Michigan GOP may just be too broke to support new recalls of Democratic lawmakers

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The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.

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Leading Off

MI State House: Conservative activists just launched recall campaigns against five Democratic members of the closely divided Michigan House, though they face steep challenges in qualifying for the ballot. But don’t expect complacency from Democrats, who haven’t forgotten that Republicans successfully used recalls to wrest away control of the state Senate in 1984—and then held it for the next four decades.

The targeted Democrats are Reps. Betsy Coffia, Jennifer Conlin, Jaime Churches, Sharon MacDonell, and Reggie Miller—five women who were all elected for the first time last year and helped power their party to shocking upset that resulted in a 56-54 majority. Except for MacDonnell, who sits in bluer turf, all represent swingy districts and all won by single digits last year. The most marginal is Church’s 27th District in the southern Detroit suburbs, which voted for Donald Trump by a 51-47 margin, while the rest backed Joe Biden to varying degrees.

Petitions filed with the secretary of state’s office state that organizers are seeking to recall the lawmakers in question for their votes in favor of a bill expanding hate crimes that is still pending in the Senate and a new red flag law that allows courts to remove firearms from the possession of those who might pose a danger to themselves or others, but the potential partisan ramifications are unmistakable. However, supporters would need to gather a daunting number of signatures, equal to 25% of the vote in last year’s election for governor in each district, in order to actually force a recall.

2022 in fact saw Michigan set a modern record for midterm turnout, with almost 4.5 million votes cast in the race between Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her Republican opponent, Tudor Dixon. While the figures will vary by district, on average, that would mean more than 11,000 valid signatures would be necessary to prompt a single recall. And the actual number they’d need to collect would, in practice, be higher, since signatures are subject to review and invariably a sizable proportion are rejected.

(Put another way, if Republicans were trying to recall Whitmer, they’d need in excess of 1.1 million signatures; by contrast, when advocates placed an amendment on last year’s ballot to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution, they submitted a record-smashing 750,000 signatures when only 425,000 were needed.)

In addition, Michigan Republicans are almost broke: The Detroit News recently reported that the party, which has been riven by bitter fighting—both figurative and literal—has just $93,000 in the bank, a sum one former executive director said “means they’re functionally bankrupt.” Even party chair Kristina Karamo appeared to recognize the problem. “Yes, we know we need a lot more money,” she told a closed-door gathering of party leaders earlier this month, according to audio obtained by the News.

Karamo’s organization also appears to have said nothing about the recall petitions, which Bridge Michigan says were all filed “by local Republican activists or past candidates” who’d previously run against the targeted incumbents. (“It wasn’t immediately clear whether any specific group was behind the recall efforts,” the Detroit Free Press observed.) The state Democratic Party, by contrast, pledged to “fully support and defend” its members, who would all be up again for a second two-year term next year.

Almost forty years ago, Republicans succeeded in recalling two Democratic senators due to anger over the passage of an income tax hike, allowing them to retake the upper chamber for the first time in a decade. Thanks to ceaseless gerrymandering in the ensuing years, the GOP held the Senate continuously until last year, when elections were held for the first time using maps drafted by the state’s newly created independent redistricting commission. Republicans have also dominated the House most of the time since 1994, losing it in 2022 for the first time since 2008. As a consequence, Democrats won complete control over state government in the November midterms for the first time since those Senate recalls.

Since then, only one legislative recall has ever been successful, a 2011 effort to oust Republican state Rep. Paul Scott that was heavily backed by teachers’ unions. Afterward, Republicans passed a new law to make recalls more difficult, most notably by shrinking the signature-gathering period by a third. It also barred recalls altogether for officials serving two-year terms during the first and last six months of their term, which explains the timing of these latest petitions.

The next date to watch is Aug. 1, when the state Board of Canvassers, which is responsible for reviewing recall petitions, is next set to meet. If they’re given the go-ahead, proponents would then have just 60 days to obtain a sufficient number of signatures to trigger recalls.

Senate

OH-Sen: Suffolk University, polling for USA Today, tests Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown against each of his major Republican foes:

  • 45-45 vs. Secretary of State Frank LaRose
  • 46-43 vs. state Sen. Matt Dolan
  • 48-41 vs. businessman Bernie Moreno

The survey was completed days before LaRose launched his long-expected campaign on Monday.

VA-Sen, VA-10: Navy veteran Hung Cao announced Tuesday that he’d campaign for the GOP nod to take on Sen. Tim Kaine rather than seek a rematch against another Democratic incumbent, Rep. Jennifer Wexton. Cao last cycle raised $3.3 million for a campaign to take back a once-competitive Northern Virginia constituency that supported Biden 58-40 and held Wexton to a 53-47 victory, but he’ll face another tough task if he’s to give Kaine a real fight in a presidential year. Cao joins a field that includes Scott Parkinson, who served as an official at the far-right Club for Growth.

