The Political Report – August 13, 2023

A new CBS News/YouGov poll shows that nearly 59% of Americans think that the criminal investigations into Donald Trump are an effort to keep him from winning the White House next year. Nonetheless, 57% also believe they are about upholding the rule of law, and 52% say they are about defending democracy.

“As a bitter labor battle continues to roil Hollywood, the public is paying attention, and Americans are feeling more sympathy toward striking actors and writers than to the studios, networks and streamers,” a Los Angeles Times poll finds.

MINNESOTA 5TH, NEW YORK 5TH and PENNSYLVANIA 12TH DISTRICTS. Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel takes a look at three safely blue House seats where the hawkish pro-Israel group AIPAC could back Democratic primary campaigns against progressive representatives it has clashed with in the past, though he notes that it’s not clear yet which contests the group is looking to invest in. It only takes a plurality to win the nomination in each of these states, so the incumbents would likely benefit if more than one opponent takes them on.

Kassel begins in Minnesota’s 5th District, a Minneapolis-based constituency where Rep. Ilhan Omar turned back former City Council member Don Samuels just 50-48 after AIPAC financed another super PAC’s efforts to beat her. Samuels reportedly is considering another try, though an unnamed operative says AIPAC believes he’s “reached his capacity” and is looking at recruiting current City Council member LaTrisha Vetaw. This source says that former National Guard recruiter Tim Peterson is also looking at this race, saying, “He wants to do it but doesn’t want to make a misstep.”

While the article didn’t discuss why the organization wants to move on from Samuels, he did attract renewed scrutiny last year over a 2020 incident during which a 6-year-old drowned on an outing that was chaperoned by the former council member and his wife. When a critic tweeted about the boy’s death in 2022, Samuels blithely responded, “Can’t swim but can govern.”

Vetaw, for her part, won her seat in 2021 by decisively unseating Phillipe Cunningham, who had made history four years before as the first trans man of color elected to office anywhere in the country. Vetaw, though, faulted the incumbent for backing an unsuccessful local ballot measure that would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new department of public safety, a position Omar also adopted. Kassel says that Vetaw “initially indicated that she would run” against the congresswoman, but the operative now says she’s been “noncommittal” over the last month as she concentrates on the Nov. 7 race to retain her current post.

Over in New York’s 16th District, another source tells Kessel that, not only has AIPAC been trying to recruit Westchester County Executive George Latimer to face Rep. Jamaal Bowman, but that Latimer will likely “decide in early September, after he sees polling.” Latimer himself previously expressed interest last month, but he says he has “no news” himself to share.

We hadn’t previously heard Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen talked about as a Bowman foe, but the mayor tells JI he’s indeed thinking about it. Westchester Deputy Corrections Commissioner Michael Gerald got in earlier this month, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be a serious threat.

Finally in the Pittsburgh area, Kassel writes that Edgewood Borough Council member Bhavini Patel “is planning” to wage an intra-party battle against freshman Rep. Summer Lee for Pennsylvania’s 12th District. Patel, who dropped out last year well ahead of the primary, did not commit to anything when asked; the article says that JI hasn’t been able to verify if AIPAC “had met with Patel or if it is more broadly engaged in the race.”

MARYLAND 6TH DISTRICT. Montgomery County Councilmember Laurie-Anne Sayles on Thursday became the latest Democrat to join the busy primary to succeed Democratic Senate candidate David Trone in this 54-44 Biden seat. Sayles, who is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, last year became the first Black woman to win an at-large seat on the County Council, and she’d also be the first African American to represent western Maryland and much of Montgomery County in Congress.

NEW JERSEY 7TH DISTRICT. Former State Department official Jason Blazakis filed FEC paperwork Wednesday for the Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Tom Kean Jr., though he held off on announcing he was in. Blazakis’ team, which described him as still “exploring,” a bid, said it wouldn’t be launching before funeral services take place over the weekend for Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, adding, “We’ll have more information in the coming weeks.” Blazakis would join a nomination contest that includes Working Families Party state director Sue Altman and Roselle Park Mayor Joe Signorello.

