The Political Report – November 16, 2023

Politico: “Just 35 percent of Americans trusted Democrats more on economic issues, according to weeks of private polling presented to the White House in mid-September and recently obtained by Politico. The data reinforced broad concerns over the public’s dismal outlook. Despite expressing widespread support for Biden’s policy agenda, few voters were aware he’d made much progress on any of a dozen-plus top priorities, like drug pricing or infrastructure.”

“Perhaps most alarming, 7 out of 10 people surveyed believed the economy wasn’t getting better — even after they were explicitly told that inflation had eased and unemployment sat near record lows.”

Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio is telling donors that former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is likely to benefit the most in Iowa from Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) surprise decision to end his campaign, according to a confidential memo obtained by Axios.

“I’ve seen better run city council campaigns.”— A GOP operative who supported Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-SC) presidential campaign, quoted by Politico.

New York Times: “There was one other detail that had been closely guarded: The man long expected to be the super PAC’s biggest donor, the billionaire Larry Ellison, wound up not giving anything to the group after Mr. Scott entered the race… From 2020 to 2022, Mr. Ellison donated $35 million to Scott-aligned groups, and a huge check had seemed a foregone conclusion when Mr. Ellison showed up at the Scott kickoff and got a shout-out from the stage.”

“Before his run, Mr. Scott telegraphed to allies that he had expected a significant sum to flow into his super PAC… and the super PAC wrote a budget for roughly half the amount that Mr. Scott had predicted. But donations fell well short of even that smaller sum.”

NEW YORK 26TH DISTRICT. Longtime Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins announced on Sunday that he would step down from Congress in the first week of February, confirming earlier reports that he would resign. In an interview with the Buffalo News’ Jerry Zremski, he declined to say whether he’d become president of Shea’s Performing Arts Center, as multiple outlets had reported, but he did offer a grim assessment of the institution he’s leaving behind.

“Congress is not the institution that I came to 19 years ago,” Higgins told the News. “And, you know, it’s in a very, very bad place right now. I am hopeful, as I always am, that it gets better. But unfortunately, I think we’re at the beginning phases of a deterioration of the prestige of the institution.”

Two decades ago, Higgins, then a member of the state Assembly, jumped into the race for what was then the 27th District to succeed Rep. Jack Quinn, a moderate Republican who had unexpectedly said he’d retire in 2004. Higgins handily won the Democratic primary but he faced a difficult general election against Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples. Though John Kerry carried the Buffalo-area 27th 53-45, Higgins turned aside Naples by just a 51-49 margin to win the seat, one of just five that Democrats flipped that year.

While in Congress, Higgins made a name for himself as a congressman singularly focused on his district. “When I went to Congress 19 years ago, I didn’t go to change the world,” Higgins told Zremski. “I went with the plan of changing my community.” Zremski observed that the congressman “won’t be remembered for any major legislation that bears his name as chief sponsor” but rather for a 2007 deal in which he secured $279 million to redevelop Buffalo’s waterfront.

Following that first close campaign, Higgins never again struggled at the ballot box. Even during the GOP wave of 2010, the closest reelection of his career, he still prevailed by more than 20 points. A key reason was the transformation of his district, which came about due to continued population loss in upstate New York. Following the 2010 census, his seat was renumbered the 26th and was made much more compact, centering on the city of Buffalo rather than adjacent areas. That made the new district considerably bluer, and it remains a Democratic stronghold today: Joe Biden carried it by a wide 61-37 spread.

That should put it out of reach for Republicans in the special election that will follow Higgins’ departure. But that also means that voters will have little say in selecting their new representative, since there are no primaries in New York ahead of special elections. Rather, local party leaders will choose nominees. We also don’t know when a special might be, since Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul cannot call one until Higgins actually departs.

State Sen. Tim Kennedy has become the first notable Democrat to launch a campaign to succeed Rep. Brian Higgins, who recently announced he would resign in early February from the solidly blue 26th District in the Buffalo area. The nomination, however, won’t be decided in a primary but rather by party leaders.

Kennedy has represented Buffalo in the state Senate since first winning a seat in 2010, and his current legislative district contains 38% of the 26th District’s residents. Other Democrats, however, are certain to express interest.

