The Political Report – August 12, 2023

The Morning Consult tracking poll after Donald Trump has been indicted three times shows the former president leading the GOP primary field nationally with 59%, followed by Ron DeSantis at 16%, Vivek Ramaswamy at 8%, Mike Pence at 6%, Nikki Haley at 3%, Tim Scott at 3% and Chris Christie at 3%.

PBS Newshour/NPR/Marist: “Trump’s legal difficulties may be weighing him down among some voters within his own party. In mid-June, 32% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said if Trump continues to run for president, they are likely to support another candidate. By late July, that interest in backing a different GOP nominee rose to 37%.”

“Yet a majority of Republican primary voters have dismissed the criminal and civil allegations, investigations, indictments and trials involving Trump as being politically motivated, regardless of the evidence gathered against him… And a majority of Republicans – 58% – say they still plan to vote for Trump, according to this latest poll.”

FLORIDA U.S. SENATOR. National Democratic leaders got some encouraging news out of Florida on Wednesday when the Palm Beach Post’s Stephany Matat, citing two unnamed sources, reported that former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell “has committed to running” against Republican Sen. Rick Scott. Mucarsel-Powell, whom Politico previously said that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is trying to recruit, has not yet confirmed she’ll enter what would be an expensive and challenging race.

Democrats are hoping that 2024 will give them a chance to undo some of the big gains that Republicans have made in the Sunshine State and go after Scott, whose relationship with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is so toxic that one McConnell ally described to Time in April with just two words: “Ass clown.” McConnell months before castigated Scott’s proposal to have all federal legislation expire every five years, including Medicare and Social Security, as “just a bad idea.” The minority leader predicted, “I think it will be a challenge for him to deal with this in his own reelection in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any state in America.”

But Democrats have had a difficult time landing a strong recruit willing to test McConnell’s theory, especially since last year’s brutal election cycle left the party locked out of statewide office for the first time since Reconstruction. A few prominent donors told NBC in May that they were trying to land some out-of-the-box candidates―NBA legends Dwyane Wade and Grant Hill―but there’s no indication either of them ever seriously considered running.

So far the only notable Democrat who has launched a bid against the wealthy Scott is Navy veteran Phil Ehr, who raised $2 million for his 2020 bid against the nationally infamous Rep. Matt Gaetz in the safely red 1st District, but he’s so far attracted no major allies. Plenty of Democratic leaders very much want to avert a competitive primary that would only resolve in August of next year, and at least one potential candidate seems to share that wish: While Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins has publicly expressed interest in a Senate bid, people close to her tell Matat she wouldn’t go for it “if other name-recognized candidates ran.”

The story adds that state House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell is also thinking about challenging Scott, but some prominent Democrats would prefer she instead wage a 2026 campaign to replace GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis. State Sen. Bobby Powell said as much to Matat, calling Driskell “the most qualified candidate” to win the party its first gubernatorial race since 1994. Former Rep. Alan Grayson also is talking about running and even filed FEC paperwork in late June, but his deliberations have attracted little attention now that he’s well into the perennial candidate stage of his career.

Mucarsel-Powell, for her part, would give her party a candidate who has the potential to make history. The former congresswoman, who was born in Ecuador, would be the first Latina Democrat ever nominated for statewide office; she’d also be the second woman to represent Florida in the Senate after the late Paula Hawkins, a Republican who was elected in 1980 and lost six years later.

Mucarsel-Powell also has experience running in competitive races, though she’s lost more than she’s won. The Democrat, who headed a consulting firm that aided nonprofits with fundraising, first emerged on the political scene in 2016 when she challenged Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores in the Miami area. Mucarsel-Powell lost 54-46, but her campaign still impressed party leaders and made her a compelling option the following cycle when she took on Rep. Carlos Curbelo in the old 26th Congressional District.

That race proved to be one of the most competitive contests anywhere in 2018. Curbelo had just won his second term 53-41 even as Hillary Clinton was carrying his seat 57-41, and he had a strong fundraising network behind him. Republicans also did what they could to try to “other” Mucarsel-Powell in this heavily Latino constituency by calling her only the Anglicized name of “Debbie Powell,” arguing she “doesn’t share our values,” and recycling dubious attacks over her husband’s business interests.

Mucarsel-Powell, though, proved to be a formidable fundraiser herself, and she found a poignant line of attack by focusing her ads on healthcare. Mucarsel-Powell ultimately unseated Curbelo 51-49 in that blue wave year, a win that made her the first immigrant from South America ever elected to Congress.

