Politics

Morning Digest: Two Jersey Democrats who flipped Trump seats in 2018 now represent Biden turf

We’ll start with a look at the one Democratic-held Trump seat, Rep. Andy Kim’s 3rd District, which was also the state’s closest district in the 2020 presidential race by far. Barack Obama had carried this South Jersey constituency, which is located in the Philadelphia suburbs and central Jersey Shore, 52-47 days after Hurricane Sandy devastated the area in 2012, but it swung hard to the right four years later and backed Trump 51-45. This time, the 3rd settled between those poles and supported Trump 49.4-49.2, a margin of about 800 votes.

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Local Republicans in past years have run well ahead of the top of the ticket here, but the opposite happened in 2020. Kim won a second term by beating Republican David Richter 52-45, a result that was considerably wider than his 50-49 victory against Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur in 2018.

GOP outside groups opted not to spend to boost Richter, a decision that may have had to do with the sheer cost of running for office in what may be the most expensive in the nation to advertise in: About 57% of the 3rd is in the pricey Philadelphia media market, while the balance is in the very expensive New York City market. To reach all voters on television, it’s necessary to blanket both—an extremely costly proposition. Kim’s mammoth fundraising made that heavy lift possible, but Richter’s weak finances put such an undertaking out of reach.

Republicans, however, had more success in the 2nd District just to the south. This coastal seat swung from 54-45 Obama to 51-46 Trump in 2016, and it favored Trump again last year, though by a smaller 51-48 margin. National Democrats worked hard last year to deny a second term to Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who had switched from the Democrats to the GOP in late 2019 after opposing Trump’s first impeachment. But Congress’ most infamous turncoat ran ahead of the man he’d pledged his “undying support” to and defeated Democrat Amy Kennedy 52-46.

Trump’s best seat by far, unsurprisingly, was once again the 4th District to the north in the Monmouth County area, though he did drop from 56-41 in 2016 to 55-44 last year. This constituency is held by 21-term Rep. Chris Smith, who was the only Republican in the state’s delegation from Jan. 2019 until Van Drew switched parties nearly a year later.

We’ll now move up north and hit the two Trump/Biden seats, both of which began the decade as conservative turf. The 5th District in northern Bergen County and more distant exurban areas had lurched slightly to the left, going from 51-48 Romney to 49-48 Trump in 2016, but Trump’s toxicity in the suburbs helped propel Biden to a 52-47 win. The seat is held by Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a moderate who unseated arch-conservative Scott Garrett in 2016 and secured his third term 53-46 last year.

The swing to the left was even more pronounced in the neighboring 11th District in the Morris County area. This ancestrally red region had gone from 52-47 Romney to 49-48 Trump in 2016, but Biden took it 53-46 this time. Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill flipped this seat in 2018 by winning the race to succeed longtime Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen and successfully defended it 53-47 in 2020.

Trump also bombed in the 7th District just to the south, though the GOP showed signs of life downballot. This seat, which includes Hunterdon County and New York City’s western exurbs, had already swung hard from 52-46 Romney to 49-48 Clinton, and Biden’s margin ballooned to 54-44. Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, though, won his second term by a considerably smaller 51-49 margin in a very expensive race against state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., who is the son and namesake of well-regarded former Gov. Tom Kean Sr.

While Trump’s margin took a nose dive in all of New Jersey’s competitive seats, he did make gains in a trio of safely blue constituencies in the northern part of the state. Rep. Albio Sires’ 8th District in Jersey City dropped from 76-21 Clinton to 73-26 Biden, which fits with the pattern we’ve seen in other seats with large Latino electorates. Rep. Donald Payne’s heavily Black 10th District in Newark, likewise, ticked down from 85-13 Clinton 83-16 Biden. Finally, Rep. Bill Pascrell’s diverse 9th District, which is home to Paterson and some of New York City’s closer-in suburbs, shifted from 64-33 Clinton to 62-37 Biden.

Democrats have full control of the New Jersey state government, but that doesn’t guarantee that they’ll get a favorable congressional map for the coming decade. That’s because a 1995 state constitutional amendment created a bipartisan redistricting commission consisting of six Democrats, six Republicans, and a tiebreaking member. Last time, the crucial 13th member favored GOP-drawn boundaries over those proposed by Democrats, though Republican mapmakers didn’t anticipate the leftward swing that would later unfold in the state’s northern suburbs.

Senate

CO-Sen: Republican Rep. Ken Buck announced on Friday that he