City & State’s John Clelock writes that Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is a likely candidate after he just won reelection 58-40 to a fourth term in a county that includes 80% of the 26th District’s population. Poloncarz has yet to indicate whether he might run, though.

Several sources also mentioned Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, a moderate who lost the 2021 Democratic primary to democratic socialist India Walton but won reelection to a fifth term as a write-in candidate that November. Brown didn’t directly address his interest in the race on Friday but released a statement saying, “When the appropriate time comes, I look forward to a conversation about the future of this very diverse district.” State Sen. Sean Ryan also refused to rule out running, saying he doesn’t “know what the future holds.”

The Buffalo News also mentioned Walton herself as a potential candidate here, along with Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes; Assemblyman Patrick Burke; former Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, who lost close races for the old, solidly red 27th District in 2018 and 2020; and nonprofit executive Melodie Baker, who unsuccessfully sought the nomination for the 2020 special election that ultimately went to McMurray.

Under state law, parties rather than voters choose nominees in special elections. That means candidates like Kennedy must tailor their pitch to a small group of power brokers in Erie and Niagara counties, the two counties that make up the district. Since Erie’s portion of the 26th is four times as large as Niagara’s, though, the choice may come down solely to Erie County Democratic chair Jeremy Zellner. Zellner told Spectrum News that “large town committees” and the Niagara party will “also have a say,” though he didn’t specify how the decision-making process would work.

OREGON 3RD DISTRICT.  Willamette Week reports that state Reps. Maxine Dexter and Thuy Tran are both “considering” bids for Oregon’s newly open 3rd Congressional District, though neither Democrat is quoted. Two notable Democrats are already running for the dark blue seat being left open by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales and former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.

NEW YORK 19TH DISTRICT. Attorney Josh Riley, who is seeking a rematch with Republican Rep. Mark Molinaro, just rolled out endorsements from five Democratic members of New York’s congressional delegation: Gregory Meeks, Grace Meng, Joe Morelle, Paul Tonko, and Pat Ryan. Tonko and Ryan both represent neighboring districts, and Ryan also defeated Molinaro in a special election for a different version of this seat in a major upset last year.

While Riley has had the primary to himself, state Sen. Michelle Hinchey said in April that she, too, was considering a bid. However, Hinchey doesn’t appear to have said anything since, while Riley has amassed a $1 million war chest.

TEXAS 4TH DISTRICT. “Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX) has ended his run for his old seat in the Texas Senate, just 24 hours after announcing his campaign,” the Texas Tribune reports.

“Instead, Fallon’s staff confirmed he will seek reelection to Texas’ 4th Congressional District, which extends from the Dallas suburbs to the Red River in the border with Oklahoma.”

TEXAS 26TH DISTRICT. Republican Rep. Michael Burgess announced on Monday that he won’t seek reelection next year, leaving open his 59-40 Trump district that is located mainly in the Denton County suburbs north of Fort Worth. Republicans gerrymandered the district in an attempt to ensure it remains safely red despite the suburban trend against the party, so the action to replace Burgess is likely to be concentrated on the Republican side.

Burgess first won election to Congress in 2002 to succeed retiring Majority Leader Dick Armey. Denton County Judge Scott Armey, the incumbent’s son, took 45% in the GOP primary that year, while Burgess just barely advanced to the runoff by taking second place 22.5-22.2 against Keith Self (who got elected in the neighboring 3rd District last year). Burgess then won the nomination 55-45 and never faced another close primary or general election again.

MINNESOTA 5TH DISTRICT. “Attorney Sarah Gad is ramping up a primary bid against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), pitching herself as a pragmatic alternative to the member of the progressive ‘squad’ and leaning into her background,” Politico  reports. “Gad, who is Muslim, is also releasing a nearly-three minute launch video that shows her sitting in a jail cell as she describes her life story and non-traditional path to run for office.”

Meanwhile, former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, who nearly unseated Rep. Ilhan Omar in last year’s Democratic primary, announced on Sunday that he’d try again. Samuels accused the incumbent of having “a predilection to divisiveness and conflict” in an interview with the Associated Press and told the Star Tribune that she had “minimized the assault on Israel and exacerbated divisions in the way she frames the problem in Palestine.”

