The Political Report – August 21, 2023

Seth Masket: “The folks who run the party now are the populist grassroots outside DC. They decide who gets nominated for office and who doesn’t. They don’t see this as a temporary madness; they see this as the movement that put them in charge and actually cares about the things they care about. They don’t see any need to ‘snap out of it’; that concept doesn’t make sense to them.”

“Indeed, calling for them to snap out of it is essentially asking them to give power back to the previous faction that never took them seriously in the first place. Why would they want to do that? They’re in charge, and as far as they’re concerned they’re winning.”

“So no, they’re not going to abandon the guy who put them in power. Not even if he’s convicted, not even if he’s in prison. And yes, that means the country has a potentially awful election year coming up, in which the nation’s official institutions have deemed one party’s leader guilty and sentenced him and the nearly half the country considers those institutions illegitimate. It is a toxic, tragic, and potentially violent cocktail.”

NEBRASKA REFERENDUM. The new campaign in Nebraska comes ahead of a Nov. 7 vote in Ohio on an amendment that would enshrine abortion rights into the state’s constitution. Pro-choice advocates are also working to collect signatures in ArizonaFlorida, and South Dakota to amend their own constitutions next year. Their counterparts in Missouri are looking to do the same in 2024, but first they’re suing Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft over the misleading ballot summary text he crafted for their amendment.

Reproductive rights advocates in Nebraska have taken their first steps towards placing a constitutional amendment on next year’s ballot to undo the state’s new 12-week abortion ban, though the Nebraska Examiner’s Paul Hammel notes that organizers have yet to decide on the text of their measure or how far it might go. The drive comes months after Nebraska’s unicameral legislature, an officially nonpartisan body that has been dominated by Republicans for decades, approved increased restrictions in the face of fierce opposition.

In 2010, the 49-member chamber had passed a bill outlawing most abortions after 20 weeks, the first of its kind in the nation. Conservatives tried to go much further earlier this year when they introduced legislation that would have banned the procedure after only about six weeks. Democrats, though, organized a filibuster to prevent the bill from receiving the 33 votes it needed to advance.

During the 2022 elections, Republicans fell one seat short of obtaining the two-thirds majority they would need to overcome filibusters, but Democratic Sen. Mike McDonnell joined their efforts to move the bill forward. (Another Democrat, Justin Wayne, abstained.) However, Republican Sen. Merv Riepe made the crucial decision to abstain after his party refused to take up his plan to restrict access to 12 weeks. Riepe cited his own tough race months earlier to explain his reluctance to accept a six-week ban, warning his colleagues, “We must embrace the future of reproductive rights.”

Riepe’s move derailed the six-week ban, but conservatives weren’t done yet. They instead took a previously unrelated plan to outlaw gender-affirming care for minors, legislation, which had been stalled thanks to the efforts of Democratic Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, and grafted on a 12-week abortion ban. Republican Sen. Julie Slama suggested that leadership did so in part to retaliate against Cavanaugh, who had slowed down every bill that had reached the floor; Slama, along with Riepe, backed the joint bill when it passed in May.

Cavanaugh was furious. “This place is morally bankrupt,” said Cavanaugh as she vowed to keep delaying bills. “I’m looking forward to 2025 when I no longer have to serve with many of you.” Sen. Megan Hunt, a progressive Democrat-turned-independent who had revealed that her son is trans months before, in turn responded by declaring she’d leave the state. Andi Curry Grubb, who serves as state director for the regional Planned Parenthood, further highlighted that the bill didn’t include any exceptions for fetal anomalies, which often aren’t diagnosed until after the 12th week of pregnancy.

Curry Grubb is now part of the newly formed campaign to amend Nebraska’s constitution called Protect Our Rights, though she tells the Examiner that abortion rights advocates haven’t given up hope of striking down the new bill in court. She added that her coalition is still formulating language for the proposed measure but noted the urgency of winning at the ballot box before GOP Gov. Jim Pillen and his allies can muster up support to pass a still-more restrictive ban as Republicans had originally wanted.

The secretary of state will need to approve the wording once it’s been submitted before Protect Our Rights can start to collect signatures to place its amendment before voters. The campaign needs about 123,000 valid signatures, a figure that represents 10% of Nebraska’s registered voters, and it also must collect petitions from 5% of voters in 38 of the state’s 93 counties. According to Ballotpedia, their deadline is July 5.

The Cornhusker State is a longtime GOP stronghold that hasn’t backed a Democratic candidate for president since Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide, but there’s reason to think an abortion rights amendment could still win enough support to pass next year: Polling from Civiqs finds that 49% of voters believe the procedure should be legal all or most of the time, while 46% say the opposite. Two polls taken last year also showed majorities opposed to further abortion restrictions.

IOWA 1ST DISTRICT. Former state Rep. Christina Bohannan announced Tuesday that she’d seek a rematch against Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who beat her last year 53-47 in Iowa’s 1st District. Bohannan, who is the first notable Democrat to launch a campaign for any of the Hawkeye State’s four House seats, is trying to flip a southeastern Iowa constituency that supported Donald Trump by a small 51-48 margin in 2020.

