The Political Report – August 23, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy will stand center stage at Wednesday night’s first GOP presidential nomination debate, Fox News reports.

New York Times: “At least eight candidates have qualified for the stage: Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota; former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey; Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida; former Ambassador Nikki Haley; former Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas; former Vice President Mike Pence; Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur; and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.”

“A handful of others were on the bubble on Monday night, when the 9 p.m. deadline imposed by the Republican National Committee had arrived for candidates to accumulate at least 40,000 donors and hit 1 percent in a certain number of qualifying national and state polls.”

ABC News: What to know about the 1st Republican presidential primary debate.

Axios: “Fox restricted campaign credentials for the post-debate ‘spin room‘ — where aides tout their candidates and rip their foes — to candidates who are participating in the debate.”

“Trump’s aides and surrogates had indicated they would be in the spin room despite their candidate’s absence — but now they’ll only be able to enter if they are guests of media organizations.”

The Trump Super PAC has created a “Vice Presidential Debate” website ahead of Wednesday’s debate — complete with a bobble-head looking image of each candidate and an option to “vote” for who Trump should pick as his running mate.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) took aim at Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (R) on X over Suarez previously announcing that he had qualified for the first Republican presidential debate when he actually had not met the ENC requirements, The Messenger reports.

Said Gaetz: “Imagine how low a candidate’s self awareness must be to post this, and keep it pinned, when they didn’t make the debate.”

“Lower-polling Republican presidential candidates who didn’t make the cut for the first debate face a decision: stay in the race, with their prospects dwindling, or drop out months before voting even starts,” Bloomberg reports.

“He’s scared of me.”— Chris Christie, quoted by Politico, on Donald Trump skipping the Republican presidential debate.

Former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News that Donald Trump is making a mistake by skipping the Republican primary debate.

Said McEnany: “This is a huge political miscalculation. You give others the opportunity to shine. You give others two hours to throw lobs at you. And I know former President Trump can dance across the debate stage, can defend himself. But you’re not there to do it yourself, you’re counting on maybe others to step in.”

“Long before Donald Trump publicly threatened to skip out on the first 2024 presidential primary debate, Republican National Committee officials knew he was going to be a problem,” the Daily Beast reports.  “Going back more than a year, the group charged with planning the GOP’s first primary debates since 2016 discussed the likelihood that the former president would skip the first one if Fox News ended up hosting, according to two RNC members familiar with the discussions.”

“At a more recent meeting, officials briefly entertained the idea of banning Trump from future debates if he didn’t show up in Milwaukee on Wednesday night.”

“Yet on both occasions, the RNC officials decided the best response was to do nothing.”

FLORIDA U.S. SENATOR. Former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) announced Tuesday she will challenge Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), a former two-term Florida governor viewed as the favorite in 2024, NBC News reports.

“Mucarsel-Powell has talked to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — which conducted a poll on her behalf — and says she anticipates having enough support to mount a serious campaign, even as national Democrats must defend seats in Wisconsin, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Montana and Arizona.”

State House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell announced Monday she would not challenge GOP Sen. Rick Scott, a move that will come as welcome news to national Democrats who want former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell as their standard bearer. We may be hearing more from Driskell next cycle, though, as the Palm Beach Post reported earlier this month that some prominent party members preferred she run for governor in 2026 rather than take on Scott: State Sen. Bobby Powell said as much to the paper, calling Driskell “the most qualified candidate” to win the party its first gubernatorial race since 1994.

RAMASWAMY 2024. The Washington Examiner counts up the many issues on which Vivek Ramaswamy has changed his position, including his voting record; pardons for members of the Biden family; drug decriminalization; Israel; Taiwan; masks; and Juneteenth.

Playbook: “After Ramaswamy claimed that he’d been misquoted about Jan. 6 and 9/11 in an Atlantic story yesterday, John Hendrickson has the receipts, posting the full audio and transcript of their interview.”

President Biden’s reelection campaign on Saturday predicted that the GOP presidential candidates will “out-MAGA each other,” in the first GOP debate next week, The Hill reports.

New York Times: “They will be watching with bated breath in hopes that the Republican candidates embrace the likely-to-be-absent Donald J. Trump, defend him over his four criminal indictments, endorse national restrictions on abortion and — in the Democrats’ dream scenario — call for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”

“Even without Mr. Trump onstage, Democrats see the Republican White House hopefuls as avatars for what they describe as a party in thrall to its extreme elements. Nobody is rooting for the debate to go off the rails more than Democrats praying for Mr. Biden’s re-election.”

Key takeaway: “Nothing would make Democrats happier than to see Republicans embrace a national ban on abortion during a nationally televised debate.”

NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR. HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery has unearthed some previously unknown and “unbelievably bonkers” conspiracy theory ramblings from Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, including a 2019 Facebook post declaring, “Beyoncé’s songs sound like Satanic chants.” Robinson wrote two years earlier on the platform, “I don’t believe the Moon Landing was faked and I don’t believe 9/11 was an ‘inside job’ but if I found both were true… I wouldn’t be surprised.”

