The Political Report – September 28, 2023

A new CBS News/YouGov poll in Iowa finds Donald Trump leading the GOP presidential field with 51%, followed by Ron DeSantis at 21%, Nikki Haley at 8%, Tim Scott at 6%, Mike Pence at 5%, Vivek Ramaswamy at 5%, Asa Hutchinson at 1%, and Chris Christie at 1%.

A new CBS News/YouGov poll in New Hampshire finds Donald Trump leading the GOP presidential field with 50%, followed by Ron DeSantis at 13%, Nikki Haley at 11%, Vivek Ramaswamy at 8%, Chris Christie at 8%, Tim Scott at 5%, Mike Pence at 2%, Doug Burgum at 2% and Asa Hutchinson at 1%.

NEW JERSEY U.S. SENATOR. The progressive group VoteVets has endorsed Rep. Andy Kim’s nascent Democratic primary challenge against indicted incumbent Bob Menendez. While Kim is not a military veteran, he served as a national security adviser during the Obama administration and as a civilian adviser to Army Gens. David Petraeus and John Allen in Afghanistan.

The New Jersey Globe’s David Wildstein reports that unnamed state and national Democrats are urging First Lady Tammy Murphy to wage a primary campaign against indicted Sen. Bob Menendez, and she’s not the only new name that surfaced Tuesday. The Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran says that veteran Rep. Frank Pallone is eyeing this seat, while fellow Rep. Josh Gottheimer didn’t rule it out.

We’ll start with Murphy. Wildstein relays that all five of his sources said that “while Murphy is listening to elected officials, advocates, and donors who want her to run, she is not yet at a point where she is actively considering it.” One person also added that they believed the first lady, who would be the first woman to represent New Jersey in the Senate, was continuing to prioritize raising money to aid Democrats ahead of the Nov. 7 legislative elections; a source also tells Axios she won’t decide until those contests conclude. If the Senate seat became vacant it would be up to her husband, Gov. Phil Murphy, to appoint a replacement for Menendez.

Pallone also hasn’t said anything publicly about a promotion to the upper chamber, but Moran tweets that “a source close to him tells me” he’s interested. Pallone, who was first elected to the House in 1988, ran in the 2013 special primary for New Jersey’s other Senate seat but lost the primary to then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker by a punishing 59-20.

Gottheimer, for his part, declined to provide an answer Tuesday when reporters asked if he’d ruled out a Senate bid, saying that he was concentrating on avoiding a government shutdown. Gottheimer, a prominent moderate who has been talked about as a possible 2025 candidate for governor, joined most of the state’s Democratic delegation in calling for Menendez to resign following his Friday indictment, though he maintains a better relationship with another member of the family.

Wildstein reported Monday that Gottheimer would host a fundraiser for the senator’s son, fellow Rep. Rob Menendez; the younger Menendez also declared that day he’d be seeking a second term in his dark blue 8th District.

Insider NJ, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Globe have mentioned a few other Democrats as possible opponents for the senator: former Rep. Tom Malinowski, Rep. Donald Norcross, and State Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz

The Globe also name-dropped Rep. Mikie Sherrill, but Politico reported Tuesday that she “​​has strongly suggested she’s not interested” in the Senate. VoteVets’ decision to quickly endorse Rep. Andy Kim’s campaign for the upper chamber also indicates that it doesn’t believe that Sherrill, a Navy pilot it has supported in the past, will run for Menendez’s seat. Sherrill, like Gottheimer, has been mentioned as a 2025 gubernatorial contender.

Kim remains the only serious primary candidate who has declared against Menendez, and he told Punchbowl News this week he’d continue his campaign no matter what the incumbent does or who else runs. “I’ve made my announcement that I’m not seeking reelection in the House, and [Menendez] has now twice said that he’s not going anywhere,” he said, adding, “I feel committed to do this and I’m going to see it through.”

Menendez is still in office even though more than a dozen fellow Democratic senators said Tuesday that he should resign. This group includes Booker and Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who as chair of the DSCC is tasked with protecting incumbents.

CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond on Tuesday became the third major Democrat to enter the 2026 top-two primary to succeed Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who won his second and final term just last year. Thurmond, who would be the first Black chief executive of America’s largest state, launched his campaign about five months after both Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and former state Comptroller Betty Yee kicked off their respective bids; both Kounalakis and Yee would be the first woman to lead California, while the latter would also be its first Asian American governor.

Thurmond, who was elected to represent part of the East Bay in the state Assembly in 2014, won his current job four years later after a pricey battle between his teachers union allies and charter school backers. His general election opponent in this officially nonpartisan race was former charter school executive Marshall Tuck, who lost a tight 2014 race to unseat incumbent Tom Torlakson and this time benefited from $36 million in outside spending.

The California Teachers Association deployed $16 million to aid the assemblyman, who also had the state party endorsement: Thurmond ultimately won what was the most expensive superintendent election in American history 51-49, and he decisively claimed reelection last year 64-36.