Governors

LA-Gov: New campaign finance reports are in covering the period from April 8 to July 6, and far-right Attorney General Jeff Landry continues to hold a huge advantage with three months to go before the October all-party primary:

  • Attorney General Jeff Landry (R): $4.7 million raised, $9.2 million cash on hand
  • former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack (R): $1.4 million raised, $1.9 million cash on hand
  • Treasurer John Schroder (R): $220,000 raised, $2.2 million cash on hand
  • former state Secretary of Transportation Shawn Wilson (D): $560,000 raised, $590,000 cash on hand
  • Attorney Hunter Lundy (I): $150,000 raised, additional $700,000 self-funded, $2.1 million cash on hand
  • State Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R): $60,000 raised, $350,000 cash on hand
  • State Rep. Richard Nelson (R): $30,000 raised, $280,000 cash on hand

Landry, notes Nola.com, raised $2 million of this $4.7 million haul through a coordinated campaign with his allies at the state GOP that, unlike candidates, isn’t subject to a $5,000 donation limit.

Neither is Waguespack’s allied super PAC, Reboot Louisiana, which raised $550,000 but spent a gigantic $2 million on ads promoting its candidate and attacking Landry during this three-month period. The group finished July 6 with only $270,000 left over, though the dark money group Delta Good Hand could supply it with more. The next reports are due Sept. 14.

MO-Gov: While Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft continues to look like the frontrunner over a year ahead of next year’s GOP primary, it was Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe’s side that finished the second quarter with a big cash edge. Kehoe and his allies at American Dream far outraised the secretary of state and his backers at Committee for Liberty PAC $1.2 million to $290,000, with state Sen. Bill Eigel and his BILL PAC also lapping Ashcroft by bringing in $800,000. (Eigel, who formed an exploratory committee last year, has yet to announce.)

Kehoe and his PAC finished June with a $4.1 million to $1.9 million cash on hand advantage over Ashcroft’s side, with Eigel’s forces having $1.1 million to spend. The prominent anti-abortion group Missouri Right to Life wasn’t deterred by this deficit, though, and it went ahead and endorsed Ashcroft Tuesday.

MS-Gov: Democrat Brandon Presley saws a car in half in his new TV spot, which is his second of the race, to visualize how he’ll “take a saw to the cost of car tags and cut them in half.” Presley, who also says he’ll “axe the grocery tax,” does not mention Republican Gov. Tate Reeves in this commercial.

House

CA-09: Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln announced Tuesday that he’d campaign as a Republican against Democratic Rep. Josh Harder in California’s 9th District, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s team confirms he’ll hold a fundraiser Thursday for his new recruit. Joe Biden won this Central Valley seat 55-43, but Republicans are hoping Lincoln has the name recognition to put it into play following his upset 2020 victory against a Democratic incumbent.

Prior to that shock win, Lincoln’s only campaign saw him lose in a landslide in the 2016 general election for a blue seat in the state Assembly. With that background, he initially didn’t look like much of a threat when he decided to challenge Democratic Mayor Michael Tubbs in what was officially nonpartisan race.

But while Tubbs was a nationally prominent progressive who’d even been the subject of an HBO documentary about his mayoralty, the incumbent had spent his four years in office on the receiving end of attacks from a conservative blogger named Motecuzoma Patrick Sanchez, who’d tell Politico’s David Siders after the election that he’d waged “a calculated, four-year, sustained campaign with tactics that represented an overall strategy to remove [Tubbs] from office.”

Sanchez, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, bombarded Tubbs with “relentless, and unfounded, allegations of corruption.” His social media pages, which also published racist memes targeting the city’s first Black mayor, took advantage of the void left by the decline of the local paper, the Stockton Record, to gain a huge following and help take down Tubbs.

But Sanchez wasn’t the only factor in Lincoln’s win; Tubbs’s own prominence may have in fact undermined him. “People resent when somebody gets a statewide profile or, in Michael’s case, a nationwide profile,” one Tubbs supporter argued after the election. “It’s, ‘Who does he think he is? Too big for his britches.” Local concerns, such as the city’s crime rate, the mayor’s conflicts with the local police and firefighter unions, and Tubbs’ unsuccessful attempt to construct low-income housing on a shuttered golf course, also dragged down the incumbent.

Tubbs initially led Lincoln 42-22 in the March nonpartisan primary, and his failure to win the majority he needed to avoid a second round cost him badly. The Republican went on to topple Tubbs 56-44 even as Biden was carrying Stockton 66-32, a win that makes him the mayor for over 40% of the denizens of the 9th District.

