The Political Report – September 24, 2023

A new Insider Advantage poll in New Hampshire finds Donald Trump leading the GOP primary field with 42%, followed by Nikki Haley at 14%, Chris Christie at 10%, Ron DeSantis at 8%, Vivek Ramaswamy at 5%, Tim Scott at 5% and Doug Burgum at 4%.

“Donald Trump still holds a commanding lead in Iowa as Ron DeSantis ‘finds himself in a statistical tie for 2nd place’ with Nikki Haley, according to a new polling memo from a top Trump Super PAC conducted by Tony Fabrizio,” Semafor reports.

“The latest internal polling from MAGA Inc. finds Trump holding steady with 45% support. DeSantis is at 15% and ‘locked in a dogfight’ with Haley, who garners 13%. The race is all but frozen since their last poll in August — Haley’s moved up 3 points, DeSantis down 3 points.”

Also important: “73% of Trump’s supporters say they are locked into their choice, versus just 40% of DeSantis’ and 21% of Haley’s.”

Geoffrey Skelley: “Primary polling suggests that Trump is not performing as well among Republican-leaning independents and unaffiliated voters who plan to vote in the GOP nomination race as he is among self-identified Republicans.”

“And past Republican presidential primaries have demonstrated that independent voters can make up a significant chunk of the electorate in early voting states and, if their preferences differ markedly from Republicans, can influence outcomes.”

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Republicans got the recruit they’ve literally been begging for on Thursday when wealthy former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick launched his long-awaited campaign against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in Pennsylvania.

McCormick, who unveiled endorsements from all eight of the state’s GOP House members, has no serious intra-party opposition in sight more than a year after he lost the primary for the state’s other Senate seat to Mehmet Oz by fewer than 1,000 votes. However, Democrats are hoping that damage from that ill-fated campaign―as well as ongoing questions about McCormick’s ties to the Keystone State―will teach NRSC chair Steve Daines to be careful about what he begs for.

McCormick, who deployed $14 million of his own money to support his last bid, spent his first campaign touting himself as an ardent foe of abortion rights. As Chris Potter of WESA reminds us, McCormick was asked at a 2022 debate, “Should there be exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of a mother?”

The candidate responded that the only time abortion should be allowed was “the very rare instances there should be exceptions for life of the mother.” While McCormick had said at an earlier event that “I do accept three exceptions … rape, incest, and life of the mother,” Potter points out that his campaign didn’t appear to have any problem with media reports from the debate relaying that he only accepted the final one.

But that was before numerous Republicans, including Oz, lost in the midterms after Democrats emphasized abortion rights. McCormick, who doesn’t want the same fate to befall him, is now trying to pivot while insisting he’s doing no such thing. “Dave’s position has been consistent since day one,” claimed a spokesperson. “He is pro-life and supports exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, and saving the life of the mother.” The state Democratic Party has a different take, charging that the candidate is “lying in an attempt to cover up his long track record of supporting an abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest.”

McCormick’s detractors also haven’t forgotten how Donald Trump, while stumping for Oz ahead of the primary, warned that McCormick was “not MAGA, he’s not MAGA.” Trump continued, “I do know that he was with a company that managed money for communist China, and he is absolutely the candidate of special interests and globalists and the Washington establishment.” While McCormick doesn’t have any primary foes at the moment who might try to use Trump’s old words against him, Democrats might utilize them next year if they try to convince Trump voters not to support the former hedge fund manager.

Casey is also sure to make use of an August Associated Press story reporting that McCormick spends much of his time in a $16 million Connecticut mansion that “features a 1,500-bottle wine cellar, an elevator and a ‘private waterfront resort’ overlooking Long Island Sound.”

While the now-candidate grew up in Pennsylvania and has long owned property there, the AP reported that McCormick carried out virtual interviews earlier this year from his New England mansion, a fact the reporter was able to ascertain because “[d]istinguishing features in the background match pictures that were posted publicly before the McCormicks moved in.”

