The Political Report – September 26, 2023

“Three-quarters of voters say they’re concerned about President Joe Biden’s age and mental fitness, while nearly two-thirds have concerns about the multiple trials former President Donald Trump faces, a new national NBC News poll finds, casting a gloomy shadow over the upcoming 2024 presidential election.”

The poll also shows Trump expanding his national lead in the Republican presidential nominating contest to more than 40 points over his nearest competition, and it has Biden and Trump deadlocked in a hypothetical rematch more than a year before the general election.”

“Yet what also stands out in the poll are the warning signs for Biden beyond his age — including an all-time high disapproval of his job performance, fewer than 4 in 10 voters approving of his handling of the economy and lagging interest in the election among key parts of the Democratic base.”

NEW JERSEY U.S. SENATOR. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) ruled out running for Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) seat, telling NBC News: “I have no interest being in the United States Senate.”

Rep. Andy Kim announced Saturday that he was launching a 2024 Democratic primary challenge against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a declaration that came one day after federal prosecutors indicted the incumbent and his wife on corruption charges.

Kim, who was the first major Democrat in the state to call for Menendez to leave office, highlighted the senator’s defiance in a statement reading, “After calls to resign, Senator Menendez said, ‘I am not going anywhere.’ As a result, I feel compelled to run against him.” The congressman, who won his South Jersey constituency in 2018 by unseating GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur, would be the first Korean American to serve in the upper chamber, as well as the first Asian American senator from a state east of Illinois.

Menendez was previously charged in an unrelated matter in 2015 (federal authorities dropped the charges after the jury failed to reach a verdict in 2017, and he won reelection the next year), but this time, most of the state’s powerful party establishment is telling him to quit rather than standing behind him. Among the many Democrats calling for the senator’s resignation are Gov. Phil Murphy, who would be tasked with filling a vacant seat; most of the state’s House delegation; the leaders of both state legislative chambers; and several county party chairs, whose endorsements carry a great deal of weight in party primaries.

About the only major Garden State Democrat who has defended the incumbent so far is Rep. Rob Menendez, who happens to be the defendant’s son. The chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, which contains the senator’s longtime base, meanwhile told Politico he plans to stay neutral for now.

All of this is a big reversal from just one month ago when Politico’s Matt Friedman reported that, not only were Democratic officials standing behind Menendez amid reports of new investigations, but the one person the outlet contacted “who was willing to say anything that Menendez could possibly construe as disloyal” was former Sen. Bob Torricelli. (Torricelli, whose own career ended in scandal two decades ago, still made it clear he wouldn’t run against the incumbent.)

However, things started to go differently Friday morning after party power players saw some of the salacious details in his latest indictment, including pictures of gold bars that prosecutors say the senator accepted as bribes from people connected to Egypt’s dictatorial government.

Menendez, who was required to step down as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee because of Democratic Caucus rules, may have been counting on a repeat of 2015 when he put out a statement declaring, “For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave.” However, while party leaders were ready with statements of support eight years ago (the Senate Historical Office tells the Associated Press that he appears to be the first sitting senator to face criminal charges for two unrelated matters), they greeted this indictment first with silence and then with calls for his resignation.

The only notable Democrat who was challenging Menendez before Saturday was Kyle Jasey, the head of a real estate lending company and the son of retiring Assemblywoman Mila Jase, but he has attracted little attention. It’s possible other Democrats will follow Kim and take on the incumbent, though party leaders could avert a crowded field by closing ranks behind one person. The primary dynamics would also be different if Menendez retired or stepped down to allow Murphy to appoint a successor: The timing of such a departure would help decide if and when there’s a special election for the remainder of his term.

It’s also possible that, should Menendez somehow win renomination, the incumbent could step aside during the general election and let the party pick a new standard bearer. Indeed, this very thing famously happened in 2002 when the aforementioned Torricelli, under pressure from Democratic leaders, ended his reelection bid in late September in the face of ugly polling numbers: The party replaced him with former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, whom Torricelli once threatened to castrate, and he easily won the seat in the fall.

Republicans haven’t won a New Jersey Senate race since 1972, which is their second-longest such losing streak in any state. The GOP would have a tough time breaking that streak against anyone but Menendez, but that’s not stopping Rep. Jeff Van Drew from expressing interest in a statewide run. Van Drew, a former longtime Democrat who infamously joined the GOP in 2019 during his first year in Congress, told the conservative blog Save Jersey on Saturday, “I have been honored that people across New Jersey have asked that I consider running for the United States Senate, and I will be making that consideration.”

Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner launched her own campaign less than a week before Menendez was indicted, while former state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff also recently expressed interest. One Republican who quickly ruled out the race, though, is former Gov. Chris Christie, who is waging a longshot bid for president. Joe Biden carried the state 57-41 two years after the senator won reelection 54-43 against wealthy Republican Bob Hugin.

“There’s a creeping fear inside President Joe Biden’s circle that the greatest threat to his re-election may come less from the Republican nominee and more from minor-party spoiler candidates,” NBC News reports.

Said one person familiar with White House discussions: “It’s pretty fucking concerning.”

“Biden met with Hillary Clinton, who had to contend with third-party candidates as the Democratic nominee in 2016, in a private pull-aside at the White House when she visited this month, said two people briefed on their interaction. Clinton pressed Biden to take the third-party threat seriously and come up with a way to compensate for it.”