The new congresswoman immediately became a top GOP target for 2020, and the party successfully recruited Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez to take her on. What followed was another expensive campaign in a political atmosphere that proved to be far tougher for local Democrats than almost anyone imagined. Donald Trump capitalized on his strong performance with Cuban Americans and other Latino groups in Florida to take the 26th 53-47―a mammoth swing of 22 points from four years before​​. That transformation was too much for Mucarsel-Powell to overcome, and Giménez unseated her 52-48.

The now-former congresswoman quickly made it clear she wasn’t done with politics, though. Mucarsel-Powell, whose father was fatally shot when she was 24, soon became a senior advisor for Giffords, the prominent gun safety group that former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords formed after she survived a 2011 assassination attempt. Last month Mucarsel-Powell previewed some of the arguments she might use against Florida Republicans if she runs again by highlighting DeSantis’ far-right agenda and declaring, “These out-of-touch extremists cannot continue to wield the levers of power in our state. It’s time for Democrats to go on offense. Because our lives, our children’s lives, depend on it.”

ARIZONA and MONTANA U.S. SENATORS. AZ-Sen, MT-Sen: Republicans looking to take back the Senate received two pieces of unwelcome news Tuesday when Axios and Politico separately reported that a pair of far-right favorites, Arizona’s Kari Lake and Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale, are each preparing to run in their respective states.

We’ll start with Lake, whom Axios writes is “staffing up for a Senate campaign in anticipation of an October launch.” Lake, who refuses to accept her defeat in last year’s contest for governor, has spent the last year talking about running for the seat held by Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema, though it’s not clear how much of that time has been spent in Arizona.

People Magazine reported in June that Lake had in fact “spent a significant portion of her time” in Florida at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago lair. “Kari Lake is there all the time,” volunteered one unnamed source. “There’s a suite there that she practically lives in.” Lake’s team responded by calling the account “ridiculous,” adding, “Kari Lake often speaks at events all over the country in support of America First candidates and organizations; and when she does have the honor of being invited to speak at the beautiful Mar-a-Lago, she overnights at Hilton properties in Palm Beach with her loving husband of 25 years.”

But there’s no disputing that Lake has indeed been traveling “all over the country” to promote her memoir and to stump for conservative causes like Ohio’s Issue 1, the failed amendment that would have made it more difficult to change that state’s constitution in the future. Yet Lake, wrote’s Andrew Tobias, didn’t actually mention Issue 1 at her appearance the weekend before the vote; instead, she mispronounced the name of Ohio’s senior senator, calling him “Sher-ROD” Brown,” something the late Rush Limbaugh once did while incorrectly asserting that the Democrat was Black.

Lake later used Tuesday’s election to amplify conservative conspiracy theories about temporarily malfunctioning ballot scanners at a single polling place, though it’s by no means the only one she’s spread in recent months. Lake, who has been one of the Big Lie’s most fervent proponents, recently exhorted House Republicans to decertify Joe Biden’s 2020 win, saying of Trump, “He won in 2016. He won even bigger in 2020. All that Jan. 6 was, was a staged riot to cover up the fact that they certified a fraudulent election.” That unconstitutional advice came about two months after she urged her Twitter followers to read a thread that claimed the state of California, which backed Biden 63-34, had actually gone for Trump “BIG.”

But if Republicans like NRSC chair Steve Daines have an alternative to Lake in mind, they’ve been quiet about it. The only notable Arizona Republican who has announced a bid is Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, a former Lake supporter who is himself an ardent ally of far-right causes. Lamb, though, raised an unimpressive $603,000 during his opening fundraising quarter, and he finished June with just $335,000 banked. Rep. Ruben Gallego continues to have the Democratic side to himself (and has been raising large sums), while Sinema is still keeping everyone guessing whether she’ll run again.

The situation is different in Montana, where Daines, who is the state’s junior senator, has enthusiastically backed self-funder Tim Sheehy’s bid to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. However, Politico’s Ally Mutnick says that Rosendale, who lost to Tester 50-47 in 2018, is still planning to seek a rematch despite Daines’ attempts to deter him. Indeed, Mutnick reports that the congressman has hired Caroline Wren, a prominent fundraiser who continues to advise Lake and other hardliners.