WASHINGTON GOVERNOR. Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson last week gave up trying to contest a new policy from the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, which determined earlier this year that the law barring individuals from contributing more than $2,400 to a candidate per election also counts toward donations he’d transferred from his account for past campaigns for attorney general into his new effort. Ferguson, with the permission of each donor, sent $1.2 million of these “surplus funds” to his exploratory campaign for governor just before the PDC’s new directive was finalized, and he spent months arguing that those contributors were still free to give $2,400 more to his gubernatorial race.

The PDC disagreed and filed a complaint against him after he wouldn’t identify how much money from the surplus fund came from each donor and instead classified the $1.2 million as “miscellaneous receipts.” However, Ferguson ultimately provided this information last week: His team told the PDC it was taking this action to apply to its “new interpretation” of campaign finance law, adding that “we trust the [PDC] complaint will be dismissed and this matter concluded.”

Ferguson, though, enjoys a massive financial edge over all his rivals ahead of next year’s top-two primary. The attorney general, according to the Seattle Times, has taken in $3.6 million total, compared to $610,000 for state Sen. Mark Mullet; a third Democrat, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, has brought in $410,000. On the GOP side, former Rep. Dave Reichert has only taken in $240,000 for his comeback bid, while recently-recalled Richland school board member Semi Bird has raised $140,000.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. Republican Treasurer John Schroder has languished in the polls despite beating all his rivals to TV back in March, but he’s hoping to change things with spots blasting each of his two most prominent intra-party rivals. The campaign tells the Shreveport Times this is the start of a $1.3 million TV buy that will last through the Oct. 14 all-party primary.

One ad begins by trashing Attorney General Jeff Landry for sending $420,000 in campaign contributions to the staffing company he owns, a move The Advocate in March called “an unusual arrangement that circumvents the common practice of political figures around the state and ensures the public does not know who he is paying to work on his campaign.” The narrator continues by taking former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack to task for his service in then-Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration a decade ago, saying, “Waguespack and Jindal wrecked out public universities and our state budget.”

The other piece argues that Landry and Waguespack are “political insiders” who would continue an unacceptable status quo, while Schroder would bring about “change.” Schroder himself was elected to the state House in 2007 and won a promotion to statewide office a decade later, but he insists he’s different by proclaiming, “As state treasurer, I beat the fat cats for you.”

UTAH U.S. SENATOR and GOVERNOR. Wall Street Journal: “If he runs, Romney could face a wrenching primary contest, and one potential rival has piled up endorsements. He also will need to decide whether he wants another six potentially lonely years on Capitol Hill.”

“He said he expects to make a decision in the fall, possibly around October… He isn’t currently acting like someone running for re-election.”

Mitt Romney tells the Wall Street Journal in a new interview that he remains undecided about seeking a second term as Utah’s junior senator after spending the last few years as the Republican that MAGA world most loves to hate, and everyone’s going to stay in suspense for a while longer. Romney reaffirmed his intention to make up his mind in the fall and added that the verdict could come, in the paper’s words, “possibly around October.”

As Romney deliberates, another prominent Republican, state House Speaker Brad Wilson, continues to raise money and secure endorsements for his own potential campaign, but Wilson is also keeping the Beehive State guessing as to whether he’s actually willing to run against the incumbent. The speaker formed an exploratory committee in April—a move that the Salt Lake Tribune said infuriated Romney’s camp—and his spokesperson now says that Wilson is “exploring his own potential race, irrespective of what other potential candidates may or may not do.” However, the Journal writes that, according to unnamed sources, Wilson is indeed waiting to see what the senator will do.

Conservative hardliners, though, may not be satisfied if Wilson does end up taking on the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee. The speaker told Fox 13 in April that he was someone who could “get a lot of people with very differing opinions together and get them to work together on hard things and solve hard challenges,” which is not what you’d normally expect to hear from a member of Trump’s GOP.

Wilson’s team does seem to realize that running as a bipartisan problem solver isn’t a winning strategy, though: His campaign rolled out endorsements earlier this month from fellow legislators that featured testimonials calling him a “conservative champion” and someone who worked to “advance pro-life legislation.” (Altogether, three-quarters of House Republicans and two-thirds of the Senate caucus backed him.) However, while Wilson has indeed helped pass anti-abortion legislation, the Associated Press also noted that he helped stop the legislature from formally rebuking none other than Romney in 2020 for his vote to convict Trump during his first impeachment trial.

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs offered Romney haters a more ideologically pure option in May when he kicked off his challenge by proclaiming that “the only thing I’ve seen him fight for are the establishment, wokeness, open borders, impeaching President Trump, and putting us even deeper into debt.” Staggs, though, turned in a weak opening fundraising quarter by bringing in just $170,000 through June and self-funding another $50,000; Wilson, by contrast, raised $1 million and threw down another $1.2 million of his own money. (Romney himself only raised $350,000 from donors while bringing in another $710,000 by renting out his fundraising list.)

