The Political Report – September 20, 2023

“A growing number of polls are showing voters concerned about President Biden’s age and energy. Democratic lawmakers have hesitated to offer full-throated endorsements of his running mate. Prominent commentators have ruminated on whether he should drop out of the presidential race,” the Washington Post reports.

“This series of political vulnerabilities — along with House Republicans announcing an impeachment inquiry and the Justice Department indicting Biden’s son on gun charges — is now sending waves of anxiety through parts of the Democratic Party, as some fret about whether the man who helped oust Donald Trump from the White House may not have the vitality, at 80, to successfully prevent a return.”

“Many in the party continue to voice confidence in Biden. But his allies are frustrated by the hand-wringing from an anxious faction of the party, and even as campaign officials point to the president’s record of defying skeptics, they are strategizing internally about how to best combat the unmistakable nervousness.”

Dan Pfeiffer: “Political narratives can be misleading. On the Republican side, the conversation is about Donald Trump’s stranglehold over his base. Republican voters’ devotion to Trump is portrayed as being so strong that the former President is compared to a cult leader. Reading press coverage of Joe Biden these days, one would think that Joe Biden was holding off an insurrection among his own voters. But that’s not what the polls show at ball.”

“Biden and Trump have nearly identical favorable ratings from members of their own party. In the recent New York Times/Sienna poll, Trump’s is 77/21. Biden’s is 77/19. In the most recent YouGov/Economist poll, Trump’s favorable rating among Republicans is 75/24 and Biden’s is 81/17 among Democrats. Republicans are about 10 points more enthusiastic, and both Trump and Biden will need to raise those numbers before the election, but the idea that Democratic voters are walking away from Biden does not show up in the polls.”

CALIFORNIA 45TH DISTRICT. Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin reports that personal injury lawyer Derek Tran is “gearing up” to challenge Republican incumbent Michelle Steel in a western Orange County district that backed Joe Biden 52-46. Tran would join a top-two primary that includes several fellow Democrats, but none of them had more than $130,000 in the bank at the end of June.

CALIFORNIA 16TH and 18TH DISTRICTS. Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who’d been considering running for both the 16th and 18th Congressional Districts, will instead take a job at a lobbying firm (though he says he will not be a lobbyist). Both districts Liccardo had been eyeing are safely blue seats represented by fellow Democrats—Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, respectively—and the 75-year-old Lofgren had made it clear she intends to seek another term. Eshoo, who is 80, has yet to announce her plans, though she’ll have to decide soon, since California’s filing deadline is in early December.

CALIFORNIA 27TH DISTRICT. Former Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has publicized an endorsement from Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi ahead of next year’s top-two primary to face GOP Rep. Mike Garcia. Whitesides’ only notable intra-party rival, Los Angeles County Probation Oversight Commissioner Franky Carrillo, raised little during his opening fundraising quarter: New reports are due Oct. 15.

VIRGINIA 10TH DISTRICT. Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton announced Monday that she would not seek a fourth term representing Virginia’s 10th District due to worsening symptoms of a neurodegenerative disease.

Wexton, who revealed in April that she’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, said in her new statement that her physicians have since “modified my diagnosis to Progressive Supra-nuclear Palsy – a kind of ‘Parkinson’s on steroids.'” The congresswoman said that she’d serve out the rest of her term but added, “There is no ‘getting better’ with PSP. I’ll continue treatment options to manage my symptoms, but they don’t work as well.”

Wexton’s departure will set off a race to replace her in a constituency based in the southwestern D.C. suburbs and exurbs, territory that swung sharply to the left during the Trump era. Joe Biden carried the current version of the 10th 58-40 in 2020, though Democrat Terry McAuliffe prevailed here by a smaller 51-49 spread in the following year’s race for governor as he was losing to Republican Glenn Youngkin by that same margin statewide.

Wexton herself won an unexpectedly expensive contest in 2022 against Navy veteran Hung Cao 53-47, a margin half the size of her prior two victories in a previous district with similar partisanship. (Cao is now waging an uphill battle against Sen. Tim Kaine.) Her departure moves the 10th District up in our House Vulnerability Index from the 40th most at-risk Democratic-held seat to the 26th, though it would still likely take a GOP wave to put it in play.