McCormick’s team declined to answer the AP’s questions about how much of his time he spends in Connecticut. The three-term Casey, by contrast, is the son and namesake of the popular former governor who served from 1987 to 1995.

Republicans, meanwhile, hope that McCormick’s vast personal resources and service in the Gulf War will make him the strong challenger that Oz, who had his own residency issues, very much was not. But in an era where ticket-splitting is largely on the decline, the biggest question hovering over this race may be whether Trump can replicate his shock 2016 win or if the Keystone State will once again vote for Joe Biden.

“Through the marvel that is modern air travel, a candidate for public office is no longer confined to living in the state they hope to serve in,” Vanity Fair reports.

“This relatively new phenomenon appears to be a godsend for David McCormick, a Republican who reportedly now lives in a Connecticut mansion but is poised to run for US Senate in Pennsylvania, where he appears to have chartered a number of private planes to promote his political bid.”

Politico: “Control of the Senate could depend on McCormick’s ability to cast himself as a homegrown Army veteran. It’s an authenticity attack that he also faced in his 2022 run and that Democrats successfully weaponized against the ultimate Republican nominee, Mehmet Oz. Now it’s beginning anew as questions swirl about how much time McCormick spends on Connecticut’s Gold Coast as a wealthy financier.”

“Left largely unmentioned in his 15-minute announcement speech: His decades-long career on Wall Street, where he eventually served as CEO of one of the world’s most successful hedge funds. Still, McCormick’s personal wealth is not without upsides. National Republicans viewed their ability to convince McCormick to run as a coup, in part because resources alone will ensure that Democrats have to spend in the state to protect incumbent Sen. Bob Casey.”

INDIANA 4TH DISTRICT. Republican Rep. Jim Baird is not only planning to retire, reports Howey Politics, but he also appears to be timing his departure so his son can succeed him without facing any serious intra-party opposition.

An unnamed source tells the tipsheet that the congressman is “definitely not going to end up running” for a fourth term representing Indiana’s dark red 4th District, and his office didn’t return a request for comment from Howey.

Howey’s source says that Baird has imposed “a practical hiring freeze” and hasn’t had a chief of staff since February. They also relay that the incumbent’s son, state Rep. Beau Baird, is one of two people who does “all the office management.” The source posits that the elder Baird could announce his retirement on the Feb. 9 filing deadline, making it very difficult for anyone without advance knowledge to join the race. Alternately, he could do so after winning the May 7 primary, a scenario that would empower party officials to pick a new nominee.

Either way, says Howey’s source, “Beau can try to waltz in.” The 4th is conservative turf that includes the western Indianapolis suburbs and part of west-central Indiana that voted for Donald Trump 63-34, so whoever wins the primary would be all but assured of serving in Congress.

While it remains to be seen if this anonymous individual is right about Jim Baird, who won his seat following a 2018 primary upset, there are several instances of House members timing their departures so that a close confederate could “waltz in.”

In 2010, for example, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Florida Republican, announced on the final day of candidate filing that she was abandoning her reelection campaign for health reasons and said that Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent would run in her place. The swap was so unexpected that one paper incorrectly identified the new candidate as Ted Nugent (who is a far-right 1970s rock star), but the sheriff went on to easily win the GOP nomination and three terms in Congress before retiring himself―albeit long before the 2016 filing deadline.

A more infamous episode comes to us from Illinois in 2004 when Democratic Rep. Bill Lipinski, despite rumors of his impending retirement, easily won renomination for a 12th term, only to declare months later that he would indeed call it quits. Party leaders, including the congressman himself, were tasked with picking his replacement, and they went for his son, Dan Lipinski. The younger Lipinski, who had recently returned to the Chicago area after teaching in Tennessee, had no trouble winning the general election. However, thanks in large part to his conservative views and hostility to abortion rights, he eventually lost renomination to Marie Newman in 2020.

Sometimes, though, these switcheroos don’t go according to plan, especially if word leaks before the incumbent wants it to—as it may have in Indiana. Kentucky Rep. Ron Lewis tried to dispel rumors of an impending 2008 retirement by telling House Republicans he planned to run again, and he even filed reelection papers with the state. But the NRCC didn’t believe him, prompting clued-in state and national Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to make sure that state Sen. Brett Guthrie was prepared to put his own name forward in case Lewis tried to make a late exit.

