The Political Report – October 23, 2023

“Abortion has surged as a key issue for women and Democrats for the Nov. 7 legislative elections in Virginia, the last state in the South to hold out against restrictions on the procedure in the year since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade,” according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.

“Virginia’s off-year contests are the country’s only major races this year and could signal the national political mood heading into the 2024 presidential election.”

Politico: “After months of staying out of the conversation, the South Carolina senator is now sputtering below 2 percent in national polls. On Saturday, Scott’s hometown newspaper called for the Republican field to coalesce not around Scott, but rival South Carolinian Nikki Haley, to take on Donald Trump directly. Even some prominent Scott fans are beginning to acknowledge Scott’s presidential campaign has been a disappointment, and that his path forward appears dim.”

“Democrats are about to find out how worried they need to be about Black voter support,” Politico reports.

“After a lot of hand-wringing in recent years, elections next month in Mississippi and Virginia — two Southern states with large Black populations — will offer one final, robust read going into 2024 on the extent of the slippage among Democrats’ most reliable bloc of voters.”

“The warning signs have been flashing.”

North Carolina Republicans just unveiled new gerrymanders that would not only entrench the party in power but would also reward a turncoat Democrat whose inexplicable party switch handed the GOP a veto-proof supermajority in April and ushered in a new era of ultraconservative governance.

As a result of that switch by state Rep. Tricia Cotham, Republicans were able to quickly pass a host of far-right priorities despite vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Those bills, among other things, severely restricted abortion access, curtailed voting rights, and gave the GOP greater control over both state courts and North Carolina’s elections.

Cotham’s decision to change parties came as a shock because she had campaigned as a mainstream, pro-abortion rights Democrat and won a safely blue district in the Charlotte area just last year. Local Democrats had no reason to expect anything else: Cotham had previously served as a reliable member of the state House caucus for several years until leaving for an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2016.

But just three months into her new term, Cotham claimed she was leaving the Democratic Party because of a progressive backlash when she missed a key vote that enabled Republicans to loosen gun safety regulations. She also said that Democratic lawmakers had repeatedly disrespected her, something Democrats have steadfastly disputed.

However, subsequent reporting cast significant doubt on Cotham’s justifications for her change. Republicans had encouraged her to run in the first place, according to The New York Times, and GOP-aligned interest groups supported her with substantial donations ahead of last year’s primary. The Assembly also reported that Cotham had a history of petty personal grievances with Democratic lawmakers rather than any sort of deep ideological differences.

Cotham’s move was still bewildering, though, because her current district supported Joe Biden by a 61-38 margin—inhospitable turf for any Republican, let alone a former Democrat who had enraged her onetime supporters. (Last year, Cotham herself easily defeated her GOP opponent 59-41 in the 112th District.)

Now, however, Cotham’s district would be radically reshaped (and renumbered as the 105th), so much so that it would instead have voted for Donald Trump 50-48—a 25-point shift in partisanship from its present incarnation. But should Cotham decide that this boon is an insufficient reward for enabling the GOP’s agenda (even her revamped district would remain competitive and, like so much suburban turf, it’s trending toward Democrats), she also has the option of once again running for Congress.

In addition to their new legislative maps, Republicans also released a pair of proposals that would gerrymander North Carolina’s congressional districts in extreme ways, so much so that this perennial swing state would likely wind up with a House delegation made up of 11 Republicans and just three Democrats.

Notably, though, both of those plans would also place Cotham’s base of suburban Mecklenburg County in a safely red open seat (numbered the 8th on one map and the 9th on the other). While Cotham fell far short in her previous House bid, finishing a distant third in the Democratic primary, with just 21% of the vote, her new allies might very well smooth her path to the GOP nomination.

Cotham has not yet indicated what she plans to do next year. However, her overnight transformation into a MAGA Republican has earned her a warm reception from GOP leadership and right-wing media for betraying her former party and the voters who elected her. Given the GOP’s warm embrace of opportunists—including Trump himself—Cotham may find herself richly rewarded indeed.

MARYLAND U.S. SENATOR. Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando announced Friday that he was dropping out of the primary to succeed his fellow Democrat, retiring Sen. Ben Cardin, a decision he says came because “I frankly no longer see a path for myself to victory.” Jawando did not endorse anyone, though observers were quick to argue that his departure could benefit Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who is now the only serious Black candidate. Alsobrooks’ main intraparty foe is wealthy Rep. David Trone, and Politico writes that he’s already spent $6 million in advertising far ahead of the May primary.