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. After NBC News obtained an internal document from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s campaign laying out a potential strategy to win a three-way general election, a spokesperson for the Democrat-turned-independent said that Sinema “has not announced or decided one way or another” whether she’ll seek a second term, though they noted she has “been actively fundraising.” Notably, the document itself indicated that Sinema’s team thought the centrist senator’s path to victory would involve taking more votes from Republicans than from Democrats.

“In a two-page prospectus obtained by NBC News, Sinema charts out a path to victory as an independent candidate in Arizona, with a glimpse of her possible campaign message and new details about the unique cross-party coalition she would seek to build in the competitive state.”

“Under the banner ‘Kyrsten’s Path to Victory,’ the document says Sinema can win by attracting 10% to 20% of Democrats, 60% to 70% of independents and 25% to 35% of Republicans.”

While few relevant polls have been released in recent months, the handful we have seen have generally found Sinema languishing in third place, behind both Rep. Ruben Gallego, who is the only notable Democratic candidate, and various hypothetical Republican nominees. The Republican field currently includes Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, but he has struggled to raise money, while Blake Masters and Kari Lake—the GOP’s 2022 nominees for Senate and governor, respectively—have flirted with their own Senate bids. Recent reporting has indicated that Lake is likely to announce her candidacy next month.

UTAH U.S. SENATOR. This is one we haven’t heard before: Gov. Spencer Cox told the Deseret News that he was giving state House Speaker Brad Wilson a “tentative” endorsement in the GOP primary. The governor, though, didn’t sound at all tentative about the speaker, who is set to announce his bid Sept. 27, declaring, “I just love Brad. I don’t know what we call that.” He continued to gush, “He doesn’t need my endorsement. He didn’t ask for my endorsement. It’s just I really like Brad and think he would be really good but right now I don’t even know who’s running yet.”

ALABAMA REDISTRICTING. The Supreme Court delivered a major victory for Black voters on Tuesday when it rejected a request by Alabama Republicans to keep their gerrymandered congressional map in place for 2024 after a lower court found that the map likely violated the Voting Rights Act. The high court’s decision paves the way for the lower court to adopt a new map that creates a second district where Black voters could elect their preferred candidate, almost certainly a Black Democrat.

Just one day earlier, on Monday, an expert appointed by the lower court had proposed three maps for the judges to consider. The court will hold a hearing next week beginning on Oct. 3 and implement a new map soon after. Those three maps are shown on this graphic, and we’ll explore them in more detail below. (Click here for interactive versions).

Alabama is in this situation because, after the 2020 census, Republican officials enacted a congressional map that illegally packed Black voters into the heavily Democratic 7th District while dispersing them elsewhere to ensure that the other six districts would remain heavily white and safely Republican. Plaintiffs representing Black voters consequently sued, alleging that this approach violated the Voting Rights Act.

A lower court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor last year, but the Supreme Court put that ruling on hold for the 2022 elections while Republicans appealed. However, the high court rejected the GOP’s arguments and upheld the lower court’s ruling in a landmark decision this past June, preserving a key protection of the Voting Rights Act, though it meant Republicans got away with their illegal gerrymander in last year’s midterms.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the lower court gave the Republican-controlled legislature a second chance to draw a compliant map, instructing them to draw two districts that were either majority-Black or “something quite close to it.” But in July, Republicans brazenly defied the courts, enacting a new map with just one majority-Black district and another that was only 39.9% Black—well short of a majority and therefore safely Republican.

This defiance prompted the lower court to reject that new map earlier this month and take over the mapmaking process itself. It was this ruling that Republicans were asking the Supreme Court to temporarily block while the litigation proceeded. If the court had blocked it, Republicans would have been able to use an illegal gerrymander in two of this decade’s five elections, but the high court rejected them without any dissents noted.

The litigation in Alabama centered on how to create two districts that would elect Black voters’ preferred candidates, which resulted in a focus on three of Alabama’s largest cities—Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery—and the Black Belt. This rural region, named for its dark, fertile soil, runs west to east across the southern half of the state, encompassing Montgomery and 17 other counties. Due to the legacy of plantation slavery and Jim Crow, the Black Belt has a large Black population today, as do the three cities mentioned above.

The map that Alabama Republicans adopted in 2021 connected parts of Birmingham and Montgomery, linking them through a swath of the Black Belt to create the majority-Black 7th District. The rest of the Black Belt, meanwhile, was split among multiple majority-white districts.

The GOP’s 2023 map removed Montgomery from the 7th and drew it into the 2nd District, but their revamped 2nd still contained heavily white rural areas north of the Black Belt and further south in the Wiregrass region along the Florida border. As a result, even though this iteration of the 2nd District contained 74% of the Black Belt’s residents, it retained a white majority and remained safely Republican.

By contrast, all three of the maps proposed by Richard Allen, the court-appointed expert, would remove these whiter rural areas from the 2nd and instead give it most of Mobile in the Gulf Coast region, which would put the entire Black Belt inside the two Black-preference districts. Republicans bitterly resisted the idea of linking Montgomery and Mobile, but the court previously recognized that Black voters in both regions share significant commonalities. Republicans themselves had even connected these areas in a similar district on the state Board of Education map they enacted in 2021.