FLORIDA 11TH DISTRICT. The Daily Beast’s Roger Sollenberger reports that former state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who is challenging Rep. Daniel Webster in the GOP primary for Florida’s conservative 11th District, “wildly plagiarized” his 2012 honors thesis for the University of Florida.

Sollenberger says that the very first sentence of the document is a “near-verbatim version” of one from a book about Friedrich Nietzsche (whose first name Sabatini constantly misspelled as “Freidrich”), while other passages come from Wikipedia without any sourcing or quote marks. The head of Stanford University’s English Department, who called Sabatini’s work “a fascinating text from a plagiarism standpoint,” also told the reporter, “Many of the references to his secondary sources seem largely fabricated, right down to the page numbers.”

Sabatini, who did not respond to Sollenberger’s request for comment, was elected to the state House in 2018 even after photos surfaced showing him in blackface during his time in high school, and he spent his four years in office picking fights with his party’s leadership. Sabatini sought a promotion last year when he ran for the newly gerrymandered 7th District, but Kevin McCarthy’s allies also didn’t want to have to deal with him.

McCarthy’s side instead aided a super PAC that ran ads against him in the primary, with one person later telling the Washington Post that Sabatini was one of the candidates who “would have been legislative terrorists whose goal was fame.” The state representative lost 38-24 against now-Rep. Cory Mills, and he announced months later that he’d take on Webster in the 11th District. Webster himself only won renomination last year 51-44 against Laura Loomer, a far-right troll who is considering another try for a seat that includes the gargantuan retirement community of The Villages.

NORTH CAROLINA 8TH DISTRICT. Pastor Mark Harris tells the conservative Carolina Journal that he’s considering another run for the House almost five years after state election authorities refused to certify the Republican’s apparent victory in the old 9th District because of election fraud involving absentee ballots that a campaign operative committed on his behalf. “In calling our previous donors, I am finding overwhelming encouragement,” said Harris, who argued he was the one who was wronged in 2018 by a state Board of Elections “determined to destroy my reputation, and impugn my character.”

Harris would be running to succeed Rep. Dan Bishop, a far-right politician who is leaving to run for state attorney general, in what’s now the dark-red 8th District. Bishop himself won a previous and more competitive version of this seat in 2019 after the Board of Elections ordered a new election and Harris, to the relief of his party, opted not to run in it. The consultant responsible for the previous year’s fraud, the late McCrae Dowless, later went to prison, but Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman announced in 2020 that she wouldn’t charge Harris as part of her probe.

NORTH CAROLINA 6TH DISTRICT. Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning was in a car accident in her district on Thursday and broke her sternum and a bone in her foot. She and a staffer were treated at a hospital but were both released. A spokesperson says Manning plans to work from home during her recovery. The House is currently in recess until Sept. 12.

NEW YORK 1ST DISTRICT. Politico reports that Nancy Goroff, who was the 2020 Democratic nominee in the last version of this eastern Long Island seat, is “expected to launch a second bid later this year,” though there’s no word from her directly. Goroff would join former state Sen. Jim Gaughran in the primary to face freshman GOP Rep. Nick LaLota in a constituency that Joe Biden would have carried by a tiny 49.5-49.3.

Goroff was the head of the chemistry department at ​​Stony Brook University when she launched her campaign to unseat GOP incumbent Lee Zeldin in the old 1st, and she would have been the first woman in Congress with a PhD in natural science. Goroff, who had the backing of EMILY’s List, narrowly outpaced 2018 nominee Perry Gershon in the primary, and major outside groups from both parties ended up spending in the general election. The incumbent, though, prevailed 55-45 as Donald Trump was taking his seat by a smaller 51-47 spread.

Former state Sen. Jim Gaughran on Monday became the first notable Democrat to launch a bid against freshman GOP Rep. Nick LaLota, whose Long Island constituency supported Joe Biden by a narrow 49.5-49.3 in 2020.

But the 1st District, which includes the eastern and northern portions of Suffolk County, swung hard to the right two years later, and LaLota’s 56-44 victory over County Legislator Bridget Fleming makes him one of the 18 House Republicans to hold a Biden district: That win, according to numbers from Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, came at a time when Republican Lee Zeldin, who represented the last version of the 1st District, defeated Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul here by a similar 57-43. There’s a chance, however, that the state’s court-imposed congressional map could change as the result of a pending lawsuit.

