The Political Report – September 7, 2023

Former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina is out with a 22-page slide deck that argues Democrats should relax about President Biden’s weak polling.

He notes Donald Trump can absolutely win the presidency again if he’s the nominee, but that Biden is in a much stronger position than most people realize.

Messina argues that the economy is very strong and that the “misery index” — a combined measure of unemployment and inflation — is now lower than it was before Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were re-elected. As always, it’s the economy, stupid.

Perhaps just as important, however, Messina points out that abortion is a huge motivator to get Democrats to the polls in 2024. And Republicans haven’t yet realized how toxic the issue has become for them.

While Biden has a clear path to re-election, Messina concludes that his biggest threat is a third party candidacy, whether it’s No Labels, the Green Party or both.

Said Messina to Politico: “I don’t care what they do. I don’t care how much money they spend. I don’t care who their nominee is. They’re going to get zero electoral votes. The question is who do they take the votes from?”

He added: “You just can’t split away votes if you want to beat Donald Trump. And I just cannot overstate how crucial it is to make sure that we don’t create a vehicle that takes enough votes up to elect Donald Trump.”

Former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina released a slide deck suggesting the 2024 presidential race will be close but that Democrats should not worry yet.

Said Messina to Playbook: “I thought it was important to say to my friends and clients and other people, let’s just take a step back and try to be really number-specific and really sort of who has what cards in their poker hand. And you would just rather be Joe Biden than Donald Trump.”

He added: “Historically, we’re fucking bedwetters. We grew up in the ’80s and ’90s when Republicans won elections all the time. Democrats had their hearts deeply broken when Clinton lost and people didn’t see that coming. And so, you know, we continually believe every bad thing people say.”

RHODE ISLAND 1ST DISTRICT. Former Biden administration official Gabe Amo won the busy special Democratic primary to replace former Rep. David ​​Cicilline by defeating former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, who had looked like the frontrunner going into Tuesday, 32-25. Amo will be favored in the Nov. 7 general election against his Republican foe, Marine veteran Gerry Leonard, in a constituency that supported Joe Biden 64-35. A win would make Amo, who is the son of immigrants from Ghana and Liberia, the first person of color to represent Rhode Island in Congress.

UTAH 2ND DISTRICT. The special Republican primary to replace outgoing Rep. Chris Stewart remains uncalled as of Wednesday morning. Celeste Maloy, a former Stewart legal counsel running with her old boss’ backing, leads former state Rep. Becky Edwards 38-36, and the Associated Press estimates that 80% of the vote is in; former RNC member Bruce Hough brings up the rear with 26%. The winner will take on Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, who had no intra-party opposition, on Nov. 21 in a district that favored Donald Trump 57-40.

ALABAMA REDISTRICTING. A three-judge federal court ruled on Tuesday that Alabama’s new congressional map likely violates the rights of Black voters and directed its court-appointed expert to come up with new proposals that would allow Black Alabamians to elect the candidate of their choice in a second district. While the court gave its expert until Sept. 25 to file his proposals, various plans previously put forth by the parties throughout the case give us a good sense of what a final map might look like, which we’ll explore below.

We’ve arrived at this juncture because of a decision last year by the same court that struck down Alabama’s previous House map, which Republicans passed in 2021, for violating the Voting Rights Act. To bring the state into compliance with the law, which forbids states from diluting minority voting power, the judges specified that any replacement map would “need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”

Yet in defiance of that ruling, which was upheld in its entirety by the Supreme Court earlier this year, Republicans in the state legislature created a new district in July where Black voters made up just 39.9% of the voting-age population. (Republican Gov. Kay Ivey even suggested that defiance was deliberate. “The Legislature knows our state, our people and our districts better than the federal courts or activist groups,” she said as she signed the map into law.)

Republicans did not dispute that their new map did not heed the court’s directive; instead, they insisted that it was not possible to create two Black districts without impermissibly splitting communities of interest. The court, however, rejected that argument, saying it was “deeply troubled that the State enacted a map that the State readily admits does not provide the remedy we said federal law requires.”

Republicans immediately pledged to appeal to the Supreme Court, but given that the justices already ruled against them in a 5-4 decision in June, it’s unlikely that they’ll fare any better this time. That means Alabama will very probably have a new map in place in time for next year’s elections that would feature two districts in which Black voters would be able to elect their candidates of choice.

