The Political Report – September 15, 2023

A new Quinnipiac national poll finds Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential race with 62%, followed by Ron DeSantis at 12%, Vivek Ramasway at 6%, Nikki Haley at 5%, Mike Pence at 5%, Tim Scott at 3% and Chris Christie at 2%.

Key finding: “Among those voters supporting Trump in the Republican primary, 68% say they are firmly set on Trump no matter what happens leading up to the Republican primary, while 29% say they might change their candidate choice depending on what happens leading up to the Republican primary.”

If four indictments and 91 criminal charges didn’t sink Trump’s chances, it’s hard to imagine what will.

UTAH U.S. SENATOR. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney announced on Wednesday that he would not run for reelection next year, bringing to an end a three-decade political career that featured several bids for office but only two victories years apart. Romney’s decision creates a wide-open race to succeed him in a deeply conservative state dominated by Republicans but one where critics of Donald Trump, including Romney himself, retain a measure of support.

Romney was born in Detroit in the years immediately after World War II and, as a 15-year-old in 1962, watched his father win election as governor of Michigan. While George Romney would serve three two-year terms and wage an ill-fated bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, Mitt, his youngest son, did not get involved in politics until the early 1990s—and did so in a different state.

The younger Romney had moved to Massachusetts in 1972 to pursue a joint JD/MBA program at Harvard and went on to make his name in the business world, co-founding the private equity firm Bain Capital in 1984. A decade later, he sought to challenge veteran Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, hoping that a favorable political climate for Republicans would help him oust the “liberal lion” of the Senate. But despite polls that showed a tight race, Kennedy prevailed by a comfortable 58-41 margin, though it would be the closest contest of his long career.

Romney immediately returned to Bain and was later credited with turning around the financially trouble committee responsible for running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Just weeks after the closing ceremonies, though, Romney announced a campaign for governor after acting Gov. Jane Swift, a fellow Republican, dropped her bid for a full term.

While Massachusetts had for many decades seldom sent Republicans to Congress, it had a long tradition of electing them to the governorship; when Romney sought the post, the last time a Democrat had won it was in 1986, when Michael Dukakis secured his third and final term. As he had in his race against Kennedy, Romney campaigned as a moderate and claimed to support abortion rights. (Kennedy had jeered that Romney was not pro-choice but “multiple-choice.”) Thanks in part to a large financial advantage—the wealthy Romney self-funded $6 million, a record at the time—he defeated his Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Shannon O’Brien.

The victory was Romney’s first, and it also marked the fourth straight gubernatorial win for Massachusetts Republicans. But the streak wouldn’t last long for Romney: With more than a year left in his term, he announced he would not seek reelection. The move came ahead of a widely expected campaign for president, which he’d telegraphed by shifting to the right on key issues like abortion.

Romney’s metamorphosis left many conservatives unconvinced, however, and he lost the nomination to John McCain, who in turn was beaten by Barack Obama. Four years later, though, true believers failed to rally around a strong alternative and Romney captured the GOP nod, but he, too, lost to Obama. (Romney was reportedly “shellshocked” by the loss despite the incumbent’s consistent polling leads.)

Romney later relocated to Utah, where he’d earned his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young and had long maintained a vacation home. But despite declaring he’d been branded a “loser for life” in a documentary about his attempts to win the presidency, he made one last foray into the political arena. Following Sen. Orrin Hatch’s retirement, Romney easily won both the GOP primary and general election to succeed him in 2018, making him the first person in 150 years—and just the second ever, after the legendary Sam Houston—to serve as governor and senator in two different states.

While Romney remained a traditional conservative, his Senate tenure was marked by his criticism of Trump. (Hard as it may be to believe now, Trump actually endorsed Romney’s initial campaign for Senate.) He made history in 2020 when he became the first senator to vote in favor of convicting a president from his own party at an impeachment trial during Trump’s first impeachment, then voted (along with a handful of other Republicans) to convict him again at his second impeachment the next year.

The hatred his apostasies engendered from the MAGA brigades all but ensured he’d face a difficult fight to win renomination had he sought another term. An August poll showed him taking just 44% in a hypothetical primary matchup, a soft showing for an incumbent. It turned out that his 2018 victory would not only be just his second ever but also his last.

In remarks on Wednesday announcing his departure, Romney noted that he’d be in his mid-80s at the end of a second Senate term and said that “it’s time for a new generation of leaders.” That new generation likely won’t look much like the outgoing senator, though it’s possible that a split among extremists could see the GOP nominate a relative pragmatist: In the recent special election primary for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, former state Rep. Becky Edwards took a third of the vote despite saying she’d voted for Joe Biden and opposed the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

At the moment, though, the only Republican in the race is Trent Staggs, mayor of the small community of Riverton. Other candidates, however, are already hovering in the wings, so we’re likely to see a crowded primary in 2024.

WISCONSIN U.S. SENATOR. Wealthy businessman Scott Mayer tells Politico he’ll “need some more time” to decide on whether to challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, saying “it’s a little bit more complicated,” though he declined to elaborate. Mayer previously said a Senate bid was “not something I ever had a desire to do,” calling it “more of an obligation.” Republicans still have yet to land a notable candidate.

Trempealeau County Board Supervisor Stacey Klein has filed paperwork to run as a Republican and said she would officially kick off her campaign on Saturday. Klein, who first won her board seat in April 2022, hails from a county that is home to less than 1% of Wisconsin’s population, but her entry nonetheless makes her the most prominent GOP candidate so far in a longtime swing state where Republicans have struggled to land a major candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

NEVADA U.S. SENATOR. Politico reports that Duty First Nevada, a super PAC backing Republican Senate candidate Sam Brown, has reserved $512,000 for a seven-week TV ad buy that will start at the beginning of next month. Nevada’s primaries are not until June.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. Wealthy businessman John Tuttle, who’s the vice chair of the New York Stock Exchange, has declared that he won’t run for the GOP nomination next year. Tuttle’s announcement leaves former Rep. Mike Rogers as the only major candidate in the primary so far, though some other big GOP names are still considering the open seat contest.