Gaughran himself is a longtime Suffolk County politico who got his start in 1983 when the 26-year-old became the youngest-ever member of the Huntington Town Board, as well as its lone Democrat. Gaughran won a promotion to the County Legislature four years later, but his attempts to advance further in elected office would stall for decades. Gaughran badly lost his high-profile 1992 campaign to unseat state Senate Majority Leader Ralph Marino, and his bid to become Huntington Town Supervisor the following year likewise ended in defeat. (The Republican who beat him, Frank Petrone, would switch parties in 2002 and ultimately retired in 2017.)

Gaughran eventually returned to public life in 2008 when the County Legislature appointed him to become a member of the Suffolk County Water Authority, and he’d become its chair in 2010. Gaughran, though, wasn’t done trying to regain elected office: Two years after losing the 2014 race for county comptroller to Republican John Kennedy, he narrowly failed to unseat state Sen. Carl Marcellino 51-49. But Gaughran reached the state Senate at last by winning his 2018 rematch against Marcellino 55-45, a victory that came the same cycle that Democrats were finally winning a stable majority in the chamber, and he defended his new seat 50-49 in 2020.

The state senator got some unwelcome news in the spring of 2022, however, when New York’s highest court ordered that the state’s congressional and Senate maps be redrawn, a task that was carried out by an outside expert hired by a lower court. The senator opted to retire after being placed in the same constituency as GOP colleague Mario Mattera, saying, “The electoral realities of my home district as drawn by the special master cannot be ignored.”

Gaughran reentered the political arena this week when he launched his bid to unseat LaLota, and he immediately made it clear he’d make abortion rights a centerpiece of his campaign. He also kicked off his campaign with support from Suffolk County’s powerful longtime party chair, Rich Schaffer, which may help him deter some would-be primary foes from running here.

RHODE ISLAND 1ST DISTRICT. Rhode Island’s Board of Elections voted Tuesday to review all of the signatures that Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos turned in to qualify for the Sept. 5 special Democratic primary, though it’s unclear what this probe could actually do this close to Election Day. Federal law requires that absentee ballots be mailed to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before a federal election, so ballots with the lieutenant governor’s name have already gone out.

The state attorney general’s office is investigating allegations that Matos’ team submitted fraudulent petitions, but election authorities previously verified that she’d turned in about 230 more than the required 500 needed to qualify. The seven-member BoE said two weeks ago that it wouldn’t review her signatures only to shift course this week, with one board member arguing that some voters were losing “faith in the process.” Matos’ team responded to the vote, “We too want to understand what transpired with our nomination papers and we look forward to hearing the results of this review.”

CONNECTICUT 5TH DISTRICT. The head of the state GOP tells CT Insider’s John Moritz that he’s spoken to 2022 nominee George Logan about seeking a rematch with Democratic incumbent Jahana Hayes, and that “[w]e’re hoping George will be getting in soon.” Politico reported back in May that Logan was considering trying to avenge his 50.6-49.4 loss, but we hadn’t heard anything new about his plans until now. Joe Biden carried this seat, which includes northern Fairfield County and northwestern Connecticut, 55-44.

OREGON 6TH DISTRICT. A consultant for 2022 GOP nominee Mike Erickson told the Capital Chronicle on Monday that Erickson plans to announce another run within the next month for this 55-42 Biden district in the Salem area and southwestern Portland suburbs. Erickson lost 50-48 to Democrat Andrea Salinas last year for this newly created district, and shortly after the election he sued over his defeat.

Erickson’s lawsuit claimed Salinas’ negative ads over his 2016 arrest and conviction for driving under the influence violated a state law that “prohibits knowingly making false statements about a candidate, political committee or ballot measure.” The Capitol Chronicle’s recent story says he’s still seeking $800,000 in damages and is pushing for a trial, though no date has been set yet.

CALIFORNIA 45TH DISTRICT. In a truly strange development, attorney Aditya Pai’s campaign initially emailed out a statement on Thursday saying he was ending his bid to face GOP Rep. Michelle Steel only for the Democrat to declare hours later that it was “sent by a now-former aide in error.” He added, “I will absolutely NOT be suspending my campaign.” 