In order to prove their claims under the VRA, the plaintiffs were required to draw illustrative maps demonstrating that Black voters in Alabama are both sufficiently numerous and sufficiently geographically compact such that they can form a majority in a reasonably drawn district. That’s already the case in the 7th District (which itself was created pursuant to VRA litigation three decades ago); to show that a second such district should be drawn, challengers put forth almost a dozen different such maps drawn by a pair of expert witnesses, four of which are shown here.

The lead plaintiffs also submitted a similar proposal to the legislature when it convened to draw a new map this summer, which can be seen in this illustration (and in this T-shirt worn by Evan Milligan, the attorney and activist whose name adorns the case caption, Milligan v. Allen).

All of those plans feature the same general approach of decoupling the cities of Birmingham and Montgomery, two locales with large Black populations that Republicans deliberately merged into the 7th District in their 2021 map. They did so in order to reduce Black voting strength elsewhere—the very type of discrimination that the VRA was designed to thwart. They also carved up the Black Belt, a rural region home to many African Americans, three ways, using a portion of it to link Birmingham and Montgomery in the 7th while submerging the other two pieces in white districts.

In their latest map, Republicans gave Birmingham and Montgomery their own districts and split the Black Belt between the two. However, they kept the Montgomery-based 2nd District majority white (and very conservative) by including white voters from the city’s northern suburbs and the rural Wiregrass region further south along the Florida border.

The plaintiffs would also have Birmingham and Montgomery anchor separate districts, with all (or nearly all) of the Black Belt divided between them. Crucially, though, they would instead add heavily Black parts of the city of Mobile along the Gulf Coast to their Montgomery district. As a result, in every map proposed by plaintiffs, both districts would be home to a Black majority. Both would also very likely elect Black voters’ preferred candidates to Congress—almost certainly Black Democrats, like the current representative for the 7th District, Terri Sewell.

Whatever unfolds next, the court is certain to move quickly. In Tuesday’s ruling, the judges once again noted that Republican Secretary of State Wes Allen said a new map should be in place by early October in order to give officials sufficient time to prepare for the 2024 elections. They also encouraged their expert, attorney Richard Allen, to complete his work before the court’s Sept. 25 deadline if possible. Once Allen’s plans are submitted, the parties will have just three days to file any objections, with a hearing to be held on Oct. 3 if necessary.

FLORIDA REDISTRICTING. A state court struck down Florida’s Republican-drawn congressional map over the holiday weekend for violating the state constitution by diminishing the rights of Black voters in North Florida, ordering lawmakers to craft a replacement plan to remedy the problem. However, Republicans immediately appealed Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh’s decision to the conservative Florida Supreme Court, a move that stayed the lower court’s order.

The new ruling followed a deal the parties struck last month under which plaintiffs limited the scope of their challenges in exchange for defendants stipulating that the state’s map, which was created by Gov. Ron DeSantis, no longer allowed Black voters to elect their preferred candidates in the northern part of the state. That left Republicans to argue that the provision of the Florida constitution at issue, which prohibits maps that “diminish” racial or language minorities’ “ability to elect representatives of their choice,” violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—an argument the court rejected.

While Marsh did not set a deadline for lawmakers to implement a new map, that same deal between the parties specifies that both sides agree to begin remedial proceedings after April 1 if the legislature fails to act (or if plaintiffs object to any new map it produces). Defendants have also agreed that, in the absence of a plan that remedies the violations of the states’ now-invalid map, they won’t object to the adoption of a map that largely recreates the old 5th District. That plurality-Black seat had spanned from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and for several years had allowed Black voters to elect Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat, until DeSantis dismantled it prior to the 2022 midterms.

All of this, however, depends on how the state Supreme Court, which is now made up of a majority of DeSantis appointees, treats Marsh’s ruling. And because the GOP’s defense relies on the 14th Amendment, a further appeal to the federal Supreme Court is also possible, whichever way the state’s high court ultimately rules.

TEXAS U.S. SENATOR. Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez, who has spent the last seven years as one of Texas’ most prominent progressive prosecutors, unexpectedly announced Tuesday that he was joining the March Democratic primary to take on Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Gonzalez, who had to quit his current post because of the state’s resign-to-run law, joins a nomination contest that includes Rep. Colin Allred and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez. A May runoff would take place if no one wins a majority of the vote in the first round.