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request by Voting Rights Act plaintiffs to let a lower court proceed with a canceled hearing, which a panel of appellate judges blocked last month as supposedly premature, on how Louisiana should redraw its congressional map to create a second majority-Black district. The lower court had blocked the GOP’s gerrymander last year for discriminating against Black voters, but the Supreme Court let Louisiana use it anyway while the GOP appealed, and additional delays raise the risk of the Supreme Court eventually saying it’s too late to use a new map for 2024.

However, liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote a concurring opinion saying that the lower court could still proceed on a slower timeline since GOP legislators told the Supreme Court that they won’t draw a replacement map while they’re still appealing the lower court’s decision. A separate panel of appellate judges recently heard the GOP’s appeal regarding the merits of that lower court ruling and could issue its own decision soon.

A federal district court has set a new hearing for Feb. 5-9 on how Louisiana should redraw its congressional map to create a second majority-Black district protected by the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court on Thursday declined to block a recent appellate court ruling that had canceled the lower court’s original hearing set for early October.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. Both Democrats and Republicans released surveys showing Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear leading GOP Attorney General Daniel Cameron ahead of the Nov. 7 general election, though naturally they disagree by how much.

The conservative Bluegrass Freedom Action first unveiled a co/efficient survey showing the governor ahead 47-45, which is the same margin it found in May right after Cameron secured the nomination. Beshear’s campaign quickly responded with a Garin-Hart-Yang internal that found the Democrat winning 52-44, little different from Beshear’s 51-42 advantage in early September.

What everyone agrees on, however, is that Beshear and his allies maintain a clear advertising advantage going into the final weeks. The GOP firm Medium Buying says that the Democratic side has spent or reserved $26 million on TV and radio compared to $19.3 million for the GOP. Medium also relays that Democrats have a 59-41 edge on broadcast TV when it comes to share of voice, which refers to the proportion of total advertising run by one side or the other.

Republicans have continued to tie the governor to Joe Biden, though until recently Cameron was surprisingly reluctant to connect himself to Donald Trump. Indeed, the Daily Beast notes that, between the primary and the second week of October, “Cameron mentioned Trump during his public events just 12 times.” However, the attorney general has changed tactics recently. “I’m the only candidate endorsed by President Trump,” he says in a new ad, “And the only candidate who stood up to Joe Biden.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have highlighted Cameron’s hardline anti-abortion views and worked to connect him to former Gov. Matt Bevin, the unpopular Republican that Beshear unseated four years ago. “Asthma. Cancer. Diabetes. All require medical care that Daniel Cameron would put at risk,” opens the narrator in a spot from the DGA affiliate Defending Bluegrass Values. “Because Cameron promised Matt Bevin-style cuts to Medicaid and to ‘actively work’ to cut protections for patients with preexisting conditions on private insurance, too.”

FLORIDA 16TH DISTRICT. Private school founder Eddie Speir announced a GOP primary bid against veteran Rep. Vern Buchanan back in July shortly after the state Senate rejected his appointment to the New College board of trustees, and he’s already thrown down $500,000 of his own money for his uphill battle.

But Buchanan, who is the number-two Republican on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, still ended September with a $1.6 million to $490,000 cash on hand advantage over Speir, who raised a negligible $7,000 from donors. Buchanan himself only brought in $140,000 during this quarter, but he’s proven in past cycles that he’s capable of raising far more to defend what’s now a 54-45 Trump seat around Sarasota. Insider also estimated in 2021 that Buchanan, who owns several local car dealerships, was the 4th wealthiest member of Congress.

Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year nominated Speir, who set up a Christian charter school, to be one of his six nominees in his quest to dramatically move New College’s leadership far to the right. Speir in January showed what kind of trustee he’d be in a meeting with faculty when, to a chorus of booes, he defined “wokeness” as “a shared set of beliefs that group of people have … is that fair?”

