The Political Report – October 1, 2023

“Voters overwhelmingly say they trust Republicans to do a better job than Democrats dealing with border security, crime, the economy and immigration,” a new NBC News poll finds. “By some smaller margins, registered voters also say Democrats are better on health care, abortion, the coronavirus and education.” This is curious: “And the two parties are essentially tied on protecting democracy.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that about 26% of voters make up the universe of “persuadables” who will determine the presidential election. “Biden faces a number of challenges in winning over these voters. Only 29% approve of his job performance. Two-thirds say the economy has gotten worse during his time in office, and few say he has handled economic issues well.”

“Trump also faces hurdles: The persuadable voters favor abortion rights, which many states rescinded or scaled back after Trump’s Supreme Court nominees helped overturn Roe v. Wade. These voters disapprove of GOP efforts to move toward impeaching Biden, and they think Trump took illegal steps to hold on to power after losing the 2020 election.”

NEW JERSEY 8TH DISTRICT. A powerful member of the local Democratic establishment this week signaled support for freshman Rep. Rob Menendez, who could face a serious primary challenge now that his father, Sen. Bob Menendez, has been indicted. Craig Guy, who has no serious opposition on Nov. 7 in the general election for Hudson County executive, posted on social media, “I would like to personally thank Rob for all that he is doing for the 8th District and look forward to continuing to work with him to deliver for our constituents here in Hudson County.”

The Hudson County View notes that, while Guy didn’t explicitly say he was endorsing the congressman, his words “likely signals support coming from the Hudson County Democratic Organization.” Guy’s declaration came days after Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla expressed interest in taking on Menendez.

As we’ve noted before, party endorsements in New Jersey tend to carry a good deal of weight with primary voters because endorsed candidates in many counties appear in a separate column on the ballot along with other party endorsees, a big deal in a state where party machines are still powerful. Guy himself benefited from this in June when he pulled off a 76-24 win against a member of the Hudson County Progressives’ slate. About two-thirds of the denizens of the safely blue 8th District live in Hudson County, while the rest are split between Essex and Union counties.

PENNSYLVANIA 10TH DISTRICT. Businessman John Broadhurst, who ABC 27 says works “as an entrepreneur and consultant in international business development,” on Monday became the latest Democrat to announce a bid against far-right Rep. Scott Perry.

The station also reported that day that Blake Lynch, who works as an executive at central Pennsylvania’s NPR affiliate WITF, is also considering taking on the Republican incumbent and would decide “in the coming weeks.” Lynch, who previously worked as the Harrisburg Bureau of Police’s director of community relations and engagement, would be the first Black person to represent the Harrisburg and York areas in the House.

MINNESOTA 2ND DISTRICT. Attorney Tayler Rahm this week picked up a GOP primary endorsement from former Rep. Jason Lewis, a former conservative radio shock jock who won his only term in 2016 in a previous version of this seat in the Twin Cities suburbs before losing to Democrat Angie Craig two years later. Rahm finished June with just $34,000 on-hand, and the new campaign finance reports due Oct. 15 will give us a better idea if he’s capable of running a serious effort against Craig.

Still, Rahm appears to be the only Republican actively campaigning in this 53-45 Biden constituency. While former Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy announced in April, former GOP strategist Michael Brodkorb noted a month ago that Murphy both does not have a working website and skipped a major party event; the former mayor did not respond to Brodkorb’s questions about the state of the campaign. Murphy’s website is still down as of Tuesday, and not only has he not tweeted anything since July 4, his profile no longer mentions that he’s a candidate for Congress.

MARYLAND 6TH DISTRICT. Former Del. Dan Cox, an election conspiracy theorist who waged a disastrous campaign for governor last year, unexpectedly told MoCo360 on Friday that he’s still considering seeking the GOP nod to succeed Democratic Senate candidate David Trone. Cox, according to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, lost this constituency 53-44 to Democrat Wes Moore two years after Joe Biden took it by a similar margin.

