The Political Report – September 21, 2023

A new Emerson College poll finds Donald Trump with a 47-point lead over his closest competitor in the Republican presidential primary, his largest lead since tracking this race in June 2022.

Trump’s support increased 9 points since last month’s national poll to 59% while support for Ron DeSantis stayed the same at 12%, and Vivek Ramaswamy fell two points to 7%. Chris Christie and Mike Pence follow with 5% respectively, Nikki Haley with 3%, and Tim Scott with 2%. Five percent are undecided.

“Republicans won a preliminary round in latest legal fight over New York’s congressional districts: The state’s top court Tuesday declined to force a mapmaking commission to immediately start drafting new lines,” Politico reports.

“The maps drawn in 2022 were tossed when the courts concluded Democrats didn’t take the proper steps before enacting them, leading to court-drawn lines that helped Republicans flip three House seats that were critical to the GOP winning House control.”

“Democrats have since argued that they should now be allowed to redraft the maps for 2024 rather than rely on the existing ones for the remainder of the decade.”

HALEY 2024. David Weigel: “No other candidate in this race has executed an underdog strategy so effectively, with so little deviation from her original plan. Haley has managed to nail her core message — that she’s a fresher, more electable, less erratic alternative to Trump.”

“At the same time, she appears to have topped out in the high single-digits among Republican voters nationally and in Iowa, and it’s not clear how much more of a constituency is left for her approach.”

TRUMP 2024. “Even as former President Donald Trump faces a crowded field of Republican primary challengers, he has kept a relatively light campaign schedule, particularly in Iowa, the first state to hold a nominating contest in the 2024 election,” the New York Times reports.

“But with less than four months until Iowa’s caucuses, Mr. Trump and his team are beginning a more concerted effort to lock up his support there, starting with two events on Wednesday in eastern Iowa that represent the first of five planned visits to the state over the next six weeks.”

“The increased pace of Mr. Trump’s Iowa visits, along with a six-figure advertising purchase by a super PAC supporting him, suggest a more concerted effort by his campaign and supporters to halt his rivals before any can gain momentum and pose a threat.”

CNN: Trump ramps up attention on Iowa even as he keeps one eye on the general election.

“Donald Trump, whose Supreme Court appointments led to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, harshly criticized his top rival in the Republican presidential primary, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, for a six-week abortion ban that he called a ‘terrible thing,’” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Trump issued his broadside — which could turn off socially conservative Republican primary voters, especially in Iowa, where evangelicals are a crucial voting bloc — during an interview with the new host of NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ Kristen Welker.”

Said Trump: “I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”

“Donald Trump’s campaign believes Ron DeSantis is flatlining. Now, they want to bury him,” Politico reports.

“The former president and his team are beefing up their efforts in Iowa, hoping to deliver the type of knock-out punch that would effectively end the Florida governor’s bid and send a message to the other campaigns to get out of the way.”

Playbook: “But DeSantis won’t make it easy: His campaign brags that he’s doing more Iowa events in one day than Trump will over nearly two months.”

BIDEN 2024. “The Biden White House has a blunt message for doomscrolling Democrats fretting about the president’s old age and bad poll numbers: Clam up and chill out,” Axios reports.

“Mike Donilon, a senior White House adviser, is telling anxious Democrats that two issues — abortion and Donald Trump — will propel Biden to re-election.”

“In those private conversations, Democrats have been struck by top White House aides’ confidence.”

PENNSYLVANIA STATE HOUSE. Democrats once again hold a 102-101 majority in the Pennsylvania House following Lindsay Powell’s 65-35 victory Tuesday over Republican Erin Connolly Autenreith in the 21st District, a constituency in the Pittsburgh area that supported Joe Biden 61-38. The win for Powell, who will be the first Black woman to represent this seat, marks the third night this year that Democrats have defended the one-seat edge they won last November.  

NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE HOUSE. New Hampshire Democrat Hal Rafter scored a major pickup for his party on Tuesday by flipping a swingy seat in a special election for the state House, a triumph that puts Democrats one seat away from erasing the GOP’s majority in the chamber.

Rafter beat Republican Jim Guzofski 56-44 to flip Rockingham County’s 1st District, a constituency that favored Donald Trump by a tiny 49.1 to 48.7 margin in 2020. The seat became vacant in April when Republican Rep. Brian Bartlett resigned, citing health issues.