But Rosendale’s detractors, who remember him as a weak nominee from his campaign five years ago, may still have time to talk him down. While Mutnick first reported in April that the congressman had “told friends and allies that he plans to run for Senate,” we’re still waiting for him to actually announce nearly four months later. And it doesn’t seem like Rosendale himself is in any hurry to finally get in, either. In late July, he told Bloomberg, “We’ve got plenty of time for that.”

Rosendale’s team, though, is continuing to preview the attacks it would use in a primary. ABC reported last month that Sheehy’s aerial firefighting company did an investor presentation in December touting its support for environmental, social, and corporate governance measures—a major bugaboo among conservatives these days. Rosendale’s team this week called their would-be rival a “candidate who supports Leftist ESG and [diversity, equity, and inclusion] provisions.” In keeping with the GOP’s increasing embrace of Vladimir Putin, Rosendale’s camp also highlighted Sheehy’s previous anger with America’s “inaction” as Russia invaded Ukraine.

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s team said Wednesday that the senator “briefly went to the hospital” the previous afternoon “as a precaution after a minor fall in her home.” They added, “All of her scans were clear and she returned home.”

Los Angeles Times: “Capitol Hill is tight quarters, especially for members from the same state. Schiff, Porter and Lee are constantly bumping into one another and their other California colleagues in the hallways, the elevators, at committee hearings and on the House floor. The California delegation has a weekly Wednesday lunch. Lawmakers say they’ve spotted Schiff and Porter on the same flights from D.C. to LAX.”

“And while the Senate hopefuls and their colleagues insist that no one’s trying to make things weird, some California Democrats admit that having the three running against one another has created an uncomfortable situation.”

UTAH U.S. SENATOR. If Attorney General Sean Reyes is still thinking about challenging Sen. Mitt Romney in the GOP primary, he’s being very quiet about it. While Politico reported in March of 2022 that Reyes was “preparing” a bid, it now writes, “One person we’ve not heard from in recent times is Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who’s indicated he’s faced significant pressure within the state to run.”

Conservative attorney George Conway apparently agrees, telling the Beg to Differ podcast that the Republican Party is currently “destroying itself.”

That’s because the GOP is caught in a vicious cycle “addicted” to Trump, his lies and extreme policy positions.

Said Conway: “They live off of these lies, the conservative media profits off of these lies, the political consultants profit off of these lies. The congressmen basically make a living selling lies to the American people for contributions and funding. They’re lining their pockets or providing for their necessities of life through their PACs and whatever.”

He added: “There’s no way out, because they basically locked in a certain number of people to these lies. Ultimately, you’re going to end up with a core of the party that kind of eats itself up, and the rest of the party is just going to fall off and become independent to the extent it hasn’t already.”

Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking on Conway’s and my part.

But it’s getting harder every day to see how this ends well for Republicans.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig tells The Messenger he’s “probably 99% certain” to seek the GOP nod to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a prospect that might not excite any Republicans who remember how chaotic his 2022 gubernatorial campaign was even before he was thrown off the ballot over fraudulent signatures. James, who says he’s aiming to announce in late September, did not address reporter Dan Merica’s questions about how that ejection might impact a new effort, saying merely that he was “looking ahead to 2024 and that is what is important to me.”

Craig is one of several Wolverine State Republicans who are eyeing this race, and the Detroit News reported this week that rich guy Sandy Pensler is one of them. Pensler spent $4 million of his own money on his 2018 quest for this seat, but he got some unwelcome news late in the primary when Donald Trump endorsed his opponent, Army veteran John James: James ended up winning the nod 55-45 before losing to Stabenow in the fall.

Another wealthy businessman, New York Stock Exchange executive John Tuttle, has also been quietly eyeing this contest, but while an unnamed source previously told Time he could enter the GOP primary in mid-July, we still haven’t heard from him a month later. That hardly means we can cross Tuttle off the list, though, as Merica relays that party operatives have heard he’s “strongly considering.” The would-be candidate himself did not respond to Merica’s inquiries.

The Michigan political newsletter MIRS reports that former Republican Rep. Mike Rogers is “nearing an announcement” for the state’s open Senate seat but says there are “some loose-end business issues to be resolved” before he kicks off a campaign. One of those loose ends: the fact that Rogers no longer lives in the state he once again wants to represent. The Detroit News reported last month that the ex-congressman is now a resident of Fort Myers, Florida, but recently “was in Michigan shopping for property.” There’s no word yet, though, as to whether Rogers’ house-hunting trip was successful.