Omar responded by criticizing Samuels for past support he’s gotten from conservatives. “Right-wing donors have targeted me since I first entered public life, so I am not surprised that my challenger previously received contributions from Harlan Crow, the same far-right billionaire who bankrolled Clarence Thomas,” she said in a statement.

In their previous matchup, Samuels faulted Omar for supporting an unsuccessful local ballot measure in 2021 that would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new department of public safety, a drive he linked to the “defund the police” movement. Omar, meanwhile, declined to run any TV ads at all, apparently believing her base consisted of younger votes who wouldn’t be receptive to the medium. While she survived Samuels’ challenge, her historically close 50-48 margin came as a shock.

One key difference this time, as Samuels noted, is that he’s getting a much earlier start. Last year, he launched his campaign in February, while this cycle, he has nine months until the Aug. 13 primary. On the flipside, Samuels enjoyed essentially a one-on-one matchup in 2022, but the field could be much more crowded next year. Two other little-known Democrats are already running, but two prominent names, state Senate President Bobby Joe Champion and City Council member LaTrisha Vetaw, have ruled out bids of their own.

Should a crowded race develop, that could benefit Omar: If a single challenger can’t consolidate the anti-incumbent vote, the congresswoman could win renomination with just a plurality of the vote, since Minnesota does not require primary runoffs. But whoever wins the Democratic nomination will easily prevail in the general election, since the Minneapolis-based 5th District voted for Joe Biden by an overwhelming 81-17 margin.

VIRGINIA 7TH DISTRICT. Hotline’s James Downs has relayed the names of 10 Democrats who could run to succeed Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who announced on Monday that she won’t seek reelection next year to prepare for her 2025 gubernatorial campaign, though we don’t have direct word yet about anyone’s level of interest:

  • state Sen. Jeremy McPike
  • state Sen.-elect Jennifer Carroll Foy
  • Del. Elizabeth Guzman
  • Del. Briana Sewell
  • former Del. Hala Ayala
  • businessman Joel Griffin, who narrowly lost a state Senate race last week
  • Prince William County School Board Chair Babur Lateef
  • Prince William County Supervisor Margaret Franklin
  • former National Security Council official Yevgeny “Eugene” Vindman
  • physician Cameron Webb, who was the 5th District nominee in 2020

Several Republicans were already running for this 53-46 Biden district in the southern exurbs of Washington, D.C. before Spanberger made her retirement official. The GOP field includes Green Beret veteran Derrick Anderson, Marine veteran Jon Myers, Navy SEAL veteran Cameron Hamilton, and investor Bill Moher.

NORTH CAROLINA 14TH DISTRICT. Former state judge Eric Levinson said Monday that he was joining the GOP primary for this newly gerrymandered seat. Levinson ran statewide in 2014 for a seat on the state Supreme Court back when this was still an officially nonpartisan contest, and he lost to Democratic incumbent Robin Hudson 52-48.

VIRGINIA 10TH DISTRICT. Former state Secretary of Education Atif Qarni kicked off a bid for Virginia’s open 10th Congressional District on Saturday, joining a race that already includes two high-profile Democrats. Qarni has run for office twice before, narrowly losing to Republican Del. Bob Marshall in 2013 by a 51-48 margin, then falling to Jeremy McPike 43-36 in the 2015 Democratic primary for an open state Senate seat. (McPike went on to win the general election and has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for the newly open 7th; see above.) In the last month, state Sen. Jennifer Boysko and former state House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn both announced they’d seek the Democratic nod in the 10th.

Del. David Reid, who just won reelection to the legislature last week, announced on Tuesday that he’d enter the Democratic primary for Virginia’s open 10th Congressional District. Reid easily defeated Republican Paul Lott by a 61-39 margin for a safely blue seat in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. He joins a field that includes a number of other prominent Democrats, including former state House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, who just unveiled an endorsement from former Gov. Ralph Northam.

FLORIDA 5TH DISTRICT. Matt Boyle, who is a senior writer for Breitbart News, a far-right white nationalist site, says he’s considering challenging Rep. John Rutherford in the GOP primary. Rutherford infuriated hardliners last month when he repeatedly voted against making Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan speaker, and Duval County School Board member April Carney quickly declared that she wasn’t ruling out waging her own intraparty bid against the congressman.