Allen heavily prioritized making as few changes to the GOP’s 2023 map as were necessary to remedy the Voting Rights Act violation. Therefore, his proposals would not change the heavily white 3rd, 4th, and 5th districts, while the 6th and 7th districts would see only small changes. The 7th would thus remain a majority-Black and safely Democratic district linking part of the Black Belt with parts of the Birmingham region.

Consequently, only the 1st and 2nd would see major revisions, and all three of his proposals are very similar. According to Dave’s Redistricting App, his proposed versions of the 2nd District would be 50.1% Black and favor Joe Biden 56-43 in 2020 under Plan 1, 48.7% Black and 56-43 Biden under Plan 3, and 48.5% Black and 54-45 Biden under Plan 2 (an election margin that rounds to 10 percentage points).

Any of these maps, if adopted, would very likely lead to a Black Democrat flipping the 2nd District, which is currently held by Republican Barry Moore. Moore could try running against fellow Republican Rep. Jerry Carl in the 1st District, but he’d likely face a major disadvantage in a primary. According to calculations by Daily Kos Elections, 66% of the 1st District’s population under Plan 1 would come from Carl’s current district, compared with just 34% coming from Moore’s. Plan 3 sees Carl with his smallest advantage, 59-41, which would likely still be an uphill climb for Moore.

If a map resembling any of these three were adopted and a Black Democrat flipped the 2nd, Alabama would have two Black members of Congress for the first time ever. It would also mark the first time since the early 1960s that a Democrat has represented a district covering part of the Mobile area.

SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR. Daniel Lurie, who is the founder of an anti-poverty nonprofit and a Levi Strauss heir, announced Tuesday that he would take on Mayor London Breed in the November 2024 instant-runoff contest. Lurie, who Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin previously noted is a first cousin once removed of New York Rep. Dan Goldman, joins Supervisor Ahsha Safaí in this nonpartisan race.

Local elections in this dark blue city usually pit moderates, who would be identified as liberals almost anywhere else in the country, against progressives, and Breed and Safaí have long been identified with the former group. Lurie, who has never run for office, is trying to pitch himself as a member of neither camp, with his pollster David Binder arguing to KQED, “If there is a lane that is more about effectiveness and good government, that’s his lane.”

Still, reporter Scott Shafer notes that it could be tough for Lurie to rise above this deep political divide. The new candidate notably tried to avoid answering when KQED asked if he supported last year’s successful recall against progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin, though he eventually acknowledged he had. Lurie also says that, like Safaí, he’s a one-time Breed backer who is now unhappy with the status quo. Breed’s team, though, responded to Lurie’s entry by arguing, “When you’re born or married into a billionaire family, you don’t have the experience to face hard challenges.”

Both challengers emphasized crime in their criticisms of the mayor, with Lurie declaring, “We have a serious lack of coordination across the criminal justice system.” Safaí, who would be the city’s first Iranian American leader, has highlighted what he says is the “retail theft crisis,” and he also told the New York Times that his home was burglarized last year. Breed’s camp, meanwhile, has defended her record, saying, “She is making progress on downtown revitalization. She’s making progress—and yes it’s not as fast as some folks would have liked, on attacking the open-air drug markets.”

The field is hardly set, though, as the Times relays speculation that one prominent progressive, Assemblyman Phil Ting, could also get in: A spokesperson for Ting told the paper he wasn’t commenting about his plans. But another progressive, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, said of his own plans, “I am tired, and my next chapter in life is not in electoral politics.”

This contest was originally set to take place this November, but voters in 2022 overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure to permanently move the mayoral race from odd-numbered to presidential cycle years to boost turnout―a victory that came despite Breed’s insistence that “a group of democratic socialists” were seeking to “have more control and power of being able to get more of their people elected.”

NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR. Raleigh-based Meredith College has released a new poll that includes matchups for next year’s primaries for governor. On the GOP side, they find Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson with a 34-7 edge over former Rep. Mark Walker, while no other candidate tops 3% and the plurality, 44%, is undecided. On the Democratic side, state Attorney General Josh Stein leads former state Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan 33-11, while 46% are undecided.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. “John Odom, a major Republican donor, has been a top backer of Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Jeff Landry… In all, he’s given $100,000 to his political operation,” Politico reports.

“But now Landry, the state’s attorney general and frontrunner in the race, has done something that, for Odom, is unforgivable. He hired former Donald Trump 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a political adviser.”

“And now, in response, Odom is demanding that Landry give him his money back and is ‘urging the voters of Louisiana to reject Landry at the polls.’”

CALIFORNIA U.S. SENATOR. Politico: “Adam Schiff is unapologetically touting his commitment to earmarks for local causes — like homelessness and drug treatment programs — as he seeks the Senate seat long held by Dianne Feinstein. The 12-term House Democrat and darling of the anti-Trump left is even calling out his closest rival in the race, Rep. Katie Porter, for her opposition to pork-barrel spending.”

“But Schiff has offered an incomplete and potentially misleading account of his record on earmarks. A close examination of that record reveals that he secured generous earmarks for corporate beneficiaries early in his career, including at times for recipients who were also major donors to his political campaigns.”

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

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