WISCONSIN U.S. SENATOR. Rich guy Eric Hovde tells the conservative Washington Examiner that he’ll decide in the fall if he’ll take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, though he says he hasn’t “set a specific time” for making up his mind. The once and possibly future Senate candidate added that he may not actually announce his plans once he makes them, however, and he noted he’d waited until March of 2012 before launching his first bid that cycle. (Hovde lost that primary 34-31 to former Gov. Tommy Thompson, whom Baldwin beat a few months later.)

Hovde’s unhasty deliberations come at a time when the only declared Republican candidate is Rejani Raveendran, the 40-year-old head of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point College Republicans and someone that few observers would classify as a serious threat to Baldwin. (When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asked Raveendran if Joe Biden won the 2020 election she responded, “I am still learning about that.”)  Party strategist Bill McCoshen, however, told the Examiner that Hovde is “certainly leaning towards entering the race” and predicted he’d spend at least $10 million of his own money.

Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke on Wednesday once again reiterated his interest in seeking the GOP nod to face Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, but while the far-right loudmouth characteristically declared that “[h]er campaign is very afraid of me,” The Messenger’s Matt Holt writes that unnamed “national Republicans” doubt he’ll make good on his bluster by actually running.

The two potential Republicans who would be far more appealing to the NRSC are Eric Hovde and Scott Mayer, and a state party official adds that they doubt the pair of wealthy businessmen would run against one another. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has also reported that former state Senate President Roger Roth is also mulling a bid, though The Messenger does not mention him.

Mayer himself sounds iffy about a Senate bid, telling the paper in mid-July, “I don’t want to do it because I’m the only one left and I have to, but that’s certainly a possibility.” Mayer, though, told Holt he’d decide around Labor Day, which has been his timeframe for months. Hovde, who narrowly lost the 2012 GOP primary for this seat to former Gov. Tommy Thompson, also has said in the past he’d make up his mind around then.

Hovde, though, is already facing some unwelcome questions about his ties to Wisconsin. The Journal Sentinel reported in May that he paid close to $7 million in 2018 for a “luxurious hillside estate” in Orange County, California; shared in a California-filmed ad for his bank; and had the honor of being designated by the Orange County Business Journal as one of the 500 most influential people in the county in 2020.

When the paper asked him which state he spent most of his time in, Hovde avoided giving a direct answer. “OK, I’m born in Wisconsin, raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Wisconsin,” he said. “My home is Wisconsin. I have a business in Wisconsin. So that’s my response.” Hovde added, “I’m sitting in my office in Wisconsin right now … I’m getting ready to walk down to my favorite restaurant, called RED.”

NEVADA U.S. SENATOR. Jeffrey Ross Gunter, who had a turbulent tenure as Trump’s ambassador to Iceland from 2019 to 2021, announced Monday that he was joining the GOP primary to face Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen.

And the field may be about to grow again: The Nevada Independent’s Sean Golonka reports that Tony Grady, who served as the Reno Air Races’ director of flight operations, will launch his own campaign on Tuesday a year after losing the primary for lieutenant governor 31-25 to the eventual winner, Stavros Anthony. The two most prominent contenders are Army veteran Sam Brown, who is the favored candidate of national Republicans, and Jim Marchant, an election conspiracy theorist who narrowly lost the 2022 general for secretary of state.

Gunter, who works as a dermatologist, was a Trump donor during and after the 2016 elections, and the administration went on to make him ambassador to a country he’d never visited. He made news in 2020 in what’s usually a low-profile post, though, when sources told CBS he was “paranoid” about his safety and wanted a gun and a “stab-proof vest” even though there was no indication he was in danger. An Office of the Inspector General report later said he’d been responsible for a “threatening and intimidating environment.”

CBS also reported that Gunter left Iceland in February of 2020 and demanded he be allowed to work remotely from California. He eventually returned in May after Mike Pompeo had what a source, who speculated that the then-secretary of state didn’t want to turn off a possible donor ahead of a future race, called a “gentle” conversation with Gunter.  

The former ambassador himself, though, views his tenure as anything but a disaster. The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey reported in June that he’d made a website listing his 122 “triumphs,” including how he’d crafted a tweet shared by Trump as well as “three Facebook videos to inspire people during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Brodey also relayed that Gunter, who grew up in California and started his practice there, has been registered to vote in the Golden State as a Democrat since 2000 and last cast a ballot there in 2018. The article also says that the now-candidate, who first started owning property in Nevada in 2007, also registered to vote in the Silver State as a Republican in 2021, though he doesn’t appear to have voted there last year. Instead, Brodey says that Gunter asked for an absentee ballot back in California “but apparently did not return it.”