Politico: “Across all super PACs focused on the GOP presidential primary, only 66 individual donors made contributions of $250,000 or more through the end of June … That marks a 24 percent drop from this time in 2016.”

“Members of the Nevada GOP voted Saturday to establish rules for a party-run caucus that include barring candidates who choose to have their name listed on the ballot for a state-run primary election being held two days earlier and restricting political action committees from getting involved,” the Nevada Independent reports.

“The split over the caucus and primary setup has frustrated Republican campaigns hoping to oust Trump from his de facto position as party leader and led to condemnation from other Republican groups that fear negative effects on the state’s election process.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) said he would still support Donald Trump in a rematch against President Biden, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

Said Kemp: “Despite all of that, despite all of his other trials and tribulations, he would still be a lot better than Biden. And the people serving in the administration would be a lot better than than Joe Biden. And it has nothing to do with being a coward. It has everything to do with winning and reversing the ridiculous, obscene positions of Joe Biden and this administration that literally, in a lot of ways, are destroying our country.”

“Joe Biden’s re-election campaign is deploying California Gov. Gavin Newsom to the second Republican presidential debate next week in Simi Valley, Calif.,” Axios reports.

“It’s the latest example of Biden’s increasingly warm relationship with Newsom after earlier tensions between the two — and comes as the California governor continues to build his national profile.”

Los Angeles Times: How Biden plans to counter Trump and the GOP debate.

“Is Herschel Walker punting on Georgia? Less than a year after he lost a scandal-plagued run for the U.S. Senate, the house owned by his wife Julie Blanchard is posted for sale on real estate sites for $1.45 million,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

“The house was also the subject of much political controversy. A longtime Dallas Cowboys star, Walker lived in Texas for decades before registering to vote in Georgia in August 2021 shortly before he declared his candidacy. Even as he campaigned for office in Georgia, he listed a $3 million estate in the Dallas suburbs as his primary residence in tax documents.”

“A Taylor Swift Instagram post drove record-breaking web traffic to this week and helped the site register more than 35,000 new voters,” Axios reports.

Washington Post: “Candidates running for House and Senate offices increased campaign spending on security by more than 500 percent between the 2020 election and the 2022 midterms.”

Gary Langer: “A hypothetical vote-preference question 14 months before an election is predictive of nothing; it’s best seen as an opportunity for the public to express its like or dislike of the candidates.”

“Biden is broadly unpopular and doubts about his suitability for a second term are extensive; wherever they end up in more than a year, a substantial number of Americans today are taking the opportunity to express their displeasure.”

The anti-abortion group Protect Women Ohio’s opening spot for the Nov. 7 campaign argues that the proposed abortion rights amendment, which would safeguard reproductive rights up to 22 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy, would allow “late-term abortions” to take place. The amendment actually states that abortion “may be prohibited after fetal viability,” adding, “But in no case may such an abortion be prohibited if in the professional judgment of the pregnant patient’s treating physician it is necessary to protect the pregnant patient’s life or health.”

PWO, though, is hoping that words like “late term-abortion” are enough to scare off voters. It deploys an old clip of Joe Biden agreeing with the late Tim Russert that he supported this ban before it shows more recent footage of Donald Trump saying he also favors prohibiting it. “Republicans and Democrats,” intones the narrator, “oppose the late-term abortions allowed under Issue 1. Join them.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that just 1% of all abortions in the U.S. happen after 21 weeks.

The Cincinnati Enquirer says PWO booked $94,000 to air the spot during Saturday’s game between Ohio State University and Notre Dame across several media markets. The commercial, though, will not be running in the Columbus market, which is home to OSU and 22% of the state’s residents, because of the high cost of airing spots during the game.

Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, meanwhile, is running a spot where a couple describes how they needed an abortion: “[A]t 18 weeks, doctors told us that there was no way she was going to be able to live.” “But the government here in Ohio took that decision away from us,” they continue, saying they had to go to another state to get the procedure. “What happened to us could happen to anyone.”

The outside expert hired to assist a federal court with redrawing Alabama’s congressional map recently invited the public to submit their own maps as part of that process, and the Daily Kos Elections team took him up on his offer by filing a court brief of our own earlier this month. In it, we proposed two different maps to remedy what the court ruled were likely Voting Rights Act violations by Republican lawmakers.

The court took over the redistricting process earlier this month after blocking the new map that Republicans had enacted in July after the judges struck down the GOP’s first map, which was used in last year’s elections, for violating the rights of Black voters. The GOP’s invalidated maps had packed Black voters into just one heavily Democratic district to ensure the other six would remain safe for white Republicans, and the court ordered that a second district be drawn that would elect Black voters’ chosen candidate, who would almost certainly be a Black Democrat.

Our proposals would both significantly revamp the 2nd District and turn it into a majority-Black district that would likely lead to Democrats gaining a seat next year if adopted. Both plans would also ensure that Black voters would retain the ability to elect their preferred candidates in the 7th District, though the maps differed in just how the two districts would be drawn.

The court-appointed expert has a Monday deadline to prepare three different proposals to submit to the court for its consideration, meaning we’ll soon find out whether our maps and others submitted by the public had any impact. See our full story for a more detailed accounting of why Alabama’s map must be redrawn, why we drew our maps the way we did, and where you can find interactive versions of our two maps along with their political and demographic statistics.

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

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