Wexton spent more than a decade involved in Loudoun County politics as her populous and well-educated Northern Virginia suburb shifted from purple to blue. She sought office for the first time in 2011 when she ran to become the county’s top prosecutor, but she lost to Republican Commonwealth Attorney Jim Plowman 52-48. That close defeat came the same night that Republicans netted the two seats in the state Senate they needed to secure the 20-20 deadlock that, thanks to Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s tie-breaking vote, gave them control of the chamber.

Wexton, though, would go on to play a key role in helping Democrats regain the body for a short amount of time. Two Democratic senators, Ralph Northam and Mark Herring, won respective races for lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2013, and Democrats needed to win both January special elections to replace them in order to ensure that Northam could break ties in their favor. Democrats chose Wexton as their nominee to succeed Herring in the 33rd District, a seat that had backed Barack Obama 59-39 but was one where the party feared that low turnout could jeopardize their chances.

Wexton, though, had little trouble beating John Whitbeck, a local GOP official who had attracted unwelcome attention for telling an antisemitic joke at a rally, 53-38. But it wouldn’t be clear for another week that Wexton’s decisive victory had returned her party to power: Fellow Democrat Lynwood Lewis had won an extremely tight special to replace Northam two weeks earlier, but it took a recount to confirm he’d prevailed by 11 votes. However, the GOP would end up retaking the Senate just a few months later after Democrat Phil Puckett resigned from a dark red seat in June and was succeeded by a Republican, and they’d remain in power until the 2019 elections.

Wexton, however, was no longer in the legislature by that point. Prominent Democrats, including 4th District Rep. Donald McEachin, successfully recruited her to challenge Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock in the 2018 cycle in what everyone expected would be a challenging race. Comstock, who was a prominent GOP opposition researcher during the Clinton era, had just won her second term 53-47 even as her district was dramatically swinging from a 51-49 win for Mitt Romney all the way to a 52-42 margin for Hillary Clinton, and her strong fundraising made her a tough adversary.

McEachin, who was serving as a DCCC vice chair, quoted Thomas Paine in his appeals for Wexton to take up the task, writing, “You and I are not sunshine patriots. Your country needs you.” First, though, the state senator had to prove to primary voters she was the best candidate against Comstock in what proved to be an expensive and busy primary. One contender, former State Department official Alison Friedman, used her personal wealth to far outspend all the other contenders. But Wexton, who had then-Gov. Northam’s endorsement, ended up prevailing 42-23 ahead of what promised to be one of the marquee races of the year.

This race instead became a pricey debacle for the GOP. Comstock struggled to distance herself from the toxic Trump administration at a time when well-educated suburban voters were abandoning Republicans in droves, and several polls showed the challenger well ahead. The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund bowed to reality, leaving Comstock for dead early and never reserved ad time to help her.

However, the NRCC confounded observers by throwing down a total of $5 million―its largest expenditure in the nation. Committee chair Steve Stivers defended his decision, arguing, “The last poll I looked at she’s winning. I’m not going to cut off somebody who is winning.”

Wexton triumphed 56-44 as the GOP was losing control of 40 other House seats, and with them control of the chamber. Stivers did not seek another term as head of the NRCC, and his replacement, Tom Emmer, quickly acknowledged he had been “inundated with complaints about the $5 million spent on TV ads to help Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock.” (Stivers resigned in 2021 to lead Ohio’s Chamber of Commerce.)

Wexton had no trouble securing her second term two years later, but Republicans hoped that the anticipated red wave could give Cao an opening in 2022. The congresswoman ended up outraising her rival by a modest $3.8 million to $3.2 million, but this time, there was no serious outside spending from either party. Cao ran well ahead of Trump, but Wexton still prevailed 53-47.

ILLINOIS 7TH DISTRICT. Chicago city Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin was set to launch her long-anticipated primary challenge against Democratic Rep. Danny Davis last week, but the would-be candidate ended up postponing her kickoff event as the fallout from recently disclosed allegations that she abused her power continued to unfold. Conyears-Ervin’s campaign said the postponement was “due to a scheduling conflict,” but the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a source on her campaign said the real reason was that the city’s Board of Ethics held a hearing on the allegations last Monday.

The allegations against Conyears-Ervin surfaced earlier this month when the city released a 2020 letter where two of her former top aides—Ashley Evans and Tiffany Harper—accused the treasurer of misusing government money and personnel. The pair claimed Conyears-Ervin hired an unqualified employee “for personal services;” used official resources for electoral matters, including sending money to religious organizations that supported her; and threatened to retaliate against any subordinates who wouldn’t help her. Evans and Harper later received a total of $100,000 in a 2021 settlement after arguing they were fired in just such an act of illegal retaliation.

