The Political Report – September 13, 2023

When a president is up for re-election, it’s always a referendum on his first term. Incumbent presidents are better known than their challengers. And voters tend to tie the incumbent to current economic conditions — whether they are good or bad — and cast their vote accordingly.

That’s why Ronald Reagan asked voters, “Are you any better off?“, when he challenged President Jimmy Carter in 1980. However, an exception to the rule is when a former president is the challenger.

If Donald Trump is the Republican party’s presidential nominee in 2024, the election will almost certainly be a referendum on him. A recent CNN poll confirmed this view: “62% of those backing Trump said they saw their choice mainly as a show of support for him, with a similar 64% of those backing Biden saying they viewed their choice largely as a vote against Trump. Only about a third on either side treated the decision as primarily a referendum on the sitting president.

Trump and Biden are well known by nearly all voters. But Trump continues to dominate news coverage in a way that Biden cannot. In contrast, after four crazy years of Trump’s presidency, Biden pledged to be a president who you weren’t constantly thinking about. He’s largely delivered on that promise. That makes this election different from all others in our lifetime.

Just seven months ago it seemed like Gov. Ron DeSantis would make a strong challenge to Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. There was considerable speculation that Trump’s swirling legal problems — he hadn’t been indicted yet — could severely damage his candidacy. DeSantis trailed Trump in national polls by just 2.4 percentage points on February 19.

Since then Trump has been indicted four times on 91 felony counts and his national lead among Republican primary voters has grown to more than 40 percentage points. It’s true that DeSantis is a terrible candidate, but something else is going on here.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Associated Press: “Republicans, perhaps, have done just about everything they can think of to entice McCormick to join a 2024 ticket that might feature a rematch of Donald Trump and President Joe Biden in a premier battleground state that is critical both to control of the White House and the Senate.”

“If McCormick is circumspect, maybe it’s because the former hedge fund CEO spent a small fortune of his own money just to lose narrowly in a crowded and bruising primary election.”

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) intention to appoint a “caretaker” if Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) steps down is “insulting” to Black women, the Washington Post reports.

Said Lee: “The idea that a Black woman should be appointed only as a caretaker to simply check a box is insulting to countless Black women across this country who have carried the Democratic Party to victory election after election.”

She added: “There are currently no Black women serving in the Senate. Since 1789, there have only been two Black woman Senators, who have served a total of 10 years. The perspective of Black women in the U.S. Senate is sorely needed — and needed for more than a few months. Governor Newsom knows this, which is why he made the pledge in the first place.”

NEW YORK 4TH DISTRICT. “Sarah Hughes (D), a former Olympic figure skating champion, has decided not to run for a congressional seat in her home state of New York after she initially said that she planned to launch a campaign,” The Hill reports.

“Hughes planned to run in New York’s fourth district for a seat held by freshman Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY). D’Esposito flipped the seat to Republicans last year after former Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) declined to run for another term.”

OHIO U.S. SENATOR. Conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein, whose largesse has benefitted many extreme GOP candidates in recent years, is co-hosting a fundraiser for Republican Senate hopeful Frank LaRose in Chicago next month, reports Politico’s Shia Kapos. LaRose and Uihlein were, in different capacities, the top backers of Issue 1, a failed Republican attempt to thwart abortion rights in Ohio that sought to make it harder to pass constitutional amendments at the ballot box: Uihlein was the campaign’s top funder while LaRose, taking advantage of his role as secretary of state, emerged as the measure’s public face (and the face of its loss).

That shared experience appears to explain Uihlein’s support for LaRose. An invitation for the event characterizes LaRose as “the only candidate in this race who has a consistent and proven record, fighting for the sanctity of human life.” But while the invite claims LaRose “has been effective in supporting abstinence education and parents rights,” it makes no mention of the Issue 1 debacle. LaRose faces businessman Bernie Moreno and state Sen. Matt Dolan for the right to run against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown next year.

TEXAS U.S. SENATOR. The surprisingly busy Democratic primary to take on Republican Sen. Ted Cruz grew larger still on Saturday when state Rep. Carl Sherman announced his entry into the race. Sherman, a pastor, won a safely blue seat in the legislature in 2018 after serving six years as mayor of DeSoto, a suburb of about 56,000 people southwest of Dallas. He joins three other notable candidates vying for the Democratic nod: Rep. Colin Allred, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, and former Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez, who just resigned his post in order to run.