Cox’s renewed interest comes nearly three months after someone set up a “Dan Cox for U.S. Congress” FEC committee that the former delegate insisted he had nothing to do with. “I’d like to know who did this,” he told Maryland Matters of the entity, which ceased to exist one day after it was created. However, the Daily Beast’s Roger Sollenberger reported weeks later that two Cox affiliates, Rory McShane and Tom Datwyler, had spent weeks discussing when to file the paperwork.

An unnamed source also told Sollenberger that, while Cox had decided to stay out of the race, this information didn’t reach Datwyler before the latter set up the account. The story went on to quote an email from McShane saying, “Hey Tom—Need you to terminate Dan Cox’s committee, he’s decided he’s not running,” to which Datwyler responded, “Can do.” Days later, Cox reiterated to The Frederick Post-News that he hadn’t filed and had reported the “Dan Cox for U.S. Congress” committee to the FEC.

Cox never publicly confirmed that he’d decided not to run, though he doesn’t appear to have said anything about a congressional bid since July. He now tells MoCo360, however, “We have been carefully considering the sixth district race and have not yet made a decision on whether to run.”

TEXAS 28TH DISTRICT. Jose Sanz, who previously served as district director for Democratic incumbent Henry Cuellar, announced Wednesday that he’d challenge his old boss as a Republican. Sanz is the first notable Republican to launch a bid against Cuellar, who has long been one of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus, but it remains to be seen if the GOP will seriously target him. Joe Biden won this constituency, which includes Laredo and the eastern San Antonio suburbs, 53-46 two years before Cuellar turned back a well-funded Republican foe 57-43.

It’s also unclear if the congressman will be in for another competitive primary challenge. Attorney Jessica Cisneros hasn’t ruled out taking him on again after narrowly losing in 2020 and 2022, and there’s still a while to go before the Dec. 11 filing deadline.

ILLINOIS 5TH DISTRICT. Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley this week dispelled what Politico’s Shia Kapos said were rumors that he could retire and affirmed he’d seek another term in his safely blue seat. “We have to save all the big cities, and I’d be in the right spot to do that if we win back the House,” said Quigley, who represents part of Chicago. “I’m pumped up about that.”

NORTH CAROLINA FUTURE DISTRICT. State House Speaker Tim Moore announced Thursday that he wouldn’t seek reelection to the legislature, though the powerful Republican again wouldn’t say if he was interested in running for Congress. Moore, who already revealed during the summer that he was serving his last term as speaker, told reporters, “I’m looking at next steps. Don’t know what those will be yet, I’m looking at a number of great options out there.”

Moore’s counterpart in the upper chamber, state Senate leader Phil Berger, recently said he hoped that votes on a congressional map would take place during the week of Oct. 9, and there’s plenty of speculation that the speaker could try to draw himself a favorable seat at Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson’s expense.

COLORADO REFERENDUM. Abortion rights groups in Colorado, reports the Colorado Sun, turned in paperwork last week to place a proposed constitutional amendment before voters that would both safeguard abortion access and overturn a 1984 amendment that bans public funding for the procedure. The campaign initially considered pursuing these changes through two separate initiatives before settling on one, and if the measure qualifies for the ballot, supporters would need to convince at least 55% of voters to back the “yes” side in November of 2024 in order to pass it.

The proposed amendment represents the latest battle over reproductive rights in the Centennial State, which made history twice in the 20th century by passing two very different first-in-the-nation laws regarding abortion. In 1967, six years before the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, the Colorado legislature advanced a bill to allow a panel of physicians to approve the procedure during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape or incest; if the mother’s mental or physical well-being was at risk; or if there was a risk of birth defects.

The bill, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. John Love, would be unacceptable to pro-choice groups today, but it was groundbreaking for its era. (California Gov. Ronald Reagan would approve a scaled-back version later that year, a decision he’d call a “mistake” less than a decade later.) Love assured detractors that “[t]he fear that some have that Colorado will become an ‘abortion Mecca’ if this bill becomes law does not seem to me well founded,” but there was no organized anti-abortion movement to defeat it at the time.