They were right to be on guard. Minutes before filing closed, the wife of the congressman’s chief of staff, Daniel London, turned in candidacy papers on behalf of her husband and a separate set to remove Lewis’ name from the ballot. But Guthrie was waiting and, with what Politico said was “just one minute to spare,” handed in his own forms before submitting the requisite $500 check “just five seconds before the filing window closed.”

Those five seconds made all the difference. London ended his campaign a short time later and endorsed Guthrie, who went on to win without any intra-party opposition and continues to represent the 2nd District today. The incident proved embarrassing for Lewis as well.

“I would like to publicly apologize for my poor judgment and humbly ask for the forgiveness of all those who I have let down,” the departing incumbent said after his preferred choice dropped out. “There are no excuses for how I chose to manage my announcement. I regret it deeply and want to do all that I can to put it right and restore your faith in me during my remaining time in office.”

OHIO REDISTRICTING. Republicans on Ohio’s bipartisan redistricting commission have unveiled draft proposals for new state Senate and state House maps, which will likely form the basis for the maps they adopt soon (you can find interactive Dave’s Redistricting App versions here and here). Just like the GOP’s five previous sets of maps that Ohio’s Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional prior to the 2022 elections, these newest proposals are heavily gerrymandered to ensure that Republicans would maintain their three-fifths supermajorities, letting them override vetoes and put constitutional amendments on the ballot without Democratic support.

While Ohio’s top court had repeatedly struck down the GOP’s prior gerrymanders for violating a state constitutional amendment that prohibits maps from unfairly favoring one party over the other, that amendment doesn’t give the court the power to draw its own maps. Consequently, Republicans successfully ran out the clock for 2022 thanks to a ruling by Donald Trump-appointed federal judges who let them use one of the sets of unconstitutional maps for the 2022 elections only, which necessitated drawing new ones this year.

Although the state Supreme Court’s prior rulings held that the proportion of districts favoring each party must reflect the 54-46 advantage that Republicans had in statewide elections over the previous decade, it’s unlikely that the court will reject this sixth set of maps for benefiting Republicans well beyond that range. That’s because those 2022 rulings saw then-Republican Justice Maureen O’Connor side with the court’s three Democrats to reject the gerrymanders, but age limits required O’Connor to retire last year, enabling hardline Republicans to solidify a 4-3 GOP majority in November’s elections.

While Democratic commissioners won’t be able to stop the GOP majority from enacting new legislative gerrymanders, these new maps may prove similarly short-lived. If they only pass with GOP support, as is likely, then the new maps would only be valid for four years instead of the rest of the decade.

However, a new ballot initiative campaign could see the new maps replaced even sooner. Led by O’Connor herself and other redistricting reformers, this constitutional amendment effort would establish an independent commission to draw fairer maps for the 2026 elections and beyond. Supporters are currently in the process of getting GOP officials to sign off on their ballot summary and the validity of their proposal before they can begin gathering signatures to get onto the November 2024 ballot.

MAINE 2ND DISTRICT. State Rep. Mike Soboleski announced Thursday that he would take on Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in northern Maine’s 2nd District, though his entry is not likely to be welcome news for national Republicans. That’s because GOP leaders, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his allies, have consolidated behind a different freshman state representative: Austin Theriault, a former NASCAR driver who will, according to the Bangor Daily News’ Michael Shepherd, launch his own campaign later this month.

Soboleski, who was elected last year in a conservative seat months after winning his primary by all of 5 votes, is an ardent Donald Trump ally—so much so, says Shepherd, that he even posted a photo of his copy of “The Art of the Deal” that Trump autographed in 1989 on his campaign website. Soboleski, like Golden, is a Marine veteran; unlike the incumbent, though, Soboleski played bit parts as a cop on TV from 2002 to 2010 and worked as a stuntman on “The Departed.” He also served as a first responder on Sept. 11, something he highlighted in his kickoff video.

