Primary School 7/23

some people are spending a lot of money to stop Nina Turner

The House special in Cleveland is getting very expensive and very ugly, so we have a lot of news on that front to make up for the lack of new election results or imminent elections for us to preview. We’ll have plenty of those ahead of and after August 3, when the OH-11 Democratic primary and the first round of the Seattle municipal elections take place.


News

House Democrats

Apparently, House Democrats in swing seats desperately want to allow the government to negotiate drug prices. This is good! It’s not single-payer, but it would make millions of lives better by making prescription drugs cheaper, and it would also be very popular. There’s a problem, though: some of their Democratic colleagues aren’t on board. A group of moderate Democrats, mostly in safely Democratic districts, are threatening to hold it up; they are led by California Rep. Scott Peters and Massachusetts Rep. Jake Auchincloss, whose mother is on the board of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and whose father is the descendant of New England WASP royalty. Joining them are Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Lou Correa of California, Frank Mrvan of Indiana, Marilyn Strickland of Washington, Kathleen Rice of New York, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, and Tony Cárdenas of California; only Gottheimer represents a district that doesn’t at least lean Democratic, and the majority represent districts no normal Democrat could lose. Fuck these people.

CT-02

Gay military veteran Anthony DiLizia has launched a campaign against incumbent Joe Courtney for the sprawling 2nd Congressional District in rural eastern Conneticut. DiLizia told reporters that he’s running to Courtney’s left. That’s probably correct given Courtney’s moderate, bipartisan temperament, but a quick perusal of DiLizia’s issues page shows him to be not particularly progressive himself, for instance favoring a public option for healthcare instead of single payer.

NY-Gov

The state legislative impeachment investigation into Andrew Cuomo was specifically created by Speaker Carl Heastie to stall for time and protect the governor—and the governor has still managed to piss the investigators off. (Well, his notoriously abrasive comms staff has managed to piss the investigators off.) Long Island Assemb. Charles Lavine, who leads the Assembly’s investigation, sent Cuomo a letter admonishing him for statements made by professional attack dog Rich Azzopardi attacking state Attorney General Tish James, who is conducting her own investigation into the governor’s conduct. Azzopardi disparaged a labor leader, the Transit Workers’ Union head John Samuelsen, who declared he was finally tired of dealing with Cuomo and interested in a replacement candidate in 2022; he called Samuelsen “an extortionist” and alleged he—oh, fuck it, we’ll just embed the tweet.

(As for why the comms staff for an ostensibly Democratic governor is trashing a public employees’ union for wanting better pay and benefits for its workers, you’ll have to ask Cuomo, who gleefully slashed public employee pensions in his first term.)

Apparently, when the governor is a notoriously obnoxious person with a notoriously obnoxious staff, even the politicians who are supposed to be protecting him have their limits. We hope this marks the beginning of the Assembly investigation breaking free from Speaker Heastie and seriously taking on the governor.

OH-11

We’re now in the frantic final stretch of the race. What a few months ago was a sleepy contest between the creaky Cleveland establishment and an ex-state senator with a national platform has turned into what every pundit in America seems to believe is a battle for the very heart and soul of the Democratic Party (the next battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party is scheduled for later this year in Florida, presumably.) While Nina Turner went on TV early and propelled herself to a wide early lead, polls have shown a tightening race. Last week, Shontel Brown released a poll that showed her losing by a 42-36 margin, and this week, the pro-Brown DMFI PAC released their internals, showing a similar 41-36.

Nina Turner is still generally acknowledged to be ahead, but the absolute avalanche of outside spending to prop up Shontel Brown has made this a close race, close enough that Turner has enlisted the help of Bernie Sanders and AOC, and close enough that national progressive groups like the Working Families Party have moved in with late expenditures to boost Turner and counter the wave of attack ads. 