Rafter’s win leaves Republicans with a bare 198-197 edge despite a map that they gerrymandered for their own benefit just last year. The enormous 400-member also includes a pair of independents and, importantly, three other vacant seats. Two of those vacancies occurred this very week: Democrat Bill Hatch announced his departure Monday, while Republican Troy Merner resigned the next day, just hours before Rafter’s victory.

The final unoccupied seat was last held by Democrat David Cote, who stepped down in July. Only the race to replace Cote has been scheduled, so if Democrats defend his safely blue district in the Nashua area on Nov. 7, they’d force a tie in the chamber―assuming nothing else happens, that is.

The other two vacant seats are less likely to change hands, but in New Hampshire, nothing is impossible. Both, as it happens, are in Coos County in the state’s far north: Hatch’s 6th District voted 55-43 for Biden and 58-41 for Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan last year, while Merner’s 1st District went for Donald Trump 53-45 and also favored far-right Republican Don Bolduc 50-46 in his challenge to Hassan.

The eventual Republican nominees in those upcoming specials, though, would need to work hard to be as … interesting as Guzofski, a local government official and pastor. He once declared that “the majority of the people” who come down with COVID “are the ones that took the jab” since they “literally infected you with the virus;” that being gay is “against nature” because “you never see two male dogs going at it and having kids;” and that “the doctrine of demons has so permeated our society in establishing a perverted mindset.”

And who can forget his 2021 Halloween sermon?

No, it’s a shade of witchcraft! Is probably what you’re seeing. And you don’t want to be bold enough to stand up and speak out against it. See, witchcraft is the religion of the fallen humanity. It’s rooted in murder. Why do you think they fight so hard to keep abortion? I mean, to a lunatic frenzy! Because they know blood sacrifices to their god Molech.

All of these pronouncements were already public before last month’s primary, but that didn’t stop Guzofski, who is a member of the governing board in his hometown of Northwood, from scoring a 56-44 victory against Jessica Sternberg, an official with the state chapter of the College Republicans who had the support of party leaders. GOP donors weren’t quite so fond of their nominee, though: Guzofski reported raising all of $450 as of early August (at which point he stopped filing financial reports altogether), which was less than 1% of Rafter’s $47,000 haul.

Nathaniel Rakich: “On its own, no — any single special election can be influenced by any number of factors, including candidate quality or parochial issues. But Democrats have been posting special-election overperformances of that magnitude all year long, in all kinds of districts. And on average, they have won by margins 11 points higher than the weighted relative partisanship of their districts.”

“That’s more than just an impressive streak — it’s a potential sign of a Democratic wave election in 2024. In each of the past three election cycles, a party’s average overperformance in all special elections in a given cycle has been a close match for the eventual House popular vote in the eventual general election — albeit a couple of points better for Democrats.”

DESANTIS 2024. Michael Wolff says Ron DeSantis was invited to Tucker Carlson’s home and it did not go well, according to an excerpt of his new book in New York Magazine.

“Impersonal, cold, uninterested in anything outside of himself. The Carlsons are dog people with four spaniels, the progeny of other spaniels they have had before, who sleep in their bed. DeSantis pushed the dog under the table. Had he kicked the dog? Susie Carlson’s judgment was clear: She did not ever want to be anywhere near anybody like that ever again. Her husband agreed… Forget Ron DeSantis.”

 “Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has reeled in wealthy Texas donors once loyal to former President Donald Trump, and he’s heading to the state this week to make another pitch for his struggling presidential campaign,” Bloomberg reports.

“Texas could prove to be a gold mine for DeSantis’s political operation, which needs to bring in new donors to challenge Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.”

“When Ron DeSantis first announced his candidacy, he was Donald Trump’s clearest rival—and a favorite punching bag for his minions. Now, Trumpworld sees little need to punch down,” the Daily Beast reports.

“Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is overhauling its strategy to fight misinformation on social media in the 2024 race, recruiting hundreds of staffers and volunteers to monitor platforms, buying advertising to fight bogus claims, pushing its own countermessages out through grassroots allies — with a bulldog aide helping lead the effort,” Politico reports.

“The change is driven by concern that social media companies are less willing to police political misinformation, and also by the risks of mistruths and attacks from Republican rival Donald Trump and other GOP candidates.”

SCOTT 2024. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said during a Monday campaign event, when asked about the United Auto Workers strike, that former President Ronald Reagan “gave us a great example” when he fired striking federal workers in the 1980s, NBC News reports.

UTAH U.S. SENATOR. Rod Bird, the mayor of the small community of Roosevelt (pop. 7,000), declared Monday that he was joining the GOP primary and would self-fund $1 million in his quest to succeed retiring incumbent Mitt Romney.

