with the virus”? Or perhaps it’s because he believes being gay is “against nature” because “you never see two male dogs going at it and having kids”? Or is it just that he thinks “the doctrine of demons has so permeated our society in establishing a perverted mindset”?

Well, whatever the reason, it seems that New Hampshire Republicans—or what remains of their establishment—actually agree with you. Party leaders had backed Jessica Sternberg, an official with the state chapter of the College Republicans, but Guzofski, a member of the governing board in his hometown of Northwood, rode his local name recognition to a 56-44 victory in Tuesday’s primary.

Democrats did not need a primary. They’re running computer programmer Hal Rafter, who, after losing his bid for the same district last year by just 25 votes, is the natural choice. Rafter is a mainstream progressive who believes in things like protecting the right to an abortion and improving our public schools and fighting climate change. No witchcraft, no demons, no evil Canaanite deities from Leviticus.

And that’s your matchup on Sept. 19, when Rafter and Guzofski go head-to-head for a tossup district in Rockingham County that was held by Republicans until it became vacant in April. If Democrats flip it (and win two other special elections in safely blue seats), then the state House will be evenly divided between the parties, 199 to 199, plus two independents.

If that comes to pass, it’ll be a remarkable turnabout. Republicans went into the midterms with freshly gerrymandered maps to buoy them, but in spite of everything, Democrats managed to pick up a dozen seats and whittle the GOP down to the smallest majority in state history. Now Democrats are poised to tie the chamber.

What might happen then? It’s difficult to say, because functional control of the gigantic New Hampshire House always depends on who shows up on any given day. Even though Republicans have a nominal majority, Democrats have managed to defeat horrid GOP bills and even pass some good legislation of their own when they’ve had superior numbers on the floor. If Rafter is victorious, that’ll give Democrats one more reliable vote, even if Republicans retain the speakership.

And if Guzofski prevails, may Molech save us.

NASHVILLE MAYOR. Metro Councilor Freddie O’Connell, who is one of the more prominent progressives in local politics, and GOP strategist Alice Rolli advanced out of Thursday’s nonpartisan primary to a Sept. 14 to succeed retiring Democratic incumbent John Cooper.

O’Connell, who employed the slogan “More ‘Ville, less Vegas” as part of his argument that the city needed to prioritize the needs of residents over tourists, took first with 27%, while Rolli outpaced former city economic development chief Matt Wiltshire 20-17 for second. Nashville, which has never elected a GOP mayor since it was consolidated with the rest of Davidson County in 1963, favored Joe Biden 64-32.

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

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