Trump carried this rural district 52-46, but Golden, who is one of the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus, has proven to be a tough opponent for Republicans. The GOP field to take him on already includes Robert Cross, an underfunded candidate who unsuccessfully sought the nod for a state Senate seat last year, while hardline state Rep. Laurel Libby told BDN this month she hasn’t decided if she’ll also get in. Both the primary and general elections will be conducted using instant-runoff voting.

OHIO 1ST DISTRICT. Sen. J.D. Vance on Wednesday endorsed prosecutor Orlando Sonza, who is the only notable Republican campaigning against freshman Democratic Rep. Greg Landsman. Joe Biden carried this Cincinnati-based seat 53-45, and the third quarter fundraising reports due Oct. 15 will give us our first indication if Sonza, who ran a quixotic 2022 campaign for a safely blue state Senate seat, will have the type of resources he needs to wage a serious effort.

OHIO 13TH DISTRICT. Hudson City Councilman Chris Banweg announced this week that he was joining the Republican primary to face freshman Democratic Rep. Emilia Sykes, a move that comes about two months after he first filed with the FEC.

ILLINOIS 17TH DISTRICT. Joseph McGraw, a Republican who stepped down in July as an elected judge, has filed FEC paperwork for a potential bid against freshman Democratic Rep. Eric Sorensen. Joe Biden carried this north-central Illinois constituency 53-45.

MICHIGAN U.S. SENATOR. While former Detroit Police Chief James Craig is already talking like a candidate, Politico says he’ll finally announce he’s seeking the GOP nod during the first week in October.

FLORIDA U.S. SENATOR. Former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell this week publicized endorsements from a quartet of Florida House members for the Democratic nomination to face GOP incumbent Rick Scott: Kathy Castor, Lois Frankel, Maxwell Frost, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

INDIANA GOVERNOR. Howey Politics says that Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch recently launched her first TV ad of the GOP primary, a piece that calls for the end of the state income tax and features a truck dumping bills in front of an amazed family, though there’s no word on the size of the buy. It would be a surprise if Crouch is spending much ahead of the May nomination contest, though: Unlike the two wealthy Republicans who have already deployed millions on TV, former state cabinet officials Brad Chambers and Eric Doden, Crouch isn’t self-funding her bid.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. GOP Sen. Rand Paul proclaims in a new ad from his allies at Protect Freedom PAC, “Beshear has more in common with California liberals than Kentucky families.” Paul in 2009 famously launched his Senate campaign in New York City, with his spokesperson explaining to Politico at the time, “If he makes it to the Senate and votes in D.C., he’ll vote for people in New York and in California. His vote matters that much.” AdImpact says that the PAC has deployed $1.3 million during the general election.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise endorsed Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry on Thursday, though the congressman already lent the frontrunner some important support months ago. The ostensibly neutral Scalise in late May condemned an anti-Landry ad campaign launched by allies of a third Republican, former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack, by telling Waguespack to “denounce” the message. “While the temptation always exists, Republicans attacking other Republicans is the only way we can lose this November’s election,” the majority leader declared.

However, the majority leader’s team had a very different reaction days later when Landry’s side began hitting Waguespack. “Scalise made it clear that anyone who takes the first negative shot at another Republican should expect ‘defensive retaliation’ in response and should not be surprised when the reaction they provoked happens,” said one of his senior aides. “Most importantly, Scalise has maintained that this kind of infighting in an open primary is what cost Republicans the governor’s mansion in the 2015 and 2019 elections.”

MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR. Democrat Brandon Presley’s new spot features testimonials from several Republicans, including one true blast from the past: former Rep. Mike Parker, whose tight 1999 defeat against Democrat Ronnie Musgrove made him the last Mississippi Republican to lose a general election for governor. “Let’s go Brandon,” concludes another pro-Presley Republican, retired Mississippi Emergency Management Agency head Robert Latham—an anti-Biden catchphrase that Presley himself has used to appeal to conservatives.

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

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