Harder, though, has already signaled that he plans to attack Lincoln’s record in office. “He diverted money away from police and now the Stockton PD is short over 100 cops,” his team charged. “Crime and homelessness have soared on his watch.” The congressman has also proven to be a tough opponent for Republicans going back to 2018, when he unseated GOP Rep. Jeff Denham after an expensive battle for the old 10th District.

Following the 2020 census, California’s redistricting commission dramatically reconfigured the state’s congressional map, and Harder originally planned to run in the 13th District last cycle until Democratic colleague Jerry McNerney decided to retire from the slightly bluer 9th. Harder’s party might have benefited had he’d stuck with his original plans and ran for the 13th, which Republican John Duarte would narrowly flip, but the congressman’s presence at least helped ensure the race to succeed McNerney would be a fairly easy hold: He beat San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti 55-45 in a race that attracted little outside spending even as Republican Brian Dahle was defeating Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom 52-48 in the 9th.

Lincoln will now be in for an expensive bout against Harder, who raised $550,000 during the second quarter of 2023 and finished June with a huge $1.9 million war chest. The Republican told KCRA he was running for Congress because “there’s no better time,” though Lincoln doesn’t appear to have used his deliberation period to prepare for the type of questions he can expect on the campaign trail.

When asked if he’d have supported the GOP’s defense bill, which among other things would have restricted abortion access to servicemembers, the mayor replied, “Listen, I haven’t seen that just yet.” He continued, “But the fact of the matter is we’re going to make sure that, um …” before moving on to another topic without completing his sentence.

CA-22: Former Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas on Tuesday launched his long-awaited rematch against Republican Rep. David Valadao, who beat him last year 52-48 after an intensely expensive battle for California’s 22nd District. Joe Biden carried this district, which is based in the southern Central Valley and eastern Bakersfield area, by a 55-42 margin in 2020, which makes it one of the bluest seats the GOP holds nationally; only New York’s Long Island-based 4th would have favored Biden by a larger margin.

Valadao, though, has a long history of running well ahead of the top of his party’s ticket, and both parties are prepared for another pricey battle. The congressman himself raised $710,000 during the second quarter of the year, and he finished June with $980,000 in the bank.

The incumbent proved he wasn’t quite invincible in 2018 when Democrat TJ Cox narrowly denied him a fourth term in what was one of the biggest shocks of that year’s blue wave, but Valadao won their second bout the following cycle by a tight 50.4-49.6 margin as Biden was carrying the old version of the seat, then numbered the 21st District, 54-44.

A third successive major battle ensued the following cycle, though Democrats had hopes of avoiding Valadao altogether. Just days after being sworn in for his new stint in the 117th Congress, Valadao became one of the 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack, a decision Democrats thought might again cost him his seat—this time, in the top-two primary.

It almost did. The House Majority PAC, a top Democratic super PAC, aired commercials ahead of the primary aimed at boosting Valadao’s far-right intra-party foe, former Fresno City Councilman Chris Mathys, by ostensibly attacking him as “100% pro-Trump and proud.” The congressman’s allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund, though, deployed even more money on their own ad campaign to sink Mathys, an investment that helped Valadao fend off the upstart 26-23 for the second spot in the general election. (Salas, the only Democrat on the ballot, easily took first with 45% of the vote.)

Despite the fact that Valadao had survived his brush with Mathys, Democrats still believed that Salas, who had established a moderate image in the legislature, would put up a strong fight, especially since the state’s independent redistricting commission had made the district a bit bluer. Republicans, though, did all they could to puncture Salas’ centrist profile by trying to link him to a 2017 bill that increased the state’s gas tax to fund road repairs even though he’d voted against that legislation.

Both parties were also aware that, since Democrats historically struggle to turn out their Central Valley base in non-presidential years, the electorate would be considerably more conservative than the one that delivered Biden his 13-point win. Altogether HMP, CLF, and their respective allies at the DCCC and NRCC collectively spent $22 million—more than they put into any other single House race in America last year.

Valadao ended up prevailing by a 3-point margin in a race that took weeks to call, though he actually ran slightly behind Republican Brian Dahle’s 4-point win over Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom here. Valadao’s victory made him, along with Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse, one of only two Republicans who’d favored impeachment to return for another term. Salas, however, quickly filed paperwork for a second go-round, and Inside Elections wrote in June that Democratic operatives were convinced he’d face little intra-party opposition.

The former assemblyman kicked off that new effort on Tuesday with a video portraying Valadao as a puppet for Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the “Trump lackey [and] insurrection apologist” who represents the neighboring 20th District. Salas himself also noted he’d be “the first ever-Central Valley Latino” to serve in the House. (Valadao is one of several people of Portuguese descent who have represented this heavily Latino area.) The NRCC, meanwhile, quickly made it clear it would reprise the same tax attacks it used against Salas last time.