According to the final pre-primary FEC disclosures, which came out yesterday, Turner outraised Brown by a little less than a million dollars, outspent her by over a million, and entered the home stretch with nearly double the money left in the bank. That gap was almost entirely fueled by small donations: Turner, who has a substantial national following, pulled in more than $1.1 million in unitemized donations, while Brown got just $150,000. Brown almost equaled Turner in itemized donations; she raised $1.06 million to Turner’s $1.13 million in itemized donations. (Donations are required to be itemized once a donor has contributed a total of $200 or more to a campaign; unitemized donations serve as something of a proxy for grassroots enthusiasm, because donations from college students on Twitter and suburban moms on Facebook generally come in at less than $200.) Turner can probably tap a substantial network of larger donors from Bernie Sanders’s two presidential campaigns, as she was an active surrogate for both; Brown is raising big bucks from establishment-oriented Democratic donors. Overall, Turner has now outraised Brown $3,812,533 to $1,750,430, but that’s only half of the story—look at the outside funding.

Pro-Turner groups

The Democratic Action PAC (Justice Democrats): $311,000

Congressional Progressive Caucus: $104,000

Working Families Party: $103,000

MoveOn.org: $35,096

National Nurses United: $25,000

Pro-Brown groups

Democratic Majority for Israel: $1,244,061

Protecting Our Vote PAC: $66,098

Pro-Israel America (AIPAC): $46,416

Jewish Democratic Council of America: $17,865

Thanks to heavy, and almost entirely negative, outside spending from DMFI PAC, pro-Brown groups are outspending pro-Turner groups, by $1,374,440 to $578,096, a more than 2 to 1 margin. Some of the latest filings also finally provided us with insight to who’s been funding this most recent spate of DMFI PAC ads. They did not have nearly a million dollars on hand as of a few months ago, so this new money is pretty directly related to these ads. The largest amount, $145,000, comes from beauty industry billionaire Amnon Rodan. Oil billionaire Stacy Schusterman made the second largest contribution, at $95,000, and the billionaire Qualcomm-owning Viterbi family went in to the tune of $90,000, the third largest (split between two members of the family). They have about another $500,000 left to burn, as of that filing, but they’ve spent roughly that much in the last couple days, so they might be tapped for the rest of the campaign, but you never know.

On Turner’s side, most groups aren’t spending too much individually (although WFP has pledged at least another $47,000 on top of this), with the exception of the Democratic Action PAC, which has done the majority of outside spending for her. We’ve discussed this group before—a (likely) race-specific PAC unofficially working under Justice Democrats’s direction. (Or perhaps officially, as reports show that most of their money has come from JD, and most of the rest comes from Charles Dunlop, a regular JD donor.)

Pro-Israel America is the electoral arm of AIPAC, the infamous lobbying arm for Israel’s right wing, though the group is technically held independently of AIPAC for legal reasons. They may have only made a small independent expenditure, but that’s because their main contribution here has been fundraising for Brown. They’ve bundled $536,014 over the course of the campaign for her—which is to say solicited contributions earmarked for the Brown campaign and then disbursed the money to her. That’s almost a full third of all the money she’s raised. For comparison, all the money she’s gotten on ActBlue sums to $438,432. NORPAC, a pro-Israel PAC unaffiliatel with any of the others on involved in the race (this on is run by an Orthodox food magnate) similarly bundled just shy of $50,000 to Brown.

This money from Protecting Our Vote PAC appears to have been a joint venture between ex-Rep. Cedric Richmond and a construction trade group. The PAC itself was set up to support Richmond’s chosen successor Troy Carter in the LA-02 special election. In one of their three web ads, perhaps inspired by Brown’s ad where Marcia Fudge’s mother endorses Brown, they’ve tapped the son of Fudge’s predecessor, the late Stephanie Tubbs Jones, to do the same. Another ad features Rep. Bennie Thompson making an endorsement, and the third is essentially a rehash of the Brown-DMFI ads about Turner not being nice enough to Joe Biden.

Richmond isn’t the only CBC member to show up on FEC forms putting money Brown’s way. She also got direct contributions from Reps. Alma Adams, Joyce Beatty, G. K. Butterfield, Donald Payne Jr., and Donald McEachin. Blue Dog Rep. Brad Schneider also showed up. A joint fundraising venture between Brown and Reps. Jake Auchincloss, Grace Meng, Ritchie Torres, and Juan Vargas brought in over $80,000 for Brown. A wide variety of figures are providing financial support to Brown. This is no longer a local effort, this is a united front from the national Democratic establishment. Cedric Richmond, in fact, made that contribution well after he started his White House job. And then there’s Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, who gave $500 to both Shontel Brown and Nina Turner, a technique known as “the Ro Khanna”. Nina Turner did have one (former) member of Congress show up on her donor list: Allyson Schwartz, who held a suburban seat in the Philadelphia area until 2015. Sure, why not.