Things would be very different in 1984 when voters approved Amendment 3 by 50.4-49.6 (state constitutional amendments only needed a simple majority to pass at the time). While the Hyde Amendment preventing federal funding was already a few years old, this tight win at the ballot box made Colorado the first state to bar public funds from being used for abortions. Anti-abortion groups celebrated even though a similar proposal failed in Washington state 53-47 that same day, and they correctly predicted they’d be able to achieve more such victories nationwide.

Reproductive rights supporters in turn argued that voters had been confused by the wording of the question and that some had mistakenly believed a “yes” vote was for “Yes for choice.” The head of the regional Planned Parenthood affiliate also told The Daily Sentinel that some voters saw Amendment 3, which was on the ballot as Reagan was overwhelmingly carrying the state, as “a spending measure … People are on a real wave of, ‘Hell, we’re not going to pay for anything.'” However, a 1988 proposal to repeal Amendment 3 went down by a lopsided 60-40.

Colorado’s electorate has shifted hard to the left since then, especially in recent years, and Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and his allies in the legislature have successfully pursued some of the nation’s most pro-choice laws. Amendment 3, though, continues to be a huge obstacle for Medicaid recipients and state and local government employees. “Poor women in Colorado are, legally, basically living in Texas,” law school professor Jennifer Hendricks told Colorado Politics this year. “There’s been a lot of talk about Colorado as a haven and how we’re protecting this right and it’s important for women in the region, but the barriers that poor women face have not gotten as much attention.”

The Colorado Reproductive Health Rights and Justice Coalition, which is an alliance of several progressive groups, agrees, and it’s working to place a proposed amendment on next year’s ballot to finally end this restriction. However, getting the proposal before voters will be an expensive job thanks to the passage of a 2016 amendment that, in addition to requiring 55% of the vote to pass constitutional amendments, also turned signature-gathering into a far more onerous task.

The coalition will need to turn in about 124,000 valid petitions, a figure that represents 5% of the total vote cast in the most recent election for secretary of state, and it must also hit certain targets in each of the 35 state Senate districts. Once the secretary of state approves summary language, the coalition will have six months to gather petitions: Despite the cost, though, one leader, Karen Middleton of Cobalt Advocates, predicted to Westword that they’d have no trouble hitting their goal. (Cobalt, notably, was formed in the aftermath of Amendment 3’s passage.)

Anti-abortion groups are also pursuing their own amendment to push a total ban even though voters in 2020 rejected a 22-week ban by 59-41. But while it’s unlikely such a proposal could pass in 2024, the Sun notes that the state could be in for an expensive battle as conservatives try to keep the pro-choice side from securing the 55% it needs. Middleton, for her part, previewed the argument her coalition would use last month to Westword, saying, “Everyone should have insurance that covers the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion, regardless of who we work for.”

LOUISIANA REDISTRICTING. A panel of judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is dominated by the far-right, has blocked a lower court from going ahead with a hearing on how Louisiana should redraw its congressional map for 2024, which had been set for next week. A new map is needed after the lower court ruled in 2022 that Republican mapmakers likely violated the Voting Rights Act by enacting a map where just one of the six districts was capable of electing Black voters’ preferred candidate in a state where nearly one-third of the population is Black and a second district could be readily drawn.

Thursday’s 5th CIrcuit ruling adds a delay in a case where Republicans may once more try to run out the clock until the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority says it’s too close to the next election to implement a new map. However, while the Supreme Court put the lower court’s ruling on hold for 2022, its order lifting that stay earlier this year specifically noted that the 5th Circuit had time to resolve the matter ahead of the 2024 elections, and it’s far from guaranteed that the GOP’s stalling tactics will work for a second election.

