Primary School 3/30
be careful what you poll for
Crikey! Steve Irwin had another weird week. Sure, the centrist union-busting attorney, who is not the late Australian celebrity zookeeper, had some bright spots. He got the backing of the Laborers’ District Council of Western PA, which represents relatively conservative building trades unions, and won the endorsement of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee as expected. However, he got the committee’s endorsement with only 45% of the vote to democratic socialist state Rep. Summer Lee’s 37%, a poor showing considering who we’re dealing with here. The committee is a notoriously pro-establishment and conservative group that routinely endorses against any incumbent not hand-picked by machine leaders—including Lee herself in 2020—and will quite happily endorse an open Trump supporter if the alternative is someone remotely progressive. That Irwin somehow couldn’t get half the delegates here is a bad sign for a campaign looking to regain its footing after a bad news cycle. Speaking of which…despite a, shall we say, rocky start to his ballot petitioning, his opponents, Lee and law professor Jerry Dickinson, chose not to challenge his petitions. We have to assume they concluded such efforts would be in vain, and that Irwin had enough valid signatures despite the batches of invalid signatures forged by one petition canvasser that included the forged name and signature of a federal judge.
After these missteps, and other amateur mistakes, including a forum where, in his stumbling answer to one question about being the only white candidate in the race, he made some awkward comments about “the appeal of having a Black woman as a congressperson,” Irwin quite clearly needs to turn his campaign around. It looks like the way he’s going to do that is by going negative on Lee. Yesterday, Lee posted on social media about a “push poll” being run against her. As luck would have it, one of the authors of this newsletter was a recipient of a poll that sounded an awful lot like the poll Lee described.
This thing is a piece of work. It’s a little too complicated and thought out to be a true push poll, (which is a fake poll done to spread attack lines rather than collect any data), but it’s hard not to question what was going on behind the scenes that produces, for instance, the sloppy copy editing of what appears to be a simple copy-paste of phone dialog into a web polling app, and a Senate question where two of the five named candidates have already dropped out. Clearly done on the cheap, this poll asks a few generic questions about whether voters have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of various Democratic politicians and asks them about how they’re going to vote in the congressional and Senate primaries. After asking the first time, the poll gives a brief positive biography for every candidate in the PA-12 race and asks the question again. Despite a couple strange touches so far, like how one of the favorability questions is “The Defund the Police Movement” (capitalization theirs), this is all normal. The back half of the poll consists of a series of negative messages about Summer Lee (presented as “some statements critics might say about Summer Lee”), asking how much this “concerns” the poll taker. In context, these should be understood to be the lines of attack one of her opponents is considering, most likely Irwin given the conservative slant of the attacks and Dickinson’s progressivism. And some of them are dirty. Have a look.
Some of these are expected (Lee knew Twanda Carlisle was going to be a controversial hire at the time) but others are really out there. And one—the claim that “Lee is not a Democrat”—is just a lie. Lee has won two Democratic primaries and two successive general elections as the Democratic nominee, is a member of the Democratic caucus in the state legislature, and is now running for Congress as a Democrat with the public support of many of her Democratic legislative colleagues. Also, we’re pretty sure that “radical legislation” being referenced is the Green New Deal.
Former Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness launched his long-expected rematch campaign against Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick this week; his fellow commissioner and special election candidate Barbara Sharief decided on a state Senate run instead, a rumored move that had hit the press last week, but is only now official. Cherfilus-McCormick, an attorney and borderline perennial candidate who had challenged the late Rep. Alcee Hastings in 2018 and 2020, only beat Holness by five votes in 2021, and a majority of special election primary voters opted for candidates other than the top two finishers. In other words, Cherfilus-McCormick, who easily won the general election in this very Democratic district and is now a member of Congress, is very arguably weaker than the average incumbent—but Holness himself will need to convince a lot of people who didn’t vote for him last time that their newly-minted congresswoman already deserves to be fired.
Cryptocurrency-funded Protect Our Future PAC spent another $2.5 million on OR-06 candidate think tank guy Carrick Flynn (in two parts) and started their previously-promised Lucy McBath push with a $1.9 million ad buy to help the congresswoman in her primary with fellow congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux, one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. This brings their investment for Flynn to $3.7 million, lapping the rest of the field several times over. Whether or not it’s actually boosted Carrick Flynn’s bland, centrist campaign or made him stand out in this crowded field is hard to say.
HI-02 Rep. Kai Kahele may still be deciding whether to run for governor after only one term in the house, but while he’s weighing his options, Lt. Gov. Josh Green is locking down support. The Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Hawaii Government Employees Association, two unions representing most government employees of the country’s most unionized state, formally endorsed his campaign this week, along with the campaign of state Rep. Sylvia Luke, who is running for LG.
