The Political Report – September 18, 2023

A new Fox News poll finds Donald Trump leading the GOP presidential field nationally with 60%, followed by Ron DeSantis at 13%, Vivek Ramaswamy at 11%, Nikki Haley at 5%, Mike Pence at 3%, Tim Scott at 3% and Chris Christie at 2%.

CNN: “In more than 40 interviews… in Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Alabama, South Dakota and Texas, Trump supporters said the 91 criminal charges in four separate cases against him have only deepened their support of the former president.”

“They repeated Trump’s unfounded claims that he was the subject of a politically motivated ‘witch hunt’ and said they believed the charges showed the system was rigged against him – and, by extension, them.”

Semafor: “Virginia’s Nov. 7 elections, known colloquially as the commonwealth’s ‘off-off-off year’ races, will determine whether Youngkin has a majority that can pass conservative bills. His Spirit of Virginia PAC has raised more than $16 million to make that happen; he’s recruited and campaigned with candidates to demolish what Democrats call the ‘blue wall,’ a four-seat Senate majority that’s stymied him.”

“Republicans are running on what worked in 2021, much of it under the ‘parental rights’ umbrella, when the Loudoun controversy and a cash-flush campaign delivered the biggest GOP victory of the Biden era.”

“But Democrats say that the Dobbs decision changed everything. In 2022, they defended two of the three House seats that Youngkin’s GOP was targeting thanks to their resilience in the suburbs; in January, they flipped a state senate seat in Virginia Beach after warning that Youngkin could pass a 15-week abortion limit if the ‘blue wall’ fell. Zooming out to the national landscape, Republicans have not been able to replicate Youngkin’s formula in battleground races in the midterms or subsequent elections either.”

Donald Trump on Friday continued his attack on GOP lawmakers’ messaging on abortion, claiming they don’t know how to “explain it properly,” The Hill reports.

Said Trump: “A lot of politicians who are pro-life do not know how to discuss this topic. And they lose their election. We had a lot of election losses because of this because they didn’t know how to discuss it.”

Donald Trump declined to stake out a clear position on the future of abortion rights, but he repeatedly expressed interest in serving as a mediator between “both sides” of the issue to reach an agreement, NBC News reports.

Said Trump: “I think they’re all going to like me. I think both sides are going to like me.”

Associated Press: “Despite skipping the event and many of the gatherings that attract most of the candidates, Trump has maintained his popularity with evangelical Christians and social conservatives in Iowa and elsewhere. They were delighted to see his three picks for the U.S. Supreme Court vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision last year and erase a federally guaranteed right to abortion.”

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) is planning a rematch against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, “and while he hasn’t officially announced his campaign, he sure looks like he’s fundraising for a Senate bid,” The Messenger reports.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. David McCormick (R) “is expected to announce his second bid for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, taking on Democratic Sen. Bob Casey after narrowly losing an expensive and bruising GOP primary last year to a Donald Trump-endorsed rival,” the AP reports.

“McCormick, 58, has strong support from the party establishment. With his deep pockets as a former hedge fund CEO, Republicans believe he will mount a strong challenge to the three-term Casey in a state that is critical to control of the White House and the Senate.”

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. “Two top California strategists have cut ties with the super PAC supporting Barbara Lee’s U.S. Senate bid after she went scorched earth on Gavin Newsom,” Politico reports. “Brian Brokaw and Dan Newman — political advisers to the governor — broke from Lee’s PAC, She Speaks for Me, and are siding with Newsom after he was castigated by Lee.”

MONTANA GOVERNR. Democrat Ryan Busse, whom the AP describes as a “[f]ormer firearms executive turned gun industry critic,” has announced a campaign against Republican Gov. Greg Gianfore next year. Busse is the first Democrat in the race, which will be a difficult one given Montana’s conservative lean. While Democrats won four straight races for governor from 2004 to 2016, Gianforte prevailed in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock in 2020 by a 54-42 margin.