Semafor reports that Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and other Trump apparatchiks are encouraging Boyle to run. Bannon, who co-founded Breitbart and has called it “the platform for the alt-right,” claimed, “Boyle has been with President Trump from the early days and gets the America First Movement like few others.” Boyle, for his part, told Gorka’s podcast audience, “It’s a huge decision. I don’t know if I would do that next year.” Trump carried this seat, which is based in part of Jacksonville and its southeastern suburbs, 57-41.

ARIZONA 8TH DISTRICT. “Arizona’s ‘QAnon shaman,’ whose horned fur hat and tattoos became an enduring symbol of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, wants to go back to Washington, D.C.,” the Arizona Republic reports. “This time, Jacob Chansley wants to be a member of Congress from Arizona’s 8th District.”

NEW YORK 18TH DISTRICT. The Congressional Leadership Fund has dusted off a three-month-old poll conducted by the GOP firm Cygnal to argue that Republican Alison Esposito is tied with Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan at 43 apiece. The poll was conducted before Esposito, the GOP’s 2022 nominee for lieutenant governor, entered the race for New York’s swingy 18th District last month, possibly to encourage her to run. CLF may have chosen to release it now, despite its age, in an attempt to demonstrate the new candidate’s viability to donors.

Esposito, a former New York City police officer, is also touting a new endorsement from Rep. Elise Stefanik, the most senior New York Republican in the House.

NEW JERSEY 8TH DISTRICT. The New Jersey Globe reports that Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who has been considering a possible primary challenge to Democratic Rep. Rob Menendez, has raised more than $500,000 over the last month. Menendez has stood by his father, Sen. Bob Menendez, following his indictment on federal corruption charges, making him the only member of the state’s congressional delegation to do so. The younger Menendez has not been implicated in the case, but he won the open 8th District last year in large part because of the senator’s sway.

WASHINGTON 6TH DISTRICT and GOVERNOR. Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced Friday that she was ending her uphill bid for governor and would instead run for the seat held by Rep. Derek Kilmer, a fellow Democrat who announced his retirement the day before. Franz served on the city council for Bainbridge Island, which is located in the 6th, from 2008 to 2011, though the Seattle Times writes that she’s since registered to vote outside the district in Seattle. However, Franz’s announcement says she lives in Kilmer’s district in Grays Harbor County.

On the GOP side, state Sen. Drew MacEwen told the paper Friday that he was forming an exploratory committee. This seat backed Joe Biden 57-40, though Democrats will want to keep an eye out to make sure two Republicans don’t advance past the August top-two primary.

Franz has also received Kilmer’s backing for her new venture. Franz so far is the only notable Democrat running for the 6th, which is based around Tacoma and the Olympic peninsula and supported Joe Biden 57-40.

OHIO 2ND DISTRICT. Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup’s Thursday evening retirement announcement unexpectedly set off an open-seat race for Ohio’s 2nd District, a longtime conservative bastion in the eastern Cincinnati suburbs. Donald Trump took this constituency 72-27, so whoever wins a plurality in the March 19 GOP primary should have no trouble holding it. But because the filing deadline is Dec. 20, Wenstrup’s potential successors have only a few weeks to make up their minds.

Wenstrup himself got to Congress after pulling off a major primary upset against the infamous Rep. Jean Schmidt in 2012, when he made his second bid for office. Wenstrup, who worked as an orthopedic surgeon, was awarded a Bronze Star by the Army for his service as a combat surgeon in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. He also had a small, albeit apolitical, fanbase back in southern Ohio: When Cincinnati Enquirer reporter John Kiesewetter asked which local physicians fit the nickname “Dr. McDreamy” from “Grey’s Anatomy,” some readers submitted Wenstrup’s name.

Wenstrup entered the officially nonpartisan 2009 contest for mayor of Cincinnati but lost to Democratic incumbent Mark Malloy, albeit by a respectable 54-46 margin. Though he said he didn’t have any plans to enter another race, he would later tell the Enquirer his feelings changed after a religious retreat in early 2011. “One of the themes of the retreat was, ‘What are you going to do with the rest of your life?'” he’d recount the next year. “I felt Congress was the place to be. It was the place where I could make a difference, and I wanted to go for it.”