NC-13: Republican legislative staffer Jeff Hauser tells the conservative Carolina Journal that he’s set up an exploratory committee as he mulls a bid for the seat held by Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel, which the GOP will have the chance to gerrymander when it draws up new maps this summer. An unnamed source close to 2022 nominee Bo Hines, meanwhile, relays that he’s undecided about another try following his 52-48 defeat last time.

RI-01: Town election authorities in Jamestown said Monday that they were asking local police to investigate “possible fraudulent nomination papers” submitted on behalf of Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, who is competing in the crowded Sept. 5 Democratic primary for the special election for Rhode Island’s vacant 1st Congressional District. The development won’t, however, affect Matos’ spot on the ballot.

The Boston Globe reports that 17 petitions, which were notarized by a Matos spokesman and turned in by an unknown person, ostensibly were signed by dead voters or by living people who said they hadn’t actually provided their names. The lieutenant governor’s campaign told the media, “We hold all our staff and volunteers to the highest ethical standards. That is why these reports are both surprising and concerning.”

While Matos’ many opponents were quick to attack her over the development, her campaign submitted 729 valid signatures—well more than the requisite 500. That made her one of 12 Democrats to qualify, according to the secretary of state’s office. The full list includes:

  • former Biden administration official Gabe Amo
  • 2022 secretary of state candidate Stephanie Beaute
  • Navy veteran Walter Berbrick
  • state Sen. Sandra Cano
  • businessman Don Carlson
  • state Rep. Stephen Casey
  • 2018 gubernatorial candidate Spencer Dickinson
  • Providence City Councilman John Goncalves
  • Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos
  • state Sen. Ana Quezada
  • perennial candidate Allen Waters
  • former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg

A 13th Democrat, former state official Nick Autiello, also qualified only to announce Wednesday morning that he was suspending his campaign because he lacked “the financial resources to win this race.” His announcement came ahead of the 4 PM local deadline for candidates to take their names off the ballot.

Two notable contenders, state Rep. Marvin Abney and Narragansett Aboriginal Nation tribal elder Bella Machado Noka, failed to turn in the requisite 500 signatures needed to continue their efforts despite filing initial paperwork to run two weeks earlier. Matos, for her part, submitted 729 valid petitions.

Meanwhile, Autiello released a survey of the primary on Tuesday just before his departure showing Matos as the frontrunner. Lake Research Partners sampled 300 voters, which is the exact minimum we require for inclusion in the Digest, and finds Matos her leading Regunberg 20-12; Cano and Amo respectively take 7% and 6% with Autiello at just 5%. Autiello publicized this survey even though his share of the vote didn’t budge after positive statements were read about him and all of his rivals, and while the memo argued that enough voters were undecided that he could win if he got his name out, the candidate evidently decided his prospects still weren’t good enough to continue.

Two Republicans, former Middletown Town Councilwoman Terri Flynn and Marine veteran Gerry Leonard, also made the ballot, but whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be the overwhelming favorite in this solidly blue district.

Attorneys General

NC-AG, NC-08: Far-right Rep. Dan Bishop acknowledged to Politico that he was “more likely” to run for attorney general than try to lead the nihilistic Freedom Caucus in the next Congress, though the Republican explicitly said he wasn’t ruling out the latter idea. Bishop, whom Axios first reported was interested in a statewide run in early May, added there were undefined “hurdles to clear” before he’d decide whether to run to succeed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Stein. The only Republican currently seeking this post is former state Rep. Tom Murry.

Mayors and County Leaders

Nashville, TN Mayor: Jim Gingrich, who is the former chief operating officer of the global asset management giant AllianceBernstein, announced Monday that he was suspending his campaign in the crowded Aug. 3 nonpartisan primary. Gingrich, whose $2 million loan helped him outspent his many rivals, seemed to acknowledge that his ad campaign wasn’t working when he said he was leaving the race after “consultation with the electoral data available.” He added that he wanted to give voters time to “rally behind another candidate,” though he didn’t endorse anyone.

San Francisco, CA Mayor: The San Francisco Standard reports that Daniel Lurie, who is the founder of an anti-poverty nonprofit and a Levi Strauss heir, has decided to take on Mayor London Breed in next year’s instant-runoff election, though he has not yet said anything publicly yet. Lurie, whom Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin notes is a first cousin once removed of New York Rep. Dan Goldman, would join Supervisor Ahsha Safaí in this nonpartisan race; the Standard also relays that there’s speculation that another supervisor, Aaron Peskin, could run as well.



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