State House Speaker Brad Wilson on Monday declared that he would resign from the legislature on Nov. 15, and the Republican followed up less than an hour later by promoting a “special event” on Sept. 27. That latter announcement was accompanied by a tweet saying, “It’s time for a conservative fighter in the U.S. Senate.”

The only notable Republican currently in the race is Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who launched months before incumbent Mitt Romney announced his retirement, but more contenders could be on the way soon. The Salt Lake News reports that unnamed sources say that businessman Kirk Jowers, who previously ran the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, is considering.

Tim Ballard, who founded a group with the stated aim of combating human trafficking that Vice called a “QAnon-adjacent charity” in 2020, publicly expressed interest Friday just before he found himself on the receiving end of some truly terrible headlines. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that same day publicly condemned the former Operation Underground Railroad head for what it said was his behavior towards senior official M. Russell Ballard (no relation), declaring, “Once it became clear Tim Ballard had betrayed their friendship, through the unauthorized use of President Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and activity regarded as morally unacceptable, President Ballard withdrew his association.”

Vice reported days later that Tim Ballard left his group after he was accused of using his position to sexually harass women. Ballard responded, “It’s not true, nothing you hear is true.”

The Deseret News also mentions radio host Boyd Matheson and businessman Brad Bonham as possible Republican contenders, though neither appears to have said anything publicly yet. Former Trump administration National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, however, reiterated that he wouldn’t run, while former state House Speaker Greg Hughes, who lost the June party convention for the 2nd Congressional District, is another no.

“Robert O’Brien, former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, is not going to run for Mitt Romney’s Senate seat despite being urged to by members of Congress,” Politico reports.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig (R) claims a Republican consultant for former Rep. Mike Rogers (R) offered him “lucrative or financially beneficial” terms to stay out of the U.S. Senate race, The Messenger reports. She also hinted there would be consequences if he jumped in because “these things get ugly.”

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, a Michigan Republican who was ejected from the 2022 primary ballot for governor over fraudulent signatures, seems to have trouble both starting and ending his campaigns.

Craig said just last month that he was 99% sure he’d run to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a figure that appeared to increase to 100% when he told Politico over the weekend, “I will be a candidate for the workers because I am a worker.” He then tweeted out that same statement on Monday in boldface.

But while that declaration, as well as his accompanying assurance—”We are going to win”—sure sounded like the words of a man who is 100% sure he is running for office, no news outlet appears to be treating the former chief as a declared candidate. Craig himself has yet to set up a fundraising account with the FEC, so he still seems to be content to merely talk like a candidate rather than behave like one.

Yet this is by no means the first time Craig has turned the routine task of announcing a run for higher office into an adventure. He told the world in July of 2021 that he was forming an exploratory committee to take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, even though that sort of entity doesn’t actually exist under Michigan law. He then went on Fox hours later and unequivocally told Tucker Carlson, “I am running,” but he still insisted on waiting almost two months before holding a formal campaign launch.

But as hard as it is to believe, Craig would have been better off if he’d just let his comments to Carlson serve as the final word on his plans. About 50 protesters showed up to his long-planned kickoff at Belle Isle Park and chanted slogans like “Black Lives Matter.” Craig, as the Detroit Free Press described the scene, was drowned out as he made several unsuccessful attempts to deliver his remarks before giving up and belting out, “I’ve got one thing to say: I’m running for governor!”

The candidate, who promptly left after delivering that line, made his case against Whitmer later that day in a far more controlled setting at an event space in Detroit, but almost all of the media coverage focused on his misbegotten first try. “I feel like they were paid,” the Republican said of the demonstrators. “I don’t have any hard evidence, but I feel like they were paid.”

Craig also baselessly speculated that the state Department of Natural Resources, which oversees ​​Belle Isle, was in on a plan to disrupt his launch. “They indicated they were going to come and move the protesters back,” he told the Detroit News. “That never happened. So it makes me wonder if it was by design.” However, the Free Press soon obtained texts in which a campaign staffer informed a parks official they understood that managing the crowd was “not on you guys.” That ​​Belle Isle event foreshadowed the chaotic operation that Craig would run over the next eight months, which culminated in him failing to make the ballot at all and waging a doomed write-in effort.

Normally, when a major (okay, or “major”) candidate enters a race, our practice at Daily Kos Elections is to provide our readers with a reasonably detailed backgrounder on the new entrant—beyond their failed campaign launches, that is—and the race awaiting them. But given Craig’s history, we think it’s probably prudent if we hold off.