Gunter launched his Senate bid Monday by declaring, “I’ll fight to support Donald Trump and his amazing and great America First agenda.” There is no evidence, according to Brodey, that Gunter cast a 2020 ballot in any state to “support Donald Trump and his amazing and great America First agenda.”

Air Force veteran Tony Grady, who later served as the Reno Air Races’ director of flight operations, confirmed Tuesday that he was joining the GOP primary to take on Democratic incumbent Jacky Rosen. Grady, who would be Nevada’s first Black senator, campaigned for lieutenant governor last cycle and lost the primary 31-25 to the eventual winner, Stavros Anthony.

TENNESSEE U.S. SENATOR. Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson said this week that she’d set up an exploratory committee when she filed FEC paperwork to raise money for a potential bid against GOP incumbent Marsha Blackburn. “I’m taking a serious look at this race and having great conversations with folks who are hungry for better leadership in Washington,” Johnson told the Associated Press.

Johnson filed FEC paperwork Friday to raise money for a campaign to take on GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn.

TEXAS U.S. SENATOR. Democratic state Rep. Carl Sherman told WFAA on Sunday he could decide “any day now” if he’ll join the race to take on GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.

NEW YORK U.S. SENATOR and GOVERNOR. While Republican Lee Zeldin didn’t quite rule out a bid against Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand earlier this year, the former congressman appears to have turned his attention completely toward a possible 2026 rematch against Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul. Politico, which did not mention the possibility that Zeldin could take on Gillibrand, writes that he will decide whether to run for governor again sometime after next year’s presidential election, with Zeldin himself saying, “Because that decision is still 18 to 24 months or so in front of us, I really don’t spend my day thinking about it.”

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. The DGA’s Defending Bluegrass Values affiliate is back on the airwaves for what the GOP firm says is its first spot since before July 4, and it’s once again tying Republican Daniel Cameron to unpopular former Gov. Matt Bevin. “After former Gov. Matt Bevin attacked Kentucky teachers, Daniel Cameron stood behind him,” says the narrator, continuing, “When Bevin let murders and sexual predators out of prison early, Cameron protected Bevin from a special prosecutor.” She goes on declare that the current GOP nominee is “bringing back Bevin’s ruthless health care plan.”

The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling’s new survey for Gov. Andy Beshear finds the incumbent with a 49-41 edge over Republican Daniel Cameron ahead of their Nov. 7 showdown. The only other poll we’ve seen conducted in the last month was a mid-July Public Opinion Strategies internal for the Republican State Leadership Committee that gave Beshear a smaller 49-45 advantage.

Beshear is also getting some outside support, as the DGA announced Thursday it had reserved $11 million in TV time for the remainder of what’s already a more expensive race than the tight contest four years ago between Beshear and GOP incumbent Matt Bevin. AdImpact reported earlier this week that both sides have spent about $31 million so far, a figure that does not include this DGA reservation, compared to $24 million total in 2019.

Daniel Cameron is airing his first ad since he won the Republican nod in mid-May, and the GOP firm Medium Buying tweeted Friday that he’s spending about $500,000 on TV and radio so far. Cameron’s piece features several shots of Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear wearing a facemask as the challenger argues that the state needs a new leader.

NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR. State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut indicated in a new interview that he won’t decide whether to join the Republican primary for New Hampshire’s open governorship until next month, relays Boston Globe reporter Steven Porter. As Porter reminds us, that’s a shift from Edelblut, who said he’d reveal his plans in a matter of days following Gov. Chris Sununu’s retirement announcement last month.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams, who unexpectedly opened the door to a possible campaign for governor at the end of May, announced on Friday that he would not join the race. That leaves Shawn Wilson, who for many years served as transportation secretary under term-limited Gov. John Bel Edwards before resigning in February, as the only notable Democrat in the race. Republicans have a nasty multi-way fight that won’t get settled until the Oct. 14 all-party primary. Given the large field, the race will likely proceed to a Nov. 18 runoff between the top two vote-getters, one of whom will likely be Wilson.

NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR. Retired health care executive Jesse Thomas this week joined the GOP primary to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, though the newest contender doesn’t seem to recognize where his party’s electorate is ideologically. Thomas, who ran Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina’s Medicaid plan, told the Associated Press he’d appeal to the “wide middle ground between the two extremes.” He also said of his party’s frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, “He is focused on the culture war and the bedroom issues, instead of the kitchen-table issues.”

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

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