IOWA 3RD DISTRICT. Democrats have thus far struggled to land a strong challenger against freshman GOP Rep. Zach Nunn after he ousted Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne last year by just 50.3-49.6 in a district that Donald Trump won only 49.3-48.9, and the Des Moines Register reports that there’s no obvious candidate on the horizon yet. Unnamed insiders have mentioned U.S. Department of Agriculture official Theresa Greenfield, who was the Democratic nominee for Senate in 2020, but Greenfield has not said anything publicly about her interest.

Two Democratic legislators whom those insiders also mentioned to the Register both indicated they would likely stay out of the race: State House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst told the paper she was “committed to staying in the House and being the first Democratic woman speaker,” while state Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott said she was also intent on remaining involved in “state-level politics.”

Axne herself has not commented on a possible comeback campaign next year, but after Biden appointed her to a USDA position following her defeat, few election observers have indicated that they think she would step down to run again. 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 then.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. New financial reports show Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear crushing Republican Daniel Cameron in fundraising, with the incumbent raising $15 million to date compared with just $2.8 million for his challenger.

As the Louisville Courier Journal’s Joe Sonka explains, Beshear has brought in $5.8 million since the mid-May primary, on top of $6.2 million he raised before the primary—money he didn’t have to spend since his race, unlike Cameron’s, was uncompetitive. On top of that, the state Democratic Party recently shipped $3 million directly to Beshear’s campaign.

That huge haul has allowed him to massively outspend his rival: The Lexington Herald Leader says that Beshear has already shelled out $10.8 million, compared to just $1.4 million for Cameron. Yet despite that spending gap, Beshear still has a $4.2 million war chest, while Cameron has just $1.4 million on hand.

Beshear has made the most of his financial advantage, and his allies have been piling in, too. According to the Herald Leader’s Austin Horn, figures from the GOP firm Medium Buying show that the Democratic side has spent $21.3 million on the airwaves versus $12.3 million for Republicans, but the advertising gap is actually far bigger.

As longtime Digest readers know, candidates are entitled to lower ad rates than third-party outfits. As a consequence, because $7.6 million of the Democratic total is from the Beshear campaign itself, that money has gone much further in terms of purchasing actual TV and radio spots.

Outside groups are also vulnerable in another way we’ve frequently mentioned. Because stations are obligated to run ads from candidates regardless of their contents, they’re also immune from liability in any lawsuit alleging defamation. But that’s not the case with third-party ads: Stations are able to either accept or reject them, meaning that they can be sued over falsehoods.

And that’s precisely what Beshear is warning in a new letter to stations in Louisville and Lexington regarding an ad from a pro-Cameron group called the School Freedom Fund that’s affiliated with the hard-right Club for Growth. The spot focuses on a man named James Hamlin who was convicted of sexually abusing a child. A narrator claims that Beshear “turned him loose, released back into the community within a year,” except that Hamlin was never released. (Hamlin’s sentence for intimidating a witness in a separate case was commuted, but he’s been behind bars continuously since early 2020.)

Attorneys for Beshear have demanded the ad be taken down, saying its “entire premise is based on a falsehood.” The Herald Leader’s Tessa Duval reports that the PAC at some point released an altered version of the spot claiming Beshear “signed an order intended to release Hamlin from jail,” but Beshear’s team says the ad is still untrue. It’s not clear yet whether any stations have in fact removed the ad from the airwaves.

NEVADA REFERENDUM. A coalition of reproductive rights organizations in Nevada, including Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and NARAL, announced on Thursday that it would collect signatures to place an amendment on next year’s ballot that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution. Voters would have to approve it both in 2024 and again in 2026 before it could become law.

Nevadans have voted in support of abortion rights at the ballot box once before, back in 1990. As the Nevada Independent’s Noel Sims explained in a recent piece, abortion became legal in the state after Roe v. Wade, and the legislature soon passed a law codifying those rights. But a 1989 Supreme Court decision that allowed states to ban the use of public funds to pay for abortions, as well as clinic blockades by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, prompted reproductive rights activists to take a more aggressive approach to protecting abortion rights.

The vehicle they used was a type of referendum unique to Nevada that had only ever succeeded once before, decades earlier. In other states that permit citizen-initiated referenda, such votes always seek to repeal a law. In Nevada, by contrast, it’s possible to put forth a “statute affirmation” referendum, which, if successful, prohibits an existing law from being amended or repealed by lawmakers. Only a further statewide vote can ever change it.