State Rep. Delia Ramirez released another poll showing her leading moderate Chicago Ald. Gilbert Villegas. Two weeks ago, a WFP-funded poll had her up by a margin of 19% to 11%, but in Ramirez’s internal, she leads by a stronger 25% to 10%. (WFP is supporting Ramirez.) As in the last poll, Ramirez has about the same name ID as Villegas (28% and 27%, respectively), a promising sign. This week, Ramirez picked up the endorsement of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, while one of Villegas’s endorsements unraveled. Villegas had previously announced an endorsement from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 earlier this month, but he had to walk that back when a national ATU leader, who knew that his union’s policy was that locals could not endorse in congressional races by themselves, got the local leadership to tell Villegas he wasn’t actually endorsed.
Sean Casten and Marie Newman, two incumbents fighting for the same seat in suburban Chicago, have largely kept it cordial, but that unofficial detente is coming to an end. This can be seen most clearly in how both candidates are trying to seize the mantle of the climate candidate after the League of Conservation Voters endorsed Casten. Casten has attempted to paint Newman as ineffective, claiming she can vote for bills but not write them, and going so far as to taunt her, saying ““I’m sorry that at the end of this primary, Marie’s not going to be here.” Newman’s approach has been more direct and more negative, calling Casten a “fossil fuel energy executive and lobbyist” who will only accept market-based solutions. Newman’s also been attacking Casten over donations he took from fossil fuel companies, part of a larger strategy of painting him as the corporate-backed candidate. One post says that $13,000 from insurance companies “buys you…Sean Casten’s vote”, and another calls out his $700,000 from corporations since 2019”. Neither campaign has ads up yet, but with the primary 3 months away, they should start soon, and we can’t wait to see what they go with.
Rep. Danny Davis, clearly worried about his upcoming primary with Justice Democrats-endorsed activist Kina Collins, is calling in the big guns to support him. Not too long ago it was Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. This week he was joined at a rally by none other than Gov. JB Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.
A Maryland court struck down the state’s hideous new congressional gerrymander, but the ruling will be appealed; Maryland Democrats have passed a backup congressional map that will only take effect if the ruling is upheld on appeal. That new map, which we’ll discuss in more detail if and when that ruling is upheld, would complicate things for Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, by making his district have a much higher Black population. Hoyer, who is white, has always sought to have legislators draw him a majority-white district every ten years; in his last primary with leftist activist Mckayla Wilkes, who is Black, he performed markedly worse in areas with higher Black populations, and his new district under these lines is a majority-minority district where Black voters would constitute an overwhelming majority of the Democratic primary electorate. It would also make MD-04, the majority-Black PG County district with an open race thanks to Rep. Anthony Brown’s run for Maryland AG, more concentrated around the DC suburbs by removing Annapolis and some surrounding areas.
Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker released yet another poll with him in second. Comptroller Peter Franchot has 23%, Baker has 15%, Tom Perez has 11%, and businessman Wes Moore has 10%. The exact numbers for everyone else were not released. These numbers point to a name recognition game more than anything else—the four-term statewide elected official followed by the 2018 gubernatorial candidate, the Cabinet member/DNC chair, and finally the guy who started running ads first. Speaking of that guy, Moore gets the endorsement of Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, the latest signal that Baker might be on shaky ground in his vote-rich home county, and that the PG establishment might be deciding on Moore as an alternative. Perez is aiming to fix his name recognition problem by airing his first set of ads, which really want you to remember he worked for Obama. Perez, as the former US Secretary of Labor, has had an easy time getting support from labor unions. IBEW Local 24 endorsed him this week.
Everybody’s piling into the MI-13 for a chance at what may very well be the open last Detroit-based Congressional primary for decades. This week marked the official entry of John Conyers III, who had filed in mid-February but had not said anything about a potential campaign publicly. As we said then:
In 2018, when John Conyers Jr. resigned from Congress following sexual harassment allegations, his nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers ran. Ian was likely hoping for an endorsement from his uncle, but that endorsement went to John III…who then fucked up his nominating petitions so badly he was kicked off the ballot twice. Even if we weren’t skeptical enough of a dynasty case and hedge fund manager, John III was arrested in 2010 on suspicion of stabbing his girlfriend. The case was never taken to court due to lack of third party corroboration of her account of how she got her injury. Let’s hope this campaign goes as well as his last.