In a landmark decision this past June, the Supreme Court furthermore upheld a similar lower court ruling that required Alabama to create a second Black district, and just earlier this week, the high court rejected the GOP’s last-ditch attempt to block a new map for 2024 that would finally empower Alabama’s Black voters. Louisiana’s case is proceeding on a somewhat different track than Alabama’s case, but there’s still significant time left ahead of the 2024 congressional elections since the candidate filing deadline is on July 19.

Further complicating matters, a panel of three different judges on the 5th Circuit will hear oral arguments on Oct. 6 in the GOP’s appeal to overturn the lower court’s ruling itself. That 2022 ruling had only blocked Louisiana’s map on a preliminary basis before a full trial took place because the court found that the plaintiffs were highly likely to prevail and would suffer irreparable harm from further delay.

The plaintiffs seeking a new map could appeal Thursday’s panel ruling to the entire 5th Circuit or to the Supreme Court, though election law expert Michael Li noted that another solution would be to proceed with a trial over the map at the lower court, which would likely reach the same result as it did last year. However, Republicans could still appeal a subsequent ruling striking down the map after a trial, creating another avenue for delay.

OHIO REDISTRICTING. In a dismaying turn of events on Tuesday, both Democratic members of Ohio’s bipartisan redistricting commission sided with their five Republican counterparts to approve new legislative gerrymanders that would likely lock in the GOP’s three-fifths supermajorities just like the maps they were replacing. Despite winning just 53-45 statewide in 2020, Donald Trump would have carried a 24-9 majority of state Senate districts and a 63-36 majority of state House districts according to Dave’s Redistricting App.

New maps were required for 2024 because the state Supreme Court had struck down the GOP’s five prior sets of maps in 2022 for violating an Ohio constitutional amendment banning partisan gerrymandering. However, that flawed amendment didn’t let the court draw its own maps after striking down illegal districts, so the GOP successfully ran out the clock for 2022 and was able to use a set of the unconstitutional maps last year thanks to a ruling by federal judges appointed by Donald Trump.

The state Supreme Court had 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, but 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 Republican Chief 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 hard-line Republicans to solidify a 4-3 GOP majority in November’s elections.

Due to the state court’s rightward lurch, new Republican gerrymanders for 2024 were practically guaranteed. State Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio and state House Minority Leader Allison Russo, who are the commission’s two Democratic members, defended their “yes” votes by claiming the GOP would have passed even worse gerrymanders if they hadn’t compromised, and that they still viewed the end results as unfair.

However, the GOP’s draft proposals from last week were not drastically worse for Democrats than the maps Antonio and Russo approved, and it appeared that the compromise maps sacrificed partisan fairness for protecting Democratic incumbents. By providing them with bipartisan support, the Democratic commissioners likely ensured that the maps would remain valid for the rest of this decade, since maps passed on a party-line basis would only be valid for four years. Furthermore, this bogus bipartisanship could undermine the support for passing real redistricting reform in the future.

Ohio found itself in this situation because of two amendments that the Republican-dominated legislature put on the ballot and were subsequently approved by voters last decade. While these amendments purported to ban partisan gerrymandering and marginally improved upon the status quo, we noted at the time that they were fundamentally flawed and appeared designed to thwart efforts to pass truly fair reforms at the ballot box, like those passed by Michigan voters in 2018. The repeated rounds of unconstitutional maps following the 2020 census made these flaws readily apparent.

While Ohio will again be stuck with GOP gerrymanders in 2024, there is a potential way forward for voters. O’Connor, the former chief justice, is leading an effort with other good-government advocates to use a ballot initiative for November 2024 that would establish an independent redistricting commission to draw new legislative and congressional maps beginning with the 2026 elections, an initiative we previously explored in detail here.

Unlike previous flawed reforms, this proposal would strip elected officials of their control over the process, handing it to a citizens’ commission, and set clearer standards for partisan fairness. Supporters are 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 voter signatures to get onto the November 2024 ballot.