Turner’s fundraising since the deadline covered by the reports (ending on 7/19), has been… well she raised $30,000 in an hour yesterday, so we’ll say “pretty good”. Brown’s campaign, in one of the more straw-grabbing attempts at a hail-mary attempt to gin up controversy we’ve seen, has accused Nina Turner’s campaign of illegal collusion with the Democratic Action PAC. Why? Because the mail consultant that PAC uses is owned by someone who worked on the Turner campaign. The consultant world is small and this sort of thing is absurdly common. It feels like it runs contrary to laws prohibiting coordination between campaigns and super PACs, but most campaigns and super PACs—including this one—do set up a firewall between IEs and coordinated campaigning, to ensure that no employee who works on one can work on the other. Trying to get reporters to run with this is desperate. 

But not as desperate as organizing a press conference of local clergy to complain about Turner running negative ads against Brown, which is something that happened this week. Hilariously, they tried to claim that it was Turner who sullied this race and went negative, as if Brown’s very first ad hadn’t been an attack ad against Turner and as if Brown hadn’t begged PACs like DMFI to spend money attacking her with a set of talking points Brown had written. Complaining about negative ads is something campaigns will do periodically, but for it to work you generally need for the bulk of negative ads to not be coming from your side.

OR-Gov

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof is weighing a run for governor of Oregon (incumbent Kate Brown is term-limited.) This would suck.

Kristof’s best-known journalistic endeavor is his longtime obsession with sex work; he has laundered stories and narratives from right-wing groups and a prominent anti-sex-trafficking activist who got caught lying about her work (even getting others to tell completely fabricated stories in interviews, claiming they had been trafficked when in reality they never were.) The disaster got him excoriated by the New York Times’s public editor (a position the Times has since eliminated, because criticism made them too uncomfy) as well as a guest op-ed writer. In short, he’s a hack and a fraud; because of his shoddy and often outright false journalism done in service of a carceral moral panic, he bears some responsibility for harmful crackdowns on consensual sex work. (He also wrote a series of columns suggesting that a scientist, Dr. Steven Hatfill, may have been responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks; Dr. Hatfill was later exonerated by the US government, only after years of being targeted by Kristof and the Department of Justice, and granted a $5.8 million settlement by the FBI as compensation for his troubles.) Kristof doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, politically: beyond being a puritanical crackpot, he also hates teachers’ unions, and has spent the entire pandemic trashing them for their justified reluctance to reopen schools while a deadly virus rages across the globe. Hard pass.

PA-18

After a strong fundraising quarter, University of Pittsburgh professor Jerry Dickinson has begun to unveil endorsements. The biggest name is Allegheny County Councilor Liv Bennett. The other elected officials backing his campaign are all mayors: Marita Garrett of Wilkinsburg (pop. 15,000), Nickole Nesby of Duquesne (pop. 6,000), and Chardaé Jones of Braddock (pop. 2,000). All three cities are majority-Black and to the east/southeast of Pittsburgh, a poverty-stricken, heavily Democratic part of the district. Dickinson also got the endorsement of Jim Burn, a former Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chair, Allegheny County Councilor, and mayor of Millvale (pop. 4,000, but located just across the district line in Conor Lamb’s PA-17.) Dickinson struggled to gain much traction in his 2020 campaign against Rep. Mike Doyle, but this time around, local Democrats are clearly starting to see him as a viable alternative to Doyle, a low-profile moderate with a spotty record on social issues who has represented Pittsburgh in Congress since 1995.

VA-08

Arlington Dem official Victoria Virasinghannounced a campaign against Rep. Don Beyer on Tuesday. Beyer, a very moderate Democrat, has represented this deep-blue Northern Virginia district since 2015, and was previously lieutenant governor in the nineties. (He also snagged an appointment as ambassador to Switzerland in the first term of the Obama administration, thanks to his role as a surrogate and bundler for Obama’s 2008 campaign.) But he might be most known for his chain of car dealerships, a staple in Northern Virginia (and the reason for Beyer’s wealth, estimated to be over $100 million in total.)