But if polling is any indication, he’s the frontrunner as of now. A PPP poll from the the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party Organization found the state of the race as such:
John Conyers III 19%
Former Detroit City Councilor Sharon McPhail 9%
State Rep. Shri Thanedar 7%
Former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo 6%
State Sen. Adam Hollier 6%
Former Detroit Chief of Police Ralph Godbee 5%
Michigan Civil Rights Commissioner Portia Roberson 4%
Michael Griffie 0%
Adrian Tonon 0%
But as the candidate gods giveth, so they taketh away, and this nine-candidate field couldn’t sustain itself for more than a few days before Ralph Godbee quietly exited the race. We have a suspicion why—tomorrow is the last day of the Q1 FEC filing period for campaign finance reports. While official figures aren’t due until April 15, they will only cover from Jan 1 until tomorrow, which will be the first real fundraising quarter for many candidates, and the first real test if they are viable or not. Many, not just in MI-13 but across the country, will decide on “not” and follow Godbee out the door.
Former 1990s St. Louis mayoral aide and lobbyist Michael Daniels started what’s sure to be a sad, ignored campaign to unseat Cori Bush: “Michael Daniels, one of four Democrats who so far have filed to challenge Bush in the Aug. 2 primary, called a news conference Friday outside Ferguson police headquarters to tout his candidacy. Only a Post-Dispatch reporter attended.” Daniels wasn’t the only Bush challenger to make it official this week: so did state Sen. Steve Roberts, who has been accused of rape by multiple women and who keeps editing that fact out of his own Wikipedia page. Roberts, like other challengers to the Squad this cycle, is banking on voters really, really caring about the final vote on the infrastructure bill and not on his ugly personal record.
NC-01, NC-04, PA-12
The Sunrise Movement endorsed former state Sen. Erica Smith for NC-01, Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam for NC-04, and state Rep. Summer Lee for PA-12, all progressive favorites in their respective races.
Andrew Cuomo is seriously considering a comeback bid against Gov. Kathy Hochul, and a new poll says he might have a chance. The poll, from Siena College, finds Hochul leading Cuomo 38% to 30%, with New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Rep. Tom Suozzi very far behind. Yikes! If Cuomo actually were to run, he’d have to go through signature gathering like everyone else, a process which must be done by April 7, which wouldn’t give him much time. Still, with all the money he has, it’s more than doable.
Kathy Hochul’s appointment of Brian Benjamin to succeed her as lieutenant governor was always weird. Benjamin was mostly known for petty corruption scandals and a run for New York City Comptroller that ended in hilarious failure. Now, a scandal that lies at the intersection of those two things is coming back to haunt Benjamin.
Real estate developer Jerry Migdol was indicted a couple months ago for funneling money to Benjamin’s comptroller campaign using straw donors who had no idea their names were being used, in an attempt to game the city’s public campaign financing system; the public financing program awards more funding to candidates who raise more in smaller donations, so Migdol’s scheme to disguise one rich guy’s large donation as many regular people’s smaller donations wasn’t just a way around campaign donation limits—it was also an attempt to defraud the city government into giving Benjamin’s campaign money it wasn’t legally eligible to get. Migdol donated under the names of random New Yorkers who had never even heard of Benjamin, and even gave in the name of his then-two-year-old grandson. Now, federal prosecutors are issuing subpoenas related to Benjamin’s possible involvement into the scheme, as well as his decisions regarding the allocation of discretionary state funds he had authority over as a state senator. Benjamin faces progressive activist Ana María Archila, who is ostensibly Jumaane Williams’s running mate but could run far ahead of him if she has the luxury of running against a guy under federal investigation (or worse, indictment) thanks to New York’s shotgun wedding primary system where candidates for governor and LG are nominated in separate partisan primaries but must run as one ticket in the general election. (He also faces former New York City Council Member Diana Reyna, ostensibly Tom Suozzi’s running mate, but she has as much of a chance as Suozzi—which is to say none.)
The escalating saga of legal bullshit that was congressional redistricting in Ohio has come to an end, for this cycle at least, which means we finally have an official OH-11.
Because the Nina Turner/Shontel Brown primary coming up in May is a rematch of last year’s special election primary, there’s a lot of information about how these changes will affect the electorate. First, what was cut out: all of Summit County, plus the Cuyahoga County towns of Broadview Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Glenwillow, Oakwood, and Seven Hills. Together, they were about 12% of the old OH-11, and voted for Shontel Brown by a margin of 49.1% to 45.7% in last year’s primary, while what remains voted for Brown 50.3% to 44.4%.
The additions to the district are substantial. About 226,000 residents are added: 119,000 in West Cleveland, 51,000 in the western suburb of Lakewood, and 56,000 in smaller eastern suburbs. The former two areas have a more progressive reputation, while the latter is more moderate. About ¼ of the Democratic voters in the district are new to it. Though it’s not a perfect measure of a district’s progressiveness, the old OH-11 voted for Joe Biden over Bernie Sanders by a 73%-15% margin, while the new one voted for Biden 71%-17%, a small shift but one that could be important given how close the special election was.