PENNSYLVANIA SUPREME COURT. Planned Parenthood’s super PAC has announced it will launch a seven-figure ad buy for TV, streaming, and digital spots opposing Republican nominee Carolyn Carluccio. Their first TV ad attacks Carluccio for deleting her anti-abortion views from her campaign website and relying on the support of “MAGA Republicans” who favor a total ban with “no exceptions for rape or incest.”

Carluccio, who is a local judge in Montgomery County, is running against Democratic Superior Court Judge Dan McCaffery this November for a state Supreme Court seat that has been vacant since Democratic Chief Justice Max Baer died this past September. Democrats currently hold a 4-2 majority, with just this seat vacant.

The Bullfinch Group, polling on behalf of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, has released the first survey we’ve seen of November’s statewide race, and it gives Democrat Dan McCaffery a 42-36 edge over Republican Carolyn Carluccio. The horserace numbers came from the Commonwealth Foundation’s quarterly statewide survey, and respondents first appear to have been asked several issue questions like, “Have you or someone you know thought about leaving Pennsylvania for a different state due to Pennsylvania’s policies?”

ARIZONA REFERENDUM. Arizona voters next year could decide between two competing proposals that would end the state’s current partisan primary system―one would introduce instant-runoff voting to the state, while the other would allow the legislature and governor to decide what election system would be implemented. Republicans, though, have already placed a third proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2024 ballot to safeguard the status quo. If multiple rival amendments passed, only the one with the most “yes” votes would go into effect.

Chuck Coughlin, who works for the election reform group Make Elections Fair Arizona, tells the Arizona Republican that his organization was working with Better Ballot Arizona until July, when they diverged over exactly what plan they should put before voters. Better Ballot Arizona opted to advocate for the top-five primary: All the candidates would run in one primary and the five contenders with the most support, regardless of party, would advance to a ranked-choice general election. While no state has used this particular top-five primary system before, Nevada voters will decide next year if they want to put it into place, and Alaska voters adopted a similar top-four primary in 2020.

Make Elections Fair Arizona, meanwhile, is trying a different strategy. Its amendment would also end party primaries starting in 2026, but it would leave it up to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs and the legislature to decide whether two, three, four, or five candidates would reach the general election. If they can’t reach an agreement, though, it would be up to the secretary of state―a post currently held by Democrat Adrian Fontes―to make this call.

Ranked-choice voting would be used for the second round of voting if more than two contenders are allowed to move forward, but the GOP’s hatred of instant-runoff voting means that this almost certainly wouldn’t happen as long as the party maintains its narrow majorities in both chambers. Indeed, the head of the pro-top-five Voter Choice Arizona, Kazz Fernandes, argues that the most likely outcome would be the adoption of the top-two primary system currently in use in two states, California and Washington.

Fernandes insists this would be unacceptable, predicting it would “not alleviate the spoiler effect or negative campaigning, wouldn’t increase healthy competition, would shut-out independents, and wouldn’t provide Arizonans the choices they deserve.” And as we’ve written before, the top-two primary ensures that both parties need to be on guard to make sure that they don’t get locked out of the general election even if they would be favored in the general election, which has happened to both Democrats and Republicans in California.

But GOP legislators don’t even like the top two, and they voted months ago to put their own amendment on the ballot to preserve the partisan primary system as well as ban instant-runoff voting. Make Elections Fair Arizona and Better Ballot Arizona, though, must each collect about 384,000 valid signatures by July 3 in order to also put their proposals before voters.

“They won’t make it,” Coughlin predicted of the top-five plan. “Their financial support is not deep enough.” He noted that his organization already has brought in $3.75 million over the past month, including from six residents who “gave over half a million dollars each.” Fernandes acknowledged his side currently doesn’t have big contributors behind it, but he predicted that their “army” of volunteers and “small-dollar and medium-dollar sources” would help it gain a place on the ballot.

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

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