While that settlement was public knowledge, then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was a Conyears-Ervin ally, spent years trying to keep this letter from becoming public. However, new Mayor Brandon Johnson, a fellow Democrat who defeated Lightfoot and other challengers in elections earlier this year, released the letter earlier this month.

In response to questions during last week’s meeting about why the board had apparently failed to act on the letter for nearly three years, chairman William Conlon defended his board’s actions by claiming that members lacked investigatory powers of their own. Conlon contended that the board had properly referred the case to the city’s inspector general, whose office never referred the matter back to the board.

The Chicago Tribune reported that it was “unclear” whether the inspector general had ever opened an investigation but noted that there have long been concerns about the office taking multiple years to resolve investigations. Current Inspector General Deborah Witzburg, who was appointed last year by Lightfoot and confirmed by the City Council, declined to comment. However, the Tribune added that the city has “tight restrictions” on the inspector general commenting on investigations, meaning it’s unclear when we’ll get more clarity on the situation from city officials.

MINNESOTA 5TH DISTRICT. State Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, who briefly ran for Minnesota’s safely blue 5th Congressional District when it was an open seat in 2018, won’t rule out a challenge to Rep. Ilhan Omar in next year’s Democratic primary. In new remarks to MinnPost’s Ana Radelat, Champion said he “hasn’t thought about” a bid before adding, “I never, ever make a decision based on people asking me to do something.” Omar already has two opponents in former National Guard recruiter Tim Peterson and attorney Sarah Gad, but several other bigger names are reportedly weighing the race.

MICHIGAN 13TH DISTRICT. Politico has a new update on potential primary challengers to freshman Democratic Rep. Shri Thanedar in this dark blue Detroit district, which includes two candidates who lost the crowded primary to Thanedar last year. Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency director Adam Hollier, who was serving in the state Senate last year, says he is “strongly considering” running again and will decide “in the coming weeks.” John Conyers III, who is the son of the late long-serving Rep. John Conyers, told Politico he is planning on announcing he’s running “soon.”

Thanedar only won the 2022 primary by 28-24 over Hollier to replace retiring Rep. Brenda Lawrence, while Conyers took fourth place with 9%. Thanedar’s victory made him the first Indian American to represent Michigan in Congress, but it also meant Detroit, which is the most heavily Black major city in America, didn’t have a Black Democrat representing it in Congress for the first time since the early 1950s.

Because Michigan doesn’t hold primary runoffs if no candidate takes a majority, Thanedar was able to win largely thanks to several Black candidates, including both Hollier and Conyers, splitting a majority of the vote in a district where Black voters are a sizable majority in a Democratic primary. It’s unclear just how vulnerable Thanedar is in next year’s primary, but he’s much less likely to be able to win with a small plurality now that he’s the incumbent instead of running for an open seat like last year when his many rivals spent much of their time attacking each other.

MICHIGAN 10TH DISTRICT. State Board of Education member Tiffany Tilley announced on Thursday that she’d enter the increasingly busy Democratic primary to take on freshman GOP Rep. John James in Michigan’s 10th Congressional District next year. In 2018, Tilley won a seat on the board, whose members are elected statewide for six-year terms, finishing second in a top-two contest. As the Detroit News’ Melissa Nann Burke notes, though, Tilley lives in the neighboring 11th District.

The busy field already includes gun safety activist Emily Busch, financial advisor Diane Young, and former Macomb County Judge Carl Marlinga, who narrowly lost to James in 2022. Marlinga recently released a poll giving him a 31-5 lead over Tilley (whose name hadn’t previously surfaced), with Bush and Young at 3% apiece. The survey also found 3% supporting physician Anil Kumar and 2% backing former Macomb County Health Department head Rhonda Powell, who are both exploring bids. Powell lost to Marlinga 48-17 in last year’s primary.

One potential candidate who won’t be joining the race, though, is former Rep. Andy Levin. Last year, Levin opted for an ill-fated primary showdown with fellow Rep. Haley Stevens in the solidly blue 11th District instead of running against James in the swingy 10th. Stevens pummeled Levin by a 60-40 margin while James only defeated Marlinga, who was virtually abandoned by national Democrats, by half a percentage point. Levin told Burke he’d been recruited for a comeback bid by the DCCC but decided to pass.