Gonzalez, a criminal defense attorney who touted himself as a “Mexican biker lawyer covered in tattoos,” first won office in a tight 2016 race even as Donald Trump was narrowly carrying his South Texas community, which includes Corpus Christi. Soon after, he began to attract national attention.

In 2018, he was the subject of a Politico profile in which writer Timothy Bella noted that he belonged to the Calaveras, a group that touts itself as a charity biker organization but that the state classifies as a gang. “At least once last year,” wrote Bella, “he had to explain to a police officer who pulled him over for speeding that he would come up in his system as a known gang member—and, full disclosure, that he was also the county’s district attorney.”

Gonzalez himself, though, argued he wasn’t looking to be, in Bella’s words, “a kind of ‘screw you’ issued by the 63 percent of Nueces County that’s Latino to the white Republican establishment.” “I try to find a bit of balance,” he said instead. “How do I carry this office with responsibility and honor and distinguish it, but not lose who I am being this tattooed, Hispanic, Calaveras, criminal-defense guy who grew up in a small town?” The new district attorney, however, was happy to align himself with the movement to elect more reformers to office. “I am glad that reform is cool now,” said the Democrat, who sports a “Not Guilty” tattoo. “It didn’t use to be cool at all.”

Gonzalez defied critics by pulling off a 51-49 reelection win in 2020 as Trump was taking Nueces County 51-48, which prompted conservatives to instead try to remove him from office without an election. Local Republicans filed a petition in January that, among other things, alleged he’d failed to properly oversee his office and tried to win grant money by dismissing cases. (The petition originally also blasted him for joining four other Texas district attorneys in refusing to prosecute abortion cases, but the argument was later dropped since there were no instances of such cases coming before the county.) Gonzalez responded to the New York Times, “We’re dismissing cases because it’s the right thing to do.”

But thanks to County Attorney Jenny Dorsey’s support for the petition, the dispute was slated for a December trial, though its status is currently up in the air. The head of the state branch of Citizens Defending Freedom, a national conservative group that opposes criminal justice reformers, argued to one state legislator that a trial could have big implications outside of Texas. “If this goes through and this is successful,” he warned, “this could be the springboard to holding other corrupt district attorneys accountable by we the people.”

But in his resignation letter to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Gonzales said the trial will now “never happen because I refuse to play this rigged Republican game, particularly considering the Republicans’ hypocrisy, as their presumptive presidential nominee is under indictment in four jurisdictions across this beautiful country and no less revered.” Dorsey, however, says she’s waiting for official word from the governor about what’s next.

Gonzalez doesn’t appear to have been seriously discussed as a Senate candidate until he unveiled a kickoff video Tuesday taking Cruz to task for his infamous vacation to Cancun during the 2021 Texas freeze. (Both Allred and Gutierrez also highlighted that trip in their own campaign launches.) In that video, Gonzalez describes his guilty plea to a DWI at age 19, an incident he’s recounted numerous times during his political career, saying he and his mother “had no options.” But that experience, he says, inspired him to become a lawyer in order to represent “[g]ood kids like me who just needed a second chance.”

The new candidate, who’s depicted riding his motorcycle and doing jiu-jitsu in his video, argues, “Texans deserve a leader as tough as they are willing to fight for justice, even on the really cold and dark days, because that’s when it matters the most. That’s why I’m running against Ted Cruz, because the little guy needs someone tough to stand up for them.”

TENNESSEE U.S. SENATOR. Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson declared Tuesday that she would challenge Republican incumbent Marsha Blackburn, and she launched her campaign accompanied by the other members of the “Tennessee Three,” state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson. Johnson, like any Democrat, will have a difficult time giving the party its first statewide win since then-Gov. Phil Bredesen’s 2006 reelection; Blackburn herself went on to win this seat in 2018 by beating Bredesen 55-44.

NEW JERSEY U.S. SENATOR. Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, who served as New Jersey’s appointed state treasurer from 2010 to 2015, tells the New Jersey Globe he’s considering seeking the GOP nod to take on Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who remains under federal investigation. Sidamon-Eristoff, who was elected to the New York City Council in 1993 before holding posts in city and New York state government, backed Joe Biden in 2020 but has remained a prominent Republican donor.

