The Political Report – October 19, 2023

A new NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll finds Joe Biden edging Donald Trump in a 2024 head-to-head match up, 49% to 46%.

However, in a three-way contest with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. running as an independent, Biden opens up a 7-point lead over Trump, 44% to 37% with 16% for Kennedy.

ALABAMA 2ND DISTRICT. Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed has confirmed to that he’s interested in running for the Democratic nomination in this revamped seat, though he says he has no timeline to decide other than the Nov. 10 filing deadline. Reed’s 2019 win made him the first Black leader of Alabama’s capital city, and he won reelection in August 57-39.

CALIFORNIA 31ST DISTRICT. Attorney Greg Hafif generated little attention in mid-August when he filed to join the top-two primary to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Grace Napolitano, but analyst Rob Pyers highlights that the self-described “moderate Democrat” is pouring a substantial amount of his own money into his bid. Hafif self-funded $500,000 on top of the $220,000 he raised from donors, and he finished September with $710,000 in the bank.

ARIZONA 2ND DISTRICT. Former Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez declared Monday that he’d seek the Democratic nomination to take on Rep. Eli Crane, a far-right freshman who was one of the eight Republicans to end Kevin McCarthy’s speakership. Trump carried this sprawling Northeastern Arizona seat 53-45, and Crane ousted Democratic incumbent Tom O’Halleran 54-46 last year. According to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, Republican Blake Masters also beat Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly 51-47 here in 2022 even as he was losing statewide by an identical margin.

Nez attracted widespread attention in 2020 for leading the Navajo Nation’s response to the pandemic, which included considerably stronger public health measures than what the state ordered. He went into the 2022 nonpartisan race looking like the favorite against Buu Nygren, who is married to a Democratic state representative, but Nez unexpectedly lost 53-47.

Nygren argued during that campaign that the incumbent hadn’t done enough to advance vital infrastructure projects for the Navajo Nation, though Nez himself told the Arizona Republic this month that he likely lost reelection because of his “pretty tough” COVID response. However, Nez also insisted that he could flip the 2nd, saying, “I can see a path to victory because I am able to work both sides of the aisle.”

MICHIGAN 10TH DISTRICT. Physician Anil Kumar, who serves as an elected member of Wayne State University’s Board of Governors, has announced that he’s joining the Democratic primary to take on freshman GOP Rep. John James.

Kumar, who unsuccessfully campaigned twice under the last congressional map, set up an exploratory committee during the previous quarter: The candidate raised almost $180,000 from donors and self-funded another $400,000, and he finished September with $540,000 in the bank. The Democrat tells the Detroit News he lives just outside the 10th District, but he noted his Kumar Surgical Center is located within its boundaries.

Kumar first campaigned for the old 11th District, which barely overlaps with the constituency he’s now seeking, in 2014 with the hopes of taking on accidental GOP incumbent Kerry Bentivolio. The primaries didn’t go well for either of them, though: Kumar lost to former State Department official Bobby McKenzie 34-32, while Dave Trott easily defeated Bentivolio before beating McKenzie months later.

Kumar came back in 2016 and this time won the primary without opposition, but he lost to Trott 53-40. The Democrat originally planned to compete in the 2018 race to succeed Trott, who unexpectedly retired after two terms, but he dropped out and competed in the statewide race to win an eight-year term on the Board of Governors. Fellow Democrat Bryan Barnhill took first with 26% while Kumar edged out Republican incumbent Diane Dunaskiss 24-23 to win the second seat.

MICHIGAN 13TH DISTRICT. Former state Sen. Adam Hollier announced Tuesday that he would seek a rematch against freshman Rep. Shri Thanedar, who defeated him 28-24 in last year’s expensive Democratic primary for Michigan’s safely blue 13th District. Thanedar’s victory over Hollier, who is Black, made him the first Indian American to represent Michigan in Congress. However, it also meant Detroit, which has the highest proportion of Black residents of any major city in America, would not have an African American representative in Congress for the first time since the early 1950s.

Hollier, an Army veteran who recently resigned as director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency in order to run again, launched his second campaign with endorsements from two prominent local Democrats: former U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, who represented about 40% of this seat prior to her retirement in January, and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, whose county includes the entire district.

Hollier’s kickoff comes amid Thanedar’s high-profile feud against fellow Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents the neighboring 12th District. Last week, Thanedar criticized Tlaib, who is the first Palestinian American woman to serve in Congress, for her initial statement about Hamas’ attack on Israel that he argued failed to denounce terrorism.

But Thanedar himself had cosponsored a 2021 resolution in the Michigan House calling for the U.S. to halt aid to Israel, and the hawkish pro-Israel group AIPAC spent millions to help Hollier in the following year’s primary; the congressman told the Jewish Insider in August that his views have since changed.

Tlaib’s response took an entirely different direction. “While he is busy posting memes, his residents are calling my office asking for my assistance because he is absent from doing his job,” the congresswoman charged. Adam Abusalah, who is Thanedar’s former communications director, also took to social media to denounce his one-time boss, writing that the congressman had once told him, “I don’t care about policies or legislation right now, I just need you to focus on my re-election.”

In the same thread, Abusalah, among other things, also accused Thanedar of failing to promote qualified Black women on his team, experiencing high staff turnover, and repeating “Republican talking points” after visiting the border with Mexico. “He’s the most ignorant, self-centered, and uninformed human I’ve ever worked with,” Abusalah concluded.