LOUISIANA GOVENROR. Mason-Dixon’s new survey for Gray Television shows Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry with a clear lead in both the Oct. 14 all-party primary and in each potential matchup for the likely Nov. 18 runoff. The firm has Landry in first in the former contest with 40% as the only serious Democrat, former state Secretary of Transportation Shawn Wilson, beats former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack 24-9 for second place.

Mason-Dixon goes on to find Landry defeating Wilson 52-39 in round two and enjoying a larger 52-27 edge against Waguespack, who is his fellow Republican; Landry posts an even larger lead in hypothetical matchups against three other foes. A month-old survey from Faucheux Strategies also showed the attorney general decisively beating Wilson, though it didn’t test any other runoff scenarios.

Former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson has launched his first TV ad ahead of the Oct. 14 all-party primary. The spot opens with the Democrat saying, “We need a governor who builds bridges, not burns them.” That statement is meant both figuratively and literally, as Wilson goes on to tout how he “brought everyone to the table to find common ground” and created “the largest infrastructure investment in state history,” which the Advocate noted refers to hundreds of millions of dollars in funding passed by the GOP legislature and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The Republican Governors Association began airing attacks on Wilson’s record two weeks ago, which Wilson’s ad does not mention. Wilson’s GOP rivals, meanwhile, have so far stuck to attacking each other to secure the other spot for the Nov. 18 runoff in the likely event that no candidate earns a majority in October.

Campaign finance reports are in covering the period from July 7 through Sept. 4, and far-right Attorney General Jeff Landry continues to hold a dominant lead over his rivals ahead of the Oct. 14 all-party primary:

  • Attorney General Jeff Landry (R): $1.8 million raised, $4.3 million spent, $6.7 million cash on hand
  • former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack (R): $620,000 raised, $1.2 million spent, $1.3 million cash on hand
  • former Secretary of Transportation Shawn Wilson (D): $590,000 raised, $300,000 spent, $880,000 cash on hand
  • Treasurer John Schroder (R): $120,000 raised, $640,000 spent, $1.7 million cash on hand
  • Attorney Hunter Lundy (I): $80,000 raised, additional $700,000 self-funded, $1.7 million spent, $1.2 million cash on hand
  • State Rep. Richard Nelson (R): $40,000 raised, $90,000 spent, $220,000 cash on hand
  • State Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R): $20,000 raised, $270,000 spent, $100,000 cash on hand

A pro-Landry organization called Protect Louisiana’s Children also has $1.3 million banked to help him. Waguespack is getting some support as well from a PAC called Reboot Louisiana, though it still hasn’t replenished its war chest after deploying $2 million from early April through the first days of July: The group during this period took in $470,000, spent $540,000, and had $200,000 left over. notes as well that the RGA affiliate Right Direction PAC has dropped $1.2 million from early July to early September, with most of that going towards anti-Wilson ads.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. The conservative site The Dispatch reporters that wealthy former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick will launch a second bid for the Senate on Thursday. At the moment, there are no notable Republicans running to challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, who is seeking a fourth term.

“When David McCormick ran for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania last year, he faced a half-dozen Republican primary opponents and withering criticism from former President Donald Trump. He lost before he could get to a general election,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

“But as the former hedge fund CEO prepares to try again, more Republicans are on his side. When he launches his 2024 Senate campaign on Thursday, he’ll start as the only GOP candidate in the race.”

FLORIDA GOVERNOR. “The idea that Rep. Matt Gaetz will run for Florida governor in 2026 has been the topic of several conversations in Tallahassee over the past few days, including during a reception Sunday night for the incoming speaker of the Florida House,” NBC News reports.

“Gaetz has long been considered on the shortlist of those who will try and seek the Republican nomination for governor, a field that is expected to be crowded because the incumbent, Ron DeSantis, will be facing term limits. DeSantis is currently running for president but would have two years remaining in the governor’s mansion if that run falls short.”

Said one GOP operative: “He’s 100 percent in. I think Gaetz is an instant frontrunner and from what I hear he’s already won the Trump primary.”

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) is up on a new television ad with a young woman who was raped by her stepfather: “This is to you, Daniel Cameron. To tell a 12-year-old girl she must have the baby of her stepfather who raped her is unthinkable”

Utah Speaker Brad Wilson (R) said yesterday that he would resign from the legislature, stoking speculation that he’ll run for retiring Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) seat, the Deseret News reports.

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

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