The former state representative, who is a law professor at the local University of Iowa, launched her second effort days after the New York Times ran a story detailing Democratic pessimism about a rebound anytime soon in a one-time swing state that’s moved hard to the right over the last decade. “It’s difficult even to recruit people to run when we’re so far down,” said former Rep. Dave Loebsack, who represented previous versions of this district back when it was still numbered the 2nd. (Loebsack beat Miller-Meeks in 20082010, and 2014; she finally won the 2020 race to succeed Loebsack after he retired by just six votes.)

Bohannan, though, has an angle of attack that wasn’t available to her last time. Upon her entry into the race, she immediately emphasized her opposition to a state law banning most abortions after just six weeks, a bill that GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law in July. “My view is we should go back to Roe v. Wade,” she told the Des Moines Register. “No more, no less. That’s what people support.”

Bohannan also highlighted Miller-Meeks’ cosponsorship of a proposed constitutional amendment that, without exception, calls for a “right to life of each born and pre-born human person.” The Republican, who identified herself as “pro-choice” during her successful 2018 bid for the state Senate, last year told the Quad-City Times, “I’m pro-life with exceptions for life of the mother, rape, and incest.”

Bohannan told the Register she intends to carry her “message out far and wide and reach people that maybe didn’t hear from us last time” and likely is hoping she’ll receive considerably more outside support to accomplish that task than she got in 2022. Pro-Miller-Meeks groups, led by the Congressional Leadership Fund, spent $2.7 million on the congresswoman’s behalf last time, compared to less than $100,000 for Bohannan’s side.

Democrats had every reason to be pessimistic going into 2022. Two of Iowa’s best-known Republicans, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Reynolds, were heading toward decisive wins, and Hawkeye State Republicans caught the red wave that so many of their fellow travelers elsewhere waited for in vain. Grassley carried the 1st 53-47 as he was beating Democrat Mike Franken 56-44 statewide, while Reynolds did even better.

The midterms also saw Zach Nunn narrowly unseat 3rd District Rep. Cindy Axne, who was the state’s only remaining Democratic member of Congress, on the same night that a pair of 10-term incumbents, Attorney General Tom Miller and Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, also fell to Republican challengers. About the only bright spot for state Democrats was the reelection of Auditor Rob Sand, whose 50.1-49.9 victory made him the party’s most prominent elected official by default.

Bohannan is counting on 2024 to be a far better year for her party, but it remains to be seen whether other potentially vulnerable Republicans in Iowa’s House delegation earn credible challenges. Axne likely removed herself from contention two months ago when she accepted a post in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and no serious Democrats have publicly expressed interest in taking on Nunn in the 3rd. Inside Elections reported in June that unnamed Democrats were trying to recruit Dave Price, who recently retired as political director for the station WHO 13, but we’ve heard no new developments since about this 49.3-48.9 Trump seat around Des Moines.

Things have been even quieter in northeastern Iowa’s 2nd District, where Rep. Ashley Hinson remains unopposed for a constituency that favored Trump 51-47. Rep. Randy Feenstra, though, will almost certainly remain secure in his dark red 4th District even if 2024 turns into a strong cycle for Democrats.

ARIZONA 3RD DISTRICT. Phoenix City Councilwoman Laura Pastor unexpectedly announced Friday that she was ending her campaign to succeed her fellow Democrat, Senate candidate Ruben Gallego, saying, “Lately, I have developed some health concerns—not life-threatening, just enough for me to take stock and to prioritize my well-being.” The city councilwoman is the daughter of Gallego’s predecessor, the late Rep. Ed Pastor, and she’d been talked about as a likely House candidate for years.

Pastor’s departure, which came a week after local water conservation board member Ylenia Aguilar also left race, leaves three declared Democrats in the contest for this safely blue seat. Fellow Phoenix City Councilmember Yassamin Ansari finished June with a wide $413,000 to $159,000 cash on hand edge over former state Sen. Raquel Terán, while Glendale Elementary School Board member Héctor Jaramillo did not report any fundraising. (Pastor and Aguilar respectively had $107,000 and $56,000 banked.) The field will likely grow again soon, though, as pediatrician Duane Wooten says he anticipates launching a campaign sometime this month.  

WISCONSIN 1ST DISTRICT. Caledonia Village Board Trustee Anthony Hammes and Navy Reserve Officer Lorenzo Santos are the first two Democrats to announce bids against Republican Rep. Bryan Steil in a 50-48 Trump district that fair-maps advocates are hoping will be redrawn. Hammes previously lost a 2022 general election for a dark red seat in the state Assembly months before he unseated an incumbent to win his current post in this community of 25,000. Santos, for his part, is the deputy emergency management coordinator for Racine County and head of the Young Democrats of Wisconsin, and this appears to be his first run for office.