Pai, who is one of several contenders seeking this Orange County constituency, acknowledged he’d written the original missive where he said he was dropping out because “at least at this moment, I don’t enjoy the life of a politician.” The still-candidate said in his second email, “I wrote that letter as an emotional processing exercise after an exhausting glimpse into the political machine. I sent it to some mentors and staff for perspective before getting back to work; it was never supposed to be shared.” He added, “Despite the emotional weight of candidacy, my call to service — not politics — far outweighs it.”

ALABAMA FUTURE DISTRICT. Democratic state Rep. Juandalynn Givan tells The Messanger’s Sophie Tatum she’s considering running for the House and already has put together “a team … that is poised, ready to go,” but she says she won’t decide until a final map is in place. The GOP-dominated legislature last month passed boundaries intended to defy a federal court order that the state create two districts where Black voters could elect their preferred candidates, and plaintiffs quickly asked a three-judge panel to draw up their own lines.

Givan, who represents part of the Birmingham area, appears to be the first notable Democrat to publicly express interest in running for a new seat, and she acknowledges she’d almost certainly have to get through a crowded primary. “I think you would expect four, six, eight, ten you know, candidates to file for that even if nobody has taken the plunge to this point,” she told Tatum.

NORTH CAROLINA FUTURE DISTRICT. State House Speaker Tim Moore announced last month that he will not seek another term leading the chamber after the 2024 elections, and he and his team are continuing to evade questions about whether he’d run for the U.S. House after his party passes a new gerrymander. Political advisor Paul Shumaker told the News & Observer, “We don’t know what the maps are going to look like. We have all this speculation.” Shumaker added that his client could also go into the private sector.

NEW YORK 17TH DISTRICT. Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan, who represents the neighboring 18th District, has endorsed former Rep. Mondaire Jones in his comeback bid for the 17th District. The two briefly served together last year after Ryan won a special election for what was then numbered the 19th District. Jones faces local school board trustee Liz Gereghty, the sister of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, for the right to take on freshman GOP Rep. Mike Lawler in this swingy district.

PENNSYLVANIA 17TH DISTRICT. Republican state Rep. Rob Mercuri is still considering a bid against first-term Democratic Rep. Chris Deluzio, according to an unnamed source who spoke with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, though the paper says that Mercuri “did not respond to a request for comment.” Inside Elections’ Erin Covey reported something similar in April, but Mercuri still has yet to say anything publicly. Mercuri’s legislative district is contained entirely within Deluzio’s 17th Congressional District, but because Pennsylvania House districts are so small, Mercuri represents just 8% of the residents of the 17th.

CALIFORNIA 13TH DISTRICT. Former Assemblyman Adam Gray on Wednesday launched his long-awaited rematch against freshman Republican Rep. John Duarte in this sprawling seat in the mid-Central Valley. The only other notable Democrat in the race is financial advisor Phil Arballo, whom Gray outpaced 31-17 in last year’s top-two primary (Duarte took first with 34%). Arballo, though, finished June with just $26,000 in the bank compared to $1 million for the incumbent.

The 13th backed Joe Biden 54-43 in 2020, but both parties knew that the 2022 electorate would be far more conservative given Democrats’ long struggle to turn out their Central Valley base in non-presidential years. What followed was an expensive open seat campaign where Gray’s side ran ads accusing Duarte, who ran a large plant nursery, of refusing to refund local farmers after he knowingly sold them “defective trees,” and they also attacked him over unresolved 2015 lawsuit leveled at him by former employees of his agribusiness. Republicans, meanwhile, worked to portray Gray, who was one of the most prominent moderates in the legislature, as a political insider.

Gray ran well ahead of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who lost this constituency 54-46 to Republican rival Brian Dahle, but not by quite enough. Duarte ultimately won 50.2-49.8, a 564-vote margin that made this the second-closest House race of the cycle. (Only Colorado’s 3rd, where far-right incumbent Lauren Boebert fended off Democrat Adam Frisch by 546 ballots, was tighter; Frisch is also running again.)