A new poll from Public Policy Polling sponsored by Climate Hawks Vote finds a very unsettled field in this open seat. Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle leads with 24%, while progressive activist Doyle Canning has 8% and Airbnb executive Andrew Kalloch has 4%. An outright majority of primary voters are undecided with less than two months to go before the primary, so this is very much anyone’s race.
Center Forward, a pharma-funded, Blue Dog-affiliated dark money group, booked $300K of pro-Kurt Schrader air time on Bend TV. Schrader, a lifelong Blue Dog who helped kill prescription drug pricing efforts last year, has certainly earned his keep from pharma, who have never shied from shoveling the big bucks his way, but this is the first time they’ve ever felt the need to defend him electorally. That they booked the ads for the Bend media market is hardly surprising—those voters are new to Schrader, but not to his opponent, Jamie McLeod-Skinner.
Alexandra Hunt’s reputation often precedes her—the public health researcher with two masters degrees has been upfront about stripping during college to pay bills, and now you’d be hard-pressed to find an article about her that doesn’t mention that fact as soon as possible, whether it’s skeevy right-wing rags or more respectable local press. It’s a disservice to a serious, progressive candidate, even if she’s leaned into the branding. Still, she is getting written about, and she’s raising money as well. She’d raised about $200,000 in all of 2021, which already isn’t bad, but this week she announced she’d crossed the $500,000 mark, a lot of money for a decidedly underdog campaign, and a sign that the right-wing outrage bait is backfiring to some extent.
Dan McKee couldn’t even go a few months as governor before he started making shady deals. Just days after he was sworn in as governor, his longtime political ally Michael Magee Jr. formed ILO Group LLC, which the McKee administration then awarded a $5 million contract to. While this was noted at the time by the political press, it had been ignored since then, right up until last week when federal prosecutors started investigating. His opponents, naturally, pounced on the story; for a governor many voters had barely heard of before 2021, it’s exactly the kind of story he desperately needs to avoid.
Ex-Kasich staffer Michael Neary was arrested on stalking and marijuana possession charges in Ohio, so we feel pretty confident that he’s not going to be much of a factor in this primary. The Kasich bit (and the confusing juxtaposition of that with his branding as a progressive) was bad enough, but getting arrested on stalking charges after allegedly following a random couple sixty miles down a highway would be fatal to candidates far stronger than Neary. (To top it all off, he gave a Columbus apartment as his address, despite claiming he had moved back from Ohio to his native Rhode Island to run.)
Nancy Pelosi is standing by Henry Cuellar, saying of the FBI raid of his house, “I haven’t seen anything, have you? Do you know what it’s about?” (ABC News reported months ago that the raid is connected to a federal grand jury investigation of illegal Azerbaijani influence in the US, and Cuellar co-chairs the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus.)
State Sen. Royce West endorsed former Biden primary campaign official Jane Hope Hamilton in the runoff. Texas Senate districts are ridiculously large, so West is the state senator for pretty much the entire congressional district. West is a fairly moderate establishment Democrat with a rocky relationship with outgoing Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (also a moderate establishment Democrat), so he has plenty of reason to prefer Hamilton over the frontrunner, state Rep. Jasmine Crockett—a progressive backed by Johnson.
State Sen. Becca Balint made a show of force this week, releasing a list of over 50 current and former elected officials endorsing her campaign, including 33 members of the state House, 9 state senators, and 8 municipal officials. Owing to Vermont’s deep blue lean and large state legislature, that’s only about 30% of either body. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray is taking a more money-oriented approach to building support, sidestepping the pledge against taking corporate money all the candidates took by allowing corporate lobbyists to host fundraisers for her campaign.
Speaking of polls getting leaked: Rep. Mike Quigley is polling a potential run against Lori Lightfoot in 2023. This was first noticed by Alex Nelson, a Columbia College employee who posted it to her Twitter page, where it was quickly noticed by publications like Politico. Politico was not able to get Quigley on the record about anything, but was able to get a few anonymous sources close to the congressman to say he was close to deciding. Quigley, who served in Cook County government for over a decade before winning a seat in Congress in 2009, considered a bid for mayor in 2011 and also looked at running for mayor in 2019, before ultimately deciding against it both times. Quigley is a moderate, especially on economic issues, which is a reputation he's held since his days in local government, and based on the survey questions he seems to see an opening against incumbent mayor Lori Lightfoot by running to her right on criminal justice issues. (Lightfoot, though she made some rhetorical appeals to reform as a candidate in 2019, has governed as a standard tough-on-crime carceral mayor—not quite as bad as Rahm Emanuel, but that’s like saying someone’s not quite as corrupt as Rod Blagojevich.)