The incumbent he decided to challenge in the 2012 primary, though, seemed secure despite a rough tenure in office. Schmidt had struggled to win her initial 2005 special election against Democrat Paul Hackett months, even though George W. Bush had decisively carried the 2nd District—a poor performance she followed up with weak victories in both the 2006 and 2008 general elections. However, the woman nicknamed “Mean Jean” by her many enemies finally had an easy time during the 2010 red wave, suggesting that she had at last turned a corner.

The ultraconservative Schmidt, though, managed to alienate her base when she gave President Barack Obama a kiss on the cheek at the president’s State of the Union address in 2012, a gesture that played badly in the tea party era. The House Ethics Committee had also determined that Schmidt had improperly taken $500,000 in legal services from a Turkish group.

On top of that, redistricting left Schmidt with a seat that was about a quarter new to her. A new super PAC called the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which had the stated goal of denying renomination to incumbents from both parties, got involved with a $50,000 radio and phone campaign attacking the congresswoman.

But it was still a major surprise when Wenstrup, who didn’t air a single TV adracked up a 49-43 win that March—a result that made Schmidt the first member of Congress to lose reelection that cycle. “Jean has always had some tough races, but she’s always sort of hung on and won, so I guess I expected that again,” fellow Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan told Roll Call after the votes were tallied. “It just wasn’t on my radar screen.”

Observers realized in retrospect that it hadn’t been on Schmidt’s radar screen either. The congresswoman had gone on the air only in the final days of the race and even spent the morning of the primary in D.C. rather than campaigning at home. “She just didn’t work it or take this seriously,” one national GOP source told Politico hours after the dust had settled. (Schmidt eventually resurrected her career by winning a state House seat in 2020.) Wenstrup, unlike the congresswoman he’d just beaten, had no trouble in the general election, and he never struggled to hold the 2nd.

Wenstrup attracted national attention in 2017, when he treated Rep. Steve Scalise immediately after a gunman shot the Louisianan at practice for that year’s congressional baseball game. “Happened to have Brad Wenstrup on the field that day, and he was one of the first to come to my side,” Scalise would say when he returned to Congress months later. “Who would’ve thought that God would’ve put Brad out there on that field with me because the tourniquet he applied―many will tell you―saved my life so that I could actually make it to the hospital in time with all the blood loss.”

Wenstrup would later sign on to the lawsuit alleging “unconstitutional irregularities involved in the 2020 presidential election,” though he’d ultimately vote to recognize Joe Biden’s win in the hours after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. The congressman expressed interest a few weeks later in running to fill the seat held by retiring Sen. Rob Portman, but he ultimately decided to seek what would be his final term in the House.

State Sen. Niraj Antani on Tuesday became the first notable Republican to announce he is running to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Brad Wenstrup in this dark red district. Antani is a staunch conservative who says he favors a federal abortion ban, and he would be the state’s first Indian American member of Congress if elected.

However, Antani’s Senate district is located in the Dayton suburbs, and none of it overlaps with the 2nd District, which is based in the eastern Cincinnati suburbs and rural southern Ohio. Antani won a heavily gerrymandered Senate seat back in 2020 that had voted 55-43 for Donald Trump, but the new Senate map that Republicans adopted in September turned his 6th District into one that would have backed Joe Biden by 55-43, which may be why Antani is running elsewhere this cycle.

Plenty of other Republicans are likely to take a look at running for this open seat. Clermont County GOP chair Charles Tassell told radio host Brian Thomas he was running on Monday but clarified to Hotline that he’s forming a committee to begin raising money and would decide “as soon as possible” whether to run. Former state Rep. Danny Bubp also said he’s “strongly considering.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Shane Wilkin didn’t rule out a campaign, telling’s Jeremy Pelzer, “I’ll let you know when I know.” Union Township Trustee Michael Logue also didn’t foreclose a potential campaign, saying he’ll “see how the next few days and weeks develop.” However, state Reps. Jay Edwards and Brian Stewart both said they wouldn’t run.

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

1 comment on “The Political Report – November 16, 2023

  1. cassandram

    a href=””>Col. Eugene Vindman has announced his campaign for VA-7.

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