Virasingh, the daughter of immigrants from Ecuador and India, appears to be running as a progressive, though her policy positions are still vague beyond Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, and addressing the DC area’s skyrocketing housing costs. (We don’t think the vagueness is a cause for concern yet, given it’s only the third day of her campaign.) Her professional history might give some pause—she worked at Palantir Technologies, the controversial tech giant headed by conservative megadonor Peter Thiel—but a job is a job, especially for someone fresh out of college like Virasingh was when she joined Palantir. VA-08 is the bluest and most urban district in Virginia; it takes in the cities of Arlington and Alexandria, as well as the most densely-populated parts of Fairfax County south of DC. It’s growing and diversifying very rapidly. In short, a white, moderate 90s retread like Beyer is not the best fit for this district, and a man worth nine figures is not the best fit for any district. (Justice Democrats reportedly mulled taking him on in 2020.)

Atlanta Mayor

After Keisha Lance Bottoms’s surprise announcement that she would be forgoing reelection, what followed was a great deal of behind-the scenes jockeying. Sometime in the last month it finally settled down. Let’s survey the field:

Former Mayor Kasim Reed is the biggest name in the field, having been mayor from 2010-2018. Reed may have been reelected by a strong margin, and ostensibly left office only because of term limits, but he ended his second term under an ethical cloud that saw multiple city contractors go to jail and Reed's office forced to turn over hundreds of documents. There's a reason he hasn't run for anything else until now. As mayor, Reed was close to business interests and governed from the center. His first major act in office was pushing through a large public employee pension cut, designed in part by his advisor from Bain Capital. Not soon after, he responded to Occupy Wall Street protests with an overwhelming show of police force. In that light, it's perhaps not as surprising as it could be that this time around he's running as the de facto Republican

Atlanta might be majority-Black and highly Democratic, but the northern third of the city is white, wealthy, and extremely high-turnout. In modern times, they've found themselves increasingly at odds with the rest of their city. Mary Norwood, a GOP-aligned independent, came within inches of winning the mayoral race twice on the strength of these voters. Incredibly, her first loss was to Reed in 2009, making his chasing of those voters one of the odder political marriages we’ve seen. Reed has become a vocal proponent of Buckhead cityhood—Buckhead being that wealthy, white northern section of the city, and their cityhood movement being a naked attempt at good old-fashioned polite American suburban segregation where the haves Balkanize urban areas to avoid having to pay for the have-nots. And in a return to his old corrupt habits, he recently got in trouble for potential campaign finance violations. Shocker. 

City Council President Felicia Moore was the only candidate in the race running against Keisha Lance Bottoms before Bottoms peaced out, and was betting on a tough-on-crime backlash materializing to carry her campaign. Without her expected foil in the race, Moore's campaign has become driftless, and she's positioned herself as something of a centrist. With Reed trying to take the city backwards, and the rest of the field trying to take it forward, she's a creature of the current establishment who likes things how they are. A particularly hilarious example of this is crime fighting. While Reed wants to hire hundreds of new cops and everyone else has some level of reform in mind, her plan is to talk to every officer. Not necessarily about anything, just showing up at roll calls and having chats. Moore is better positioned to contrast herself with an opponent in a runoff than making much of a case for herself beyond experience at this point.

City Councilor Andre Dickens has been seen as an up-and-comer for a while. He defeated an incumbent to win his citywide seat in 2013, and has acquitted himself well since then. Despite initial controversy, he managed to pass regulations for AirBnB-type rentals, and was the lead advocate for the city to create its own transportation agency, which it eventually did. He’s been fashioning himself something of a new way forward in this race, and has repeatedly attacked Reed for the corruption scandals of his past (and present). Months ago, Dickens put out a poll with him in the lead, but considering that it showed everyone in the race between 10% and 18%, a grain of salt is warranted.