Allred has used his early head-start to build up a $5.7 million war chest while more recent entrants have yet to file any fundraising reports. (Cruz reported having $4.8 million on hand as of June 30.) Sherman has, however, dismissed concerns about kicking off a campaign less than six months ahead of the March 5 primary, according to the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek. “If God is calling you to do something, then it’s never too late,” he said in an interview last month.

WASHINGTON GOVERNOR. Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who recently launched his campaign for governor, just received the backing of the man he’s hoping to succeed, fellow Democrat Jay Inslee.

At an event in Seattle on Saturday, Inslee offered effusive praise for Ferguson, who rose to prominence during the Trump years for his frequent legal challenges to many of the administration’s policies. “He runs such an incredible attorney general’s office,” Inslee said, according to the Seattle Times. “He has led the nation over and over again, and other attorneys general have looked to him over and over again.” A few days earlier, Ferguson also announced that he’d won an endorsement from Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell.

Ferguson is one of three notable Democrats running to replace Inslee, who said in May he would not seek a historic fourth term next year. Also running are state Sen. Mark Mullet and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, while Republicans have landed former Rep. Dave Reichert. Ferguson, however, enjoys a massive financial edge over all his rivals and also led his Democratic opponents in an early June poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that was sponsored by the Northwest Progressive Institute.

PENNSYLVANIA ATTORNEY GENERAL. Pennsylvania state Rep. Jared Solomon just became the fourth notable Democrat to join the race for state attorney general, a post that will be open next year because appointed incumbent Michelle Henry is not running. Other prominent figures in the primary include former Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, former Bucks County Solicitor Joe Khan, and former public defender Keir Bradford-Grey. The only major Republican running is York County District Attorney Dave Sunday. Every candidate so far hails from the eastern half of the state.

NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY SPECIAL ELECTIONS. Both parties are paying close attention to Tuesday’s special election for the Democratic-held 27th Assembly District in Queens even though Democrats will continue to hold a supermajority in the chamber no matter how it turns out. This constituency, which includes a large proportion of Orthodox Jews as well as a sizable Asian American populationsupported Joe Biden 56-42 in 2022, but Republican Lee Zeldin last year beat Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul 56-44.

Zeldin’s strong showing didn’t prevent Democratic incumbent Daniel Rosenthal from winning reelection by a comfortable 58-42 margin, but the assemblyman announced in June that he’d resign to lead a nonprofit. The Democrats are fielding Sam Berger, a recent law school graduate who is the son of a local party leader, while the GOP nominee is education policy consultant David Hirsch. Both candidates, like Rosenthal, are Orthodox Jews, and Hirsch is also a rabbi.

Republicans are arguing that a victory would demonstrate that this area is continuing to move to the right thanks to shifting voting patterns among Orthodox Jews and Asian Americans. But the GOP hasn’t deployed much money to make their hopes a reality: Berger, who at 25 would be the Assembly’s youngest member, has instead raised about 18 times as much as Hirsch. However, reports City & State’s Annie McDonough, some Berger allies “are running an all-out effort to avoid a potential Republican upset.” Democrats hold a 101-48 majority with only this seat vacant.

NORTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Court of Appeals Judge Allison Riggs to the North Carolina Supreme Court on Monday, filling the vacancy created by Justice Mike Morgan’s resignation. The move makes Riggs, who is 42, the youngest woman ever to serve on the court, and she immediately confirmed that she’ll run for a full eight-year term next year.

That could actually prove advantageous to Democrats (North Carolina is one of just nine states that holds partisan elections for its top court): Morgan was already slated to go before voters next year, but even had he won, he’d have hit the mandatory retirement age of 72 just three years into his term. Now, they’ll be able to rally around a younger candidate with a history as a zealous advocate for voting rights and opponent of gerrymandering who could sit on the bench for many years to come—a crucial advantage, given the multi-year campaign Democrats will have to wage to regain a majority on the court.

Riggs’ appointment is her second in less than a year. In December, Cooper named her to a spot on the Court of Appeals after Richard Dietz won a seat on the Supreme Court the previous month. (Dietz’s victory was one of two by Republicans that allowed them to flip the court last year.) To fill Riggs’ slot, Cooper simultaneously tapped former Judge Carolyn Thompson, who will be the only Black woman on the appeals court. Republicans hold 11 of the 15 seats on the court, where cases are heard by rotating three-judge panels. Like races for the Supreme Court, elections for the Court of Appeals are also statewide.

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

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