Thanedar and his current team responded by defending his constituent service and questioning Abusalah’s motives. “These untrue allegations are clearly a direct response to Congressman Thanedar’s principled stance in support of Israel’s right to self-defense and against the brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas,” his chief of staff said in a statement. Thanedar also insisted that he and Tlaib have “an excellent relationship.”

Hollier did not directly mention any of the controversy swirling around Thanedar in his kickoff, but he did echo Tlaib’s complaints. “We need a congressman who delivers, and we need it right now,” he said in a press release launching his campaign. “Sadly, out of touch multimillionaires like Shri Thanedar seem more interested in posting memes than delivering for the district, and we’ve had enough.” Thanedar’s wealth will likely play a role in his next race: Last time, he deployed over $9 million of his own money to defeat Hollier and the rest of his opponents, and there’s every reason to expect that he’s prepared to do more self-funding.

Hollier may also not have Thanedar to himself. John Conyers III, who is the son of the late long-serving Rep. John Conyers, told Politico last month that he was planning on announcing he’s running “soon.” The younger Conyers took fourth place with 9% last year, which was about twice the margin between Thanedar and Hollier. As in most states, candidates in Michigan only need a plurality to win their party’s nomination, which is why Thanedar was able to prevail last year with less than 30% of the vote.

MINNESOTA 5TH DISTRICT. Jewish Insider reports that former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels is “likely” to announce his [Democratic primary] campaign in mid-November” against Rep. Ilhan Omar, who beat him by an unexpectedly small 50-48 margin last year. Attorney Sarah Gad is already challenging Omar for renomination in this dark blue seat, but she raised $54,000 during her opening fundraising quarter and finished September with about that much in the bank.

Omar, by contrast, took in $435,000 during the most recent quarter and had $647,000 banked, which is well over twice as much as the congresswoman had available at this point in the previous cycle.

NEW JERSEY 3RD DISTRICT. Assemblyman Herb Conaway tells the New Jersey Globe he’s “very likely to move forward” on a bid to succeed his fellow Democrat, Senate candidate Andy Kim, and will decide after the Nov. 7 legislative elections. Conaway, who was first elected to his post in 1997, would be the first Black person to represent a South Jersey House seat.

If Conaway ends up seeking a promotion, he may face both of the other two Democrats who represent the 7th Legislative District. Assembly Majority Whip Carol Murphy announced her campaign last week, while state Sen. Troy Singleton expressed interest last month. (Singleton would also be the first African American to hold a South Jersey House seat, while Murphy would be the region’s first congresswoman.) All three legislators should easily secure reelection to their reliably blue constituency, though they may be especially interested to learn which of them wins the most support.

ARIZONA 8TH DISTRICT. Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko announced her retirement on Tuesday evening after a fairly short career representing Arizona’s 8th District, saying in a statement that “Washington, D.C. is broken; it is hard to get anything done.” Lesko’s district, which is based in the suburbs west of Phoenix, is solidly red turf that voted for Donald Trump by a 56-43 margin, so the action to succeed the congresswoman will likely center on next year’s GOP primary.

But that wasn’t quite the case for Lesko when she first sought to join the House in a 2018 special election, following GOP Rep. Trent Franks’ resignation in a shocking sexual harassment scandal after he pushed a pair of aides to serve as surrogate mothers. Lesko, a state senator at the time, defeated 11 other candidates to secure the Republican nomination, beating her nearest opponent by a 35-24 margin in a bizarre primary. But the prior version of the 8th was just as conservative as its current iteration, so the general election should have been a foregone conclusion.

However, special elections during the early years of Trump’s presidency had seen turbocharged enthusiasm for Democratic candidates, and Lesko’s race was similarly affected. Physician Hiral Tipirneni capitalized on that energy, and nervous Republicans spent more than $1 million to avoid getting humiliated. It was a wise move: Tipirneni held Lesko to a narrow 52-48 win, a result far closer than the district’s normal lean. But the closeness of that victory pointed to serious dangers for the GOP, which were realized during the midterm wave that saw Democrats pick up 40 seats that fall.

Lesko, though, was not swept up by that tsunami. She defeated Tipirneni 55-45 in a November rematch and held her seat without issue in the subsequent two elections (she was unopposed last year). In Congress, Lesko joined the far-right Freedom Caucus and consistently supported her party’s most extreme positions, which included voting to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

INDIANA 5TH DISTRICT. Every day seems to bring some new chaos from retiring Rep. Victoria Spartz, and Axios’ Juliegrace Brufke relayed Monday evening that an unnamed member tells her that the congresswoman addressed the GOP conference and “gave an emotional and tearful incoherent speech where I think she told everyone she’s leaning toward running again.” Spartz over the last month has publicly implied she was thinking of seeking a third termreaffirmed she would retire, and threatened to resign.

NORTH CAROLINA 1ST DISTRICT. Army veteran ​​Laurie Buckhout announced Monday that she would seek the Republican nod to take on Democratic Rep. Don Davis and had already self-funded $1 million to jumpstart her effort. GOP legislators are set to unveil their new gerrymander this week.

CALIFORNIA 22ND DISTRICT. Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla has endorsed Rudy Salas’ rematch campaign against GOP Rep. David Valadao.

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

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