Delavan Mayor Ryan Schroeder also tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he’s interested in taking on Steil, while the paper reports that former Racine Police Chief Art Howell is considering; Howell has yet to say anything publicly about his interest.

MINNESOTA 5TH DISTRICT. Former Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels’ 2022 campaign manager confirms to the Star Tribune that his old boss is contemplating a Democratic primary rematch against Rep. Ilhan Omar, a development that came a week after Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel first reported that Samuels was considering another try after losing just 50-48. The former councilman is “speaking with supporters and other potential candidates and weighing the best course forward,” said Joe Radinovich, who himself was the unsuccessful 2018 Democratic nominee against Republican Pete Stauber up north in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

The paper also checks in with current City Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw, who Kassel also said was mulling a campaign, and she didn’t rule anything out. Vetaw, who is up for reelection this November, said she values the people “who have asked me to consider running for a higher office” but is “focused on doing my job.” She concluded, “I have no other plans at this moment.”

The only person who actually has announced an intra-party bid against Omar so far is attorney Sarah Gad, who challenged Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush for the Democratic nod in 2020 and lost 71-10. “I didn’t actually think that I had a shot at beating Bobby Rush,” says Gad, who grew up in Minnesota and returned after her first campaign. “I just wanted to make some noise about some issues that I was passionate about.” (Running for office four years after losing a primary to Rush worked out well for at least one person!)

INDIANA 5TH DISTRICT. Howey Politics reports that Max Engling, who has worked as an aide for Speaker Kevin McCarthy since 2019, plans to enter the GOP primary to replace retiring Rep. Victoria Spartz. Engling, an Indiana native whom The Hill named to its 2012 “50 Most Beautiful list,” has yet to confirm this, though Howey adds that he recently had a going away party in D.C.

Meanwhile, Howey also says that former state Sen. Mike Delph, who became Spartz’ chief legal counsel this year, is also mulling a campaign to succeed his boss. The article adds that the departing congresswoman plans to use at least some of her $390,000 war chest to aid Delph, who badly lost reelection in 2018 to Democrat J.D. Ford, in a quest for this gerrymandered seat.

We should hold off on buying any “Mike Delph for Congress” beer koozies, though, because he has a long history of talking about running for higher office but not actually doing it. The conservative hardliner talked about running for the U.S. Senate in 2012, 2016, and 2018 only to defer to someone else each time. And while Howey wrote in October of 2019 that he was “expected” to launch a bid for the old 5th after that year’s elections, he also sat that contest out.

OHIO 9TH DISTRICT. 2022 GOP nominee J.R. Majewski threatened to reenter the race Thursday more than two months after he ended his rematch campaign against Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur, a development that would delight Democrats who would like another chance to beat one of the most disastrous candidates of last cycle.

Majewski railed against the party establishment for throwing its backing behind former state Rep. Craig Riedel, whom Majewski defeated 36-31 in last year’s primary. “Endorsing a guy who lost the primary last cycle, even after attacking a solid fellow Republican, is a stupid move that takes away the votes of every Republican in the District,” Majewski tweeted. “Just goes to show everyone how much they care about the voter. They’re about to piss me off to the point that I get back into the race and show them their stupidity.”

MARYLAND 5TH DISTRICT. Andrea Crooms, who is the director of the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment, tells Maryland Matters’ Josh Kurtz they plan to launch a Democratic primary bid against longtime Rep. Steny Hoyer next month. Crooms, who would be the first member of Congress to use they/them pronouns, said of the 84-year-old incumbent, “Steny Hoyer has been my representative since I was 2 years old. I can respect the heck out of them and still run against them.” Crooms, who called fundraising “the worst thing on Earth,” nevertheless said they wanted to take in $250,000 by Oct. 1.

Hoyer, who stepped down as the number-two Democrat in the House following the 2022 elections, indicated in June that he plans to seek another term in this dark blue seat, though he hasn’t announced anything yet. His only declared intra-party foe is McKayla Wilkes, who is waging her third consecutive bid against the incumbent: Hoyer won their 2020 match 64-27, and he turned in a larger 71-19 victory two years later.  

OHIO 13TH DISTRICT. 2022 GOP nominee Madison Gesiotto Gilbert announced Friday that she was ending her rematch effort against freshman Democratic Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes and would instead serve as the RNC’s national spokesperson. Gesiotto Gilbert lost last year’s contest 53-47 after waging a campaign where she refused to respond to questions from reporters unless they were submitted by email, and she struggled to raise money for her second try.  

Gesiotto Gilbert’s departure leaves attorney Greg Wheeler, whom she beat 29-23 in last year’s primary, as the only declared Republican, while Hudson City Councilman Chris Banweg filed paperwork last month. Politics1 also reported earlier in August that former state GOP chair Jane Timken was mulling a bid, but we’ve heard nothing else about her interest. Joe Biden would have carried this seat, which is based in the Akron and Canton areas, 51-48, though Republicans may have the chance to pass a new gerrymander this cycle.

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

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