UTAH U.S. SENATOR. Former Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien dismissed talk that he could challenge incumbent Mitt Romney in the GOP primary by telling the Deseret News late last month that he doesn’t want to run for office.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. “Former Rep. Mike Rogers, a GOP moderate who once chaired the House Intelligence Committee, launched a bid Wednesday for Michigan’s open Senate seat,” Politico reports.

NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR. New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut says he won’t run for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring GOP Gov. Chris Sununu next year. Edelblut had previously run the last time this office was open in 2016, but he narrowly lost the primary to Sununu that year.

WEST VIRGINIA U.S. SENATOR. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce used its annual summit to unveil a new survey from the local firm Research America that shows GOP Gov. Jim Justice beating Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin 51-38 even as respondents favor Manchin 45-41 over Republican Rep. Alex Mooney. The GOP primary portion of the poll also shows Justice defeating Mooney by a wide 58-26.

The state Chamber doesn’t appear to have endorsed anyone yet, though political columnist Steven Allen Adams notes the group supported fellow Rep. David McKinley over Mooney in last year’s incumbent vs. incumbent House primary. Mooney won that contest, and Adams highlights how he was the rare statewide candidate to avoid the summit.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear debuted a spot just before Labor Day that features a prosecutor saying of his Republican opponent, “Daniel Cameron thinks a nine-year-old rape survivor should be forced to give birth … Cameron believes rapists deserve more rights than their victims.” Longtime political journalist Al Cross told the Louisville Courier Journal that this is the first statewide ad he knows of where a Democrat tried to make the GOP’s opposition to abortion rights an issue, but he notes that “the position of the ball on the field has been greatly changed” in the year since the state passed a near-total ban.

We got an early sign of that last November when voters, by a 52-48 margin, rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have amended Kentucky’s governing document to say it does not recognize a right to an abortion; the state Supreme Court, however, has allowed the laws passed by the legislature to remain in effect. Cameron himself hasn’t run any ads on abortion during the general, though his campaign still responded to Beshear’s attack with a statement declaring, “Daniel Cameron is the pro-life candidate in this race and will work as Governor to build a culture of life.”

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. The RGA announced Friday that it was launching an opening “seven-figure” TV and digital ad buy attacking Democrat Shawn Wilson’s record as state secretary of transportation, an offensive that comes at a time when the Republican candidates are mainly focused on hitting one another rather than Wilson. GOP infighting helped Democrat John Bel Edwards win in both 2015 and 2019, and national Republicans may be taking action now to make Wilson doesn’t get to exit the Oct. 14 all-party primary with his image intact. Wilson, whose campaign put out a statement touting his work funding “more than 7,000 miles of improvements,” has not gone on TV yet.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Landry’s side has launched its first negative ad against Treasurer John Schroder, a move that comes shortly after Schroder went up with his own TV ad trashing both Landry and a third Republican, former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack. The spot from Protect Louisiana’s Children begins with a clip from Schroder’s ad where he claims he “beat the fat cat for you,” a statement the super PAC’s narrator very much takes issue with.

“No John, you fed us to the sharks,” he says as an animation depicts the treasurer riding a shark. The ad goes on to accuse Schroder of allying with both Waguespack and unpopular former GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal and “wrecking state universities, Schroder voting for huge college tuition and fee increases.”

WEST VIRGINIA GOVERNOR. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams has announced he’ll run for governor next year, making him the first notable Democrat to join the race to succeed Republican Gov. Jim Justice in a state that has become strongly Republican downballot over the past decade. Huntington’s 47,000 residents make it West Virginia’s second-largest city, and Williams has served as mayor there since winning the first of his three terms in 2012.

Meanwhile in the GOP primary, the gubernatorial portion of Research America’s new poll for the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce (see our WV-Sen item above for the Senate numbers) finds Del. Moore Capito leading 32-27 over state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, with auto dealer Chris Miller further back at 9%. This is the first poll we’ve seen here since the Chamber released an Orion Strategies survey from June that had found Morrisey ahead of Capito just 31-30 while no other candidate hit double digits. This item has been updated to reflect correct polling numbers showing Moore Capito leading Patrick Morrissey 32-27 in the Republican primary. Due to pollster error, Capito’s lead was originally reported as 32-23.

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

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