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. Republican Tim Sheehy is the target of an early attack ad from a new super PAC that Politico reports “has apparent ties to Democrats.” The spot slams Sheehy for not paying back a $770,000 loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program that was designed to support businesses during the pandemic (the loans were forgivable in many cases). The ad may be aimed at softening up Sheehy ahead of a potential against far-right Rep. Matt Rosendale, who lost to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2018 and is likely Tester’s preferred opponent. AdImpact says the group behind the campaign, called Last Best Place PAC, has booked $141,000 in TV time so far.

MISSOURI GOVERNOR. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which the Kansas City Star’s Kacen Bayless describes as “one of the state’s most influential and prominent pro-business groups,” endorsed Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Mike Parson. Kehoe faces far-right state Sen. Bill Eigel and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a vocal abortion opponent, in the GOP primary.

NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR. Former Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan, who’d previously hinted at a run for governor, kicked off his campaign to succeed term-limited Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday. If he’s successful, he’d be the first Black governor in North Carolina history.

First, though, he’ll have to get through a difficult primary. Until now, the only other Democrat running had been Attorney General Josh Stein, who launched his own bid way back in January and was endorsed by Cooper late last month. Morgan sounded resentful about that endorsement and those of other party leaders in comments to the News & Observer, insisting that “the responsible thing to do” would have been (in the paper’s phrasing) to “wait to see who filed” before getting involved.

He also shrugged off Stein’s fundraising advantage—the attorney general raised almost $6 million in the first half of the year—saying his opponent “may have the superior treasury, but I have the superior candidacy.” Morgan argued he’s more electable than Stein by pointing out that he earned a higher percentage of the vote in his lone statewide race than Stein did in either of his two campaigns (54.5%, vs. a shade over 50% both times for Stein). But Morgan’s 9-point victory in 2016 came at a time when state Supreme Court races were nonpartisan (Republicans soon after made them partisan contests), while Stein has always had a “D” after his name on the ballot.

Thanks to his late start, Morgan, who resigned from the Supreme Court earlier this month, now has just six months to make his case to voters before the primary. Candidate filing ends in mid-December, but it’s unlikely any other notable names will get in. Republicans have a multi-way primary of their own, but limited polling has shown far-right Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who would also be the state’s first Black chief executive, with a giant advantage.

INDIANA GOVERNOR. The far-right Club for Growth has endorsed Republican Sen. Mike Braun in his primary to succeed term-limited Gov. Eric Holcomb. Braun, who previously won the Club’s endorsement during his competitive initial primary for Senate in 2018, faces a crowded GOP field for governor that includes Lt. Gov. Susanne Crouch, former state Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers, former Indiana Economic Development Corporation president Eric Doden, and former state Attorney General Curtis Hill.

WEST VIRGINIA U.S. SENATOR. Washington Post: “In some of the meetings, Democratic donors strongly urged Manchin to run for reelection in West Virginia, and Manchin said he believed he could win the race but only if he ran as an independent. Manchin has previously said he has considered leaving the Democratic Party, but people familiar with the meetings said Manchin was more adamant than he has been in public about his need to run as an independent to win.”

“But Heather Bresch, Manchin’s daughter who was the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, is strongly encouraging her father to run for president with the backing of No Labels, a bipartisan group recruiting a Democrat and a Republican to potentially run on a third-party ticket in next year’s presidential election.”

“I really, really like Joe Manchin. He’s a good dude. I don’t agree with some of his votes, but he’s just a good dude. He would be a much, much better senator than Gov. Justice.”— Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), quoted by Politico.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said that talk by No Labels of mounting an independent candidacy in 2024 was a mistake and would only help to reelect Donald Trump, the Washington Post reports.

He also said he has spoken “many times” to Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV), who is flirting with such a bid: “I lobby continuously that it would only elect Trump.”

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has seized a commanding fundraising lead over challenger Daniel Cameron (R) in their marquee matchup in Kentucky, the AP reports.

“Beshear — who is seeking a second term in a state that otherwise has become a GOP stronghold — accumulated about $15 million for the November election, while Cameron has taken in $2.8 million. Heading into the campaign’s stretch, Beshear had about three times more money in the bank.”

NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY. Democrat Sam Berger won Tuesday’s special election to fill a Democratic-held seat in Queens by a 55-45 spread against Republican David Hirsch. This district contains large Asian American and Orthodox Jewish populations, two demographics that Democrats have lost some ground with in recent years in New York City, and some had feared that Republican Lee Zeldin’s 56-44 win over Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul here last year was a warning sign of things to come.

However, Berger enjoyed a large fundraising advantage and nearly matched Joe Biden’s 56-43 victory in the district. Assembly Democrats will retain a 102-48 supermajority once he’s sworn in, which will make the 25-year-older Berger the chamber’s youngest member.

NEW JERSEY LT. GOVERNOR. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday that he had chosen Secretary of State Tahesha Way to succeed Lt. Sheila Oliver, who died last month. Way, who earlier this year became the first Black person to lead the National Association of Secretaries of State, was sworn in that day but will continue to hold her appointed post as New Jersey’s top elections official. Way is now the third person to ever hold the post of lieutenant governor, a job that came into being four years after the passage of a 2005 constitutional amendment.

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

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