City Councilor Antonio Brown burst onto the Atlanta political scene in 2019, winning the open District 3 seat, and he’s been a lightning rod for controversy ever since. He was the most vocal advocate for defunding police during the height of the George Floyd protests last year. While he now eschews the term, he's still the farthest left on criminal justice issues. When he was carjacked a few months later, he opted not to press charges against young people he thought had made a bad decision. Overall, he’s the only one in the field demonstrating the courage to provide a truly new vision of Atlanta. One problem for him, though: he’s currently under federal indictment for a variety of financial fraud charges. He protests his innocence, and the charges are small-scale accusations of defrauding his credit card company, not anything related to public corruption, but it’s never easy to run for office while showing up to court.

Sharon Gay is a lawyer, she’s mostly self-funding, she’s the only white candidate in the race, she’s a moderate, she’s...well, she’s honestly pretty boring, and not in the way that wins elections.

Cleveland Mayor

We hate to turn this into a regular Kucinich-watch column, but on any given week he’s certainly the most entertaining. This week we saw Kucinich endorsed by the AFL-CIO, a huge get in a union city like Cleveland. Three days later he went on Tucker Carlson’s show to promote his book and talk about being a Democratic outsider. That’s our Dennis! On the policy front, he pledged to build 20,000 new low- and middle-income homes—a good proposal, but an interesting priority for Cleveland, which has lost about half its historical peak population, making housing in the city normally quite cheap already. It’s distinctly normal and grounded, though—if you want some prime Kucinich, you should turn to the other proposal he announced this week: closing down the Burke Lakefront Airport, and then hosting an international competition to redesign it as a city park. In fairness, the idea of closing down Burke, a mainly cargo airport with dwindling business, is not new. The rest is all him though.

In non-Kucinich news, the Cleveland Plain Dealer got all the candidates except Councilor Zack Reed on the record about a proposed independent Civilian Review Board for the police, and only Justin Bibb was willing to support it. Bibb is an outsider with a modern, progressive, urbanist take on most policy issues. We wish him well, though have remained skeptical of his chances. He’s looking more viable recently after longtime former City Councilman Jay Westbrook endorsed Bibb this week, his first big get. He’s also in the middle of a fight with the city’s most notorious slumlord, a great opportunity for a less-known candidate if he can play it right. And City Council president Kevin Kelley received endorsements from the Cowells, a couple who have represented a city and county council seat for three decades between them.

Seattle Mayor, Seattle City Attorney

The Seattle mayoral race, a top-two election, is fast approaching, and it looks like the leading candidates are former City Council President Bruce Harrell, who’s running as the most conservative major candidate, and current City Council President Lorena González, who’s running as a progressive with a lot of backing from organized labor. Close behind González is Colleen Echohawk, a nonprofit official running in the same general ideological space as González. That’s according to a recent poll by the Northwest Progressive Institute, which has Harrell in front with 20%, González behind him with 12%, Echohawk with 10%, and former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell (a business-oriented liberal) and leftist outsider Andrew Grant Houston tied for fourth place with 6% each.

The poll also gives us a neat little tidbit about a race we haven’t covered before. City Attorney Pete Holmes barely leads two challengers who couldn’t be further apart: on the right is former Republican lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Ann Davison, and on the left is abolitionist public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. Holmes gets just 16% in the poll, while Davison and Thomas-Kennedy each had 14%. The office handles the prosecution of misdemeanors, lawsuits against the city, and legal advice for the city government; while it’s not as impactful as a DA, it has a fair amount of power, and Thomas-Kennedy would be able to do a lot of good by scaling back misdemeanor prosecutions.

Andrew Grant Houston faced down some negative headlines this week when perpetually disgruntled conservative radio talk show host Jason Rantz broke the news that Grant Houston was behind on his rent. Like, really behind. $20,000 behind on his $1,700-a-month apartment (Christ what is wrong with Seattle rent), probably owing to him being out of work for the better part of a year now. Though, as we’ve seen before, attacking a candidate for being poor has a tendency to backfire, especially given that the number of people behind on rent in Washington is close to 200,000.

Seattle’s public financing system comes with spending caps, at $400,000 in the first round and another $400,000 in the runoff. But after Harrell broke that barrier this election with the help of an outside PAC, that cap has been lifted to allow other candidates to match his total, meaning we could see this race get much more expensive between now and the first-round vote on August 3.

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