Sims described the effort as a “high-stakes gambit.” “Win, and the state’s abortion law couldn’t be changed by state lawmakers, only by another vote of the people,” she wrote. “Lose, and the law would be repealed — opening the door to legislative restrictions on abortion.” The gamble, however, paid off: Appealing to the state’s libertarian streak, organizers pulled off a dominant 63-37 victory, ensuring abortion would remain protected.

Now activists want to go one step further by amending the state’s governing document with broadly worded language prohibiting government interference in “all matters relating to pregnancy,” including abortion, birth control, and infertility care. The campaign could also potentially boost turnout in ways helpful to Democrats, who will be running in competitive races at all levels of the ballot next year.

UTAH U.S. SENATOR. Following Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s announcement Wednesday that he won’t seek a second term next year, the GOP field to replace him in this solidly red state has begun to shape up. Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs had already been running against Romney since May, but he may have some company soon.

State House Speaker Brad Wilson had previously filed paperwork for an “exploratory committee” while he considered the race, and he released a statement Wednesday that strongly hinted at a formal announcement soon, saying to “[s]tay tuned.” The Messenger also noted that Wilson had already raised over $1 million and loaned his campaign an additional $1.2 million by the end of June, and he’s already secured endorsements from roughly three-fourths of GOP legislators.

Two of Utah’s four House members and one former member all refused to rule out running. In the 3rd District, Rep. John Curtis shared on social media, “It’s encouraging to hear from friends urging me to run for Senate … Be it in the House or Senate, there’s much to accomplish & I look forward to getting things done.” 1st District Rep. Blake Moore, however, appeared less eager to run and said, “It’s all still early. So we’ll see … I’m not ruling anything out, and I’m not planning anything.” Likewise, former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who preceded Curtis in the 3rd, told National Journal’s Hotline, “I’m keeping the door open, but it’s not something I’m actively pursuing.”

Hotline also mentioned two other candidates who could run but don’t appear to have said anything yet, conservative activist Carolyn Phippen and former state Rep. Becky Edwards, relaying that state GOP chair Robert Axson said Phippen was “closer to running than just considering.” For her part, Edwards is a Trump skeptic who endorsed Joe Biden in 2020 (though she has since expressed “regret”). Earlier this month, Edwards lost the special election primary for the 2nd Congressional District by 39-33 against fellow Republican Celeste Maloy, and last year she ran as a more moderate primary challenger against far-right Sen. Mike Lee, losing that contest 62-30.

One Republican who won’t be running, though, is state Attorney General Sean Reyes, who previously hadn’t ruled out a bid. Reyes declared he would seek reelection and instead back an unnamed candidate who he said “will be making an announcement in the days to come.”

PENNSYLVANIA 10TH DISTRICT. The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that longtime local TV news anchor Janelle Stelson will be stepping down this week after 26 years working for NBC affiliate WGAL in Lancaster after obtaining an email from the station’s news director announcing that Stelson “has decided to step away from news and pursue other interests.” The Inquirer had recently relayed that Stelson was considering running as a Democrat against GOP Rep. Scott Perry, which she refused to rule out when the paper asked, though she has yet to comment on their latest report. WGAL’s broadcast region covers the entire 10th District, which could give Stelson an early edge in name recognition if she runs.

WEST VIRGINIA U.S. SENATOR.  The Washington Post reports that if Sen. Joe Manchin decides to run for reelection, he would apparently do so as an independent, according to two unnamed sources privy to a “series of private meetings” Manchin held in the Hamptons during the recent holiday weekend. Those sources say “it seemed clear to those [Manchin] met with that he is likely to leave the Democratic Party if he chooses to stay in politics.” Manchin is also reportedly considering a presidential bid under the No Labels banner or simply retiring from politics altogether.

Manchin keeps veering back and forth about his timetable for making up his mind: The New York Times reported last week that he’d decide “by the end of the year,” but he told CNN in July that he’d settle on his plans “in the fall sometime,” just days after telling NBC he’d wait until “next year” to make a decision on a run for president. West Virginia’s candidate filing deadline is January 27.

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

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