Two other prominent hardliners have publicly or privately talked about taking on Romney, but neither appears excited about the idea. Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz told ABC News last week that, while he hasn’t ruled out running for Romney’s Senate seat, he’s more interested in a bid for governor at some point. When the Deseret News inquired if he was thinking about waging a GOP primary battle this cycle against Gov. Spencer Cox, who like Romney wants the GOP to move on from Trump, Chaffetz replied, “Not making any decisions yet on anything. Some day, some time I am interested in running for governor.”

Attorney General Sean Reyes, meanwhile, once looked like an all but certain Romney foe; Politico even reported in March of 2022 that Reyes was “preparing” a bid and would “make a final decision and likely announce his intentions” two months hence. Reyes, however, still has yet to say anything about his plans well over a year later, and he wouldn’t offer a comment when ABC contacted him earlier this month.

But Romney himself may be his own biggest obstacle toward renomination, as a July survey from Noble Predictive Insights gave him an upside-down 43-54 favorable rating with Utah Republicans. (NPI, which sometimes works for conservative groups, sampled 301 Republicans, which is one more than the minimum that Daily Kos Elections requires before we’ll write up a survey and analyze it; the firm did not mention a client.) The poll did show Romney beating Reyes 30-13 in a hypothetical seven-way matchup as Wilson grabbed at 5%, but that’s still a weak position for any incumbent to find themselves in.

“While Donald Trump holds a significant lead among likely Iowa caucusgoers, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says Iowans are expecting Trump to stay on the campaign trail and interact with voters to keep their support,” the Iowa Capital Dispatch reports.

NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE HOUSE. New Hampshire will hold a special election for the vacant 16th House District in Grafton County on Tuesday, which Democrats should easily hold. The race is significant, though, because it’s one of three specials Democrats need to win between now and Nov. 7 in order to strip the GOP’s majority in the state House and force the chamber into an exact tie.

At the moment, Republicans hold 199 seats in the House to 196 for Democrats, with two independents (one a former Democrat and one an ex-Republican) and three seats vacant. Those vacancies include Grafton’s 16th, which covers the town of Enfield and became vacant in April after Democrat Joshua Adjutant resigned following a serious injury. Joe Biden carried the district by a wide 64-34 margin in 2020, according to Dave’s Redistricting App, and Adjutant won without opposition last year, so Democrat David Fracht will be the heavy favorite against Republican John Keane on Tuesday.

If Fracht prevails, Democrats will also need to flip a swingy GOP-held seat in the 1st District in Rockingham County on Sept. 19 and then hold a seat in the solidly blue 3rd District in Hillsborough County on Nov. 7 to create a 199-199 tie in the House. If they do run the table, it’s not clear exactly what might happen next, but at the very least, having more Democrats on the floor will make it harder for Republicans to pass their agenda, and it’ll better position Democrats to retake the chamber next year.

GEORGIA STATE SENATE. Republican state Sen. Shawn Still, a fraudulent elector who was indicted last week alongside Donald Trump for his alleged role in attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, could get suspended from the Senate as a result of his legal woes, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David Wickert.

Under the state constitution, a three-person panel to be convened by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp must decide whether Still’s indictment both “relates to and adversely affects the administration” of his office and “that the rights and interests of the public are adversely affected thereby.” If the panel concludes the answer to both questions is yes, then Still would be suspended until “the final disposition of the case” or his term expires, whichever happens first.

It’s unclear when the matter will be resolved, though legal experts believe the case is unlikely to go to trial in March, as requested by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. As a result, Still could find himself contemplating whether to seek reelection next year while he’s under suspension. Undoubtedly, party leaders would prefer he not do so, particularly because his district in the Atlanta suburbs is vulnerable despite extensive GOP gerrymandering.

Incidentally, Still can thank former state Labor Commissioner Sam Caldwell for his latest predicament. In 1983, Caldwell was indicted by Fulton County prosecutors on a variety of charges, including allegations that he’d defrauded the state by demanding his employees perform extensive repairs on boats he owned. He resisted calls to resign and was only removed from office under threat of impeachment following his conviction the next year.

To avoid a similar spectacle in the future, Georgia lawmakers placed an amendment on the ballot in 1984 that would allow for the suspension of indicted public officials. It passed with 93% support. Shortly thereafter, Caldwell was also found guilty in federal court of deliberately sinking his yacht in order to collect insurance proceeds. Ironically, Caldwell’s earlier conviction in state court centered around RICO charges—the very same statute Fulton County’s current district attorney, Fani Willis, is relying on to prosecute Trump, Still, and their alleged co-conspirators.

Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Sunday that No Labels will “very likely” launch a third-party “alternative” if Donald Trump and President Biden win the nominations for their parties, The Hill reports.

Said Hogan: “But if Trump and Biden are the nominees, it’s very likely that No Labels will get access to the ballot and offer an alternative. And if most of the voters don’t want A or B, we have an obligation to give them C, I mean, for the good of the country.”

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

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