But while the GOP-dominated state Senate dutifully confirmed five of DeSantis’ picks, it allowed Speir’s nomination to die in May. Democratic state Sen. Tina Polsky, who is Jewish, questioned his declaration that he wants to spread the word of Jesus Christ, saying, “So how are you going to be a trustee over thousands of students and faculty and just be completely focused on your religion?” Speir, though, responded to the rejection by accusing a fellow Republican, interim New College President Richard Corcoran, of undermining him because “I was resistant to being ‘handled and managed.'”

Speir declared in July that he’d go up against Buchanan, whom he called “a statesman for the status quo.” The challenger argued that, since the congressman was elected in 2006, “we have witnessed a shocking erosion of our individual rights and liberties. Where has Vern Buchanan been?” Speir later trashed the incumbent for voting against Jim Jordan on Wednesday after supporting him the previous day and accused him of conspiring to tank the party’s pick for speaker.

TEXAS 23RD DISTRICT. While conservative hard-liners looking to deny renomination to GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales have yet to consolidate behind a single alternative, that may start to change now that one far-right Texan has decisively outraised the other options.

Gunmaker Brandon Herrera, who has close to 3 million subscribers on his “The AK Guy” YouTube channel, took in $320,000 during the third quarter of the year, which wasn’t far behind Gonzales’ $350,000 haul. Thanks to his lengthy head start, though, the incumbent still ended September with a huge $1.7 million to $240,000 cash advantage.

But while Herrera still isn’t anywhere close to matching Gonzales’ war chest, he’s so far the only challenger who has the resources to run a serious effort. Former ICE official Victor Avila, by contrast, had only $10,000 to spend, while a third opponent, Medina County GOP Chair Julie Clark, previously self-funded $390,000, but she finished last month with all of $135.44 left, and her interest in writing more checks to her campaign is unclear.

Punchbowl News reported in August that members of the far-right Freedom Caucus who are hungry to oust Gonzales met with each of these contenders, but the group still has yet to close ranks behind any member of this trio. Still, Herrera already has one infamous fan: Florida ​​Rep. Matt Gaetz used his guest-host slot on Newsmax to interview Herrera in August and called the contest “America’s most exciting congressional Republican primary election.” The primary is on March 5, but candidates need to win a majority to avert a May 28 runoff.

Gonzales defied his party’s base by confirming Joe Biden’s victory in the hours after the Jan. 6 attack and later supporting gun safety legislation after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, which took place in his district. The state GOP responded to his apostasies in March by censuring him, a move that bars him from receiving party help until after any runoffs take place.

The congressman, though, remained defiant after his rebuke, responding in Spanish with what the Houston Chronicle characterized as “some words for the group that are probably too coarse for a family newspaper.” In a tweet, Gonzales blasted the party’s move as “puro pedo”—Mexican slang for “bullshit” that literally means “pure fart.”

Gonzales went on to oppose Jim Jordan during all three recent votes to fill the House’s vacant speakership; Herrera responded by tweeting, “Tony is one of a handful of holdout votes preventing @Jim_Jordan from becoming Speaker of the House, despite originally voting to keep @SpeakerMcCarthy, a weak turncoat Republican.” (On Friday afternoon, 112 House Republicans voted to rescind Jordan’s nomination as the party’s preferred candidate for speaker, while just 86 wanted him to stay on.)

Gonzales’ vast 23rd District, which stretches from the San Antonio suburbs west to the El Paso area, used to be competitive turf. Under its old borders, Gonzales unexpectedly flipped the district in 2020 as it was shifting from a 50-46 win for Hillary Clinton four years earlier to a narrow 50-48 victory for Donald Trump. But Texas’ GOP-dominated legislature did what it could to ensure the seat would remain reliably red by stretching Trump’s 2020 margin to 53-46 during the most recent round of redistricting, and Gonzales went on to take his second term 56-39 in a campaign that attracted little outside attention.

LOS ANGELES (CA) COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY. The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs has released a late September survey from RG Strategies arguing that its longtime foe, District Attorney George Gascón, is in bad shape heading into the March nonpartisan primary. RG shows the incumbent taking only 14% of the vote, which is far below the majority needed to avert a November general election. None of the nine challengers included in the survey hit double-digit support, and a 52% majority of respondents are undecided.

This is the first poll we’ve seen of next year’s contest to serve as the top prosecutor for America’s most-populous county. This is also the first poll we’ve seen from RG Strategies.

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

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