Gray in February filed to take on Duarte again, and political observers spent the following months anticipating that he’d launch a second campaign. He did just that on Wednesday with the support of 21st District Rep. Jim Costa, who represented a little more than half of this seat under the last map. Gray kicked off his renewed effort by accusing Duarte of having “consistently bent to the will of Kevin McCarthy,” the speaker who represents the neighboring 23rd District, while also “kowtowing to the whims of the radical Freedom Caucus.”

ARIZONA 1ST DISTRICT. Conor O’Callaghan, who is an executive at the global trading and fund services firm BTIG, declared Tuesday that he was joining the Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. David Schweikert. O’Callaghan, who emigrated from Ireland when he was young, tells Bloomberg he grew up in Arizona and moved back to the state three years ago even though it meant needing to wake up at 4:30 AM to work New York hours. O’Callaghan, who is a first-time candidate, also told that he believed the party had previously nominated contenders who were “too left” for the district, and that he worried a similar thing was happening nationally.

Schweikert won reelection here in 2022 50.4-49.6 two years after Biden carried this Phoenix-area constituency 50-49, and several Democrats are already competing to take him on. The field includes former TV news anchor Marlene Galán-Woods; orthodontist Andrew Horne; former Arizona regional Red Cross CEO Kurt Kroemer; state Rep. Amish Shah; and businessman Andrei Cherny, who ran unsuccessfully for the old 9th District in 2012 under the last map.

NORTH CAROLINA 8TH DISTRICT. State GOP activist Dan Barry tells the conservative Carolina Journal that he’s mulling a bid to succeed Rep. Dan Bishop, a fellow Republican who is leaving to run for attorney general. Barry, who is a former member of the Weddington Town Council, ran in 2012 several maps ago for what was then numbered the 9th District and placed fifth in the primary with 6%.

GEORGIA 13TH DISTRICT. Democratic Rep. David Scott released a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution saying that he’ll seek a 12th term despite a recent Politico report relaying that his colleagues “widely expect him not to run” again in his dark blue seat.” The congressman mentioned his goals as the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee and other duties like ensuring funding for historically Black colleges, declaring, “These are all issues I intend to tackle in the next Congress, which is why I am running for reelection.”

The 78-year-old Scott does not appear to have addressed concerns about his health, including comments from an unnamed fellow Democrat to Politico saying, “There are real questions about whether he’s with it.” In June, when one reporter was actually able to ask the congressman how a hearing had gone, the congressman replied, “I don’t know.”

UTAH 2ND DISTRICT. A state judge ruled Monday that Celeste Maloy would remain on the ballot for the Sept. 5 special GOP primary to succeed her old boss, outgoing Rep. Chris Stewart. Businessman Quin Denning, one of several candidates who lost June’s party convention to Maloy, filed a lawsuit weeks ago alleging that state law made her ineligible to win that gathering on the grounds that she was not an active Republican registered voter before filing to run.

Denning would not tell the Salt Lake Tribune if he’d appeal, but it may already be too late because ballots are already printed and have been sent out overseas. (Federal law requires that absentee ballots be mailed to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before a federal election.) “We’re talking about upsetting a special election process that is now well underway,” the judge said as he explained why he wouldn’t take action against Maloy. “I think the public interest favors respecting the party convention’s choice.”

PENNSYLVANIA 1ST DISTICT. Anti-abortion activist Mark Houck announced Wednesday that he’d run to deny renomination to Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in this competitive suburban Philadelphia seat, a declaration that comes months after he was found not guilty of allegedly violating a federal law designed to protect abortion clinics. Houck became a conservative celebrity in the leadup to that January trial, where he was accused of intimidation by twice shoving a 72-year-old Planned Parenthood volunteer in 2021; Houck never denied he’d done this, though he successfully claimed that he’d only become violent after his son was insulted.

Houck launched his campaign by telling the far-right website The Church Militant, “We’re running to protect the rights of families and defend traditional family values in our district. Unfortunately, Brian doesn’t represent that.” Fitzpatrick, who has made a name for himself as a pragmatist, has always run well ahead of the top of the ticket during his four campaigns, and Democrats would be delighted if Houck gave him a hard time in this 52-47 Biden seat. The well-funded congressman turned back a little-known primary foe 66-34 last cycle before pulling off a 55-45 victory against Ashley Ehasz, a Democrat who is running again.

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

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