CALIFORNIA 31ST DISTRICT. Former Rep. Gil Cisneros announced Monday that he was joining the top-two primary to succeed his fellow Democrat, retiring incumbent Grace Napolitano, even though the old 39th District he represented from 2019 to 2021 has virtually no overlap with Napolitano’s current 31st. Cisneros kicked off his campaign with endorsements from eight members of the state’s House delegation, including Rep. Linda Sánchez of the neighboring 38th.

Cisneros, who recently resigned from the Department of Defense, joins a top-two primary that includes several other Democrats: state Sen. Bob Archuleta, who has Napolitano’s endorsement; Citrus Community College Trustee Mary Ann Lutz; Baldwin Park Planning Commissioner Ricardo Vazques; and state Sen. Susan Rubio. Joe Biden won 64-33 in this majority-Latino constituency, which is home to Los Angeles suburbs such as El Monte and West Covina, and a pair of Democrats could advance to the general election.

Cisneros, who served in the Navy, first earned headlines in 2010 when he and his wife won $266 million in the Mega Millions lottery, and they went on to use part of their new fortune to create a scholarship to help Latino youths get to college. Cisneros later was one of several Democrats who wanted to challenge GOP Rep. Ed Royce in the 2018 cycle for the old 39th, an Orange County-based seat that had swung hard to the left two years before, but Royce ended up surprising everyone by retiring.

Cisneros, who had the backing of the DCCC, advanced through a packed top-two primary after national Democrats spent millions to make sure the party wouldn’t be locked out of the second round, but he faced a tough general election against former GOP Assemblywoman Young Kim. Cisneros prevailed 52-48 in a $34 million contest that OpenSecrets ranked as the most expensive House race of 2018, but Kim quickly made it clear she’d seek a rematch in 2020.

What followed was another closely watched battle, but one with a different outcome. While Joe Biden took the 39th 54-44, the area remained red enough down the ballot to allow Kim to unseat Cisneros 51-49. The Democrat initially expressed interest in avenging his loss, but the new administration instead chose him to run the Defense Department’s personnel office. It was in that capacity that Cisneros worked to advance diversity and inclusion efforts and policies protecting abortion access for servicemembers and their dependents, a role that made him a target of far-right Republicans.

NEW MEXICO 2ND DISTRICT. SurveyUSA’s new poll for KOB-TV finds former GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell edging out freshman incumbent Gabe Vasquez 46-45 less than a year after the Democrat unseated her by a similarly narrow 50.3-49.6. SurveyUSA’s release did not include 2024 presidential numbers for this southern New Mexico constituency, which favored Joe Biden 52-46 in 2020; this is the first poll we’ve seen here.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) is set to make a big move in this direction by unveiling a big change on Tuesday that will implement what’s known as “automatic voter registration” statewide, the Washington Post reports.

TEXAS 32ND DISTRICT. State Rep. Rhetta Bowers filed FEC paperwork over the weekend for a potential bid to succeed her fellow Democrat, Senate candidate Colin Allred, a move that comes more than three months after she told the Dallas Morning News she’d run for reelection instead. However, Bowers didn’t quite rule out a congressional bid in June: As reporter Gromer Jeffers wrote at the time, “When asked if she still planned to run in the Democratic primary to replace Allred, Bowers texted, ‘Not at this time.'”

VIRGINIA 7TH DISTRICT. Derrick Anderson, a Green Beret veteran who lost last year’s Republican primary, announced Monday that he’d wage a second campaign to flip this seat. Politico reported in July that Democratic incumbent Abigail Spanberger plans to retire from this 53-46 Biden constituency in the southern D.C. exurbs so she can focus on a 2025 bid for governor; Spanberger has not confirmed or denied this, saying only she’ll reveal more after Virginia’s Nov. 7 legislative races.

Anderson last time lost the primary to Prince William County Supervisor Vesli Vega 29-24 months before she failed to unseat Spanberger, and he has another busy nomination contest ahead of him. A trio of notable Republicans already announced before this week: investor Bill Moher, Navy SEAL veteran Cameron Hamilton, and Marine veteran Jon Myers. No serious Democrats have kicked off bids here yet.

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

0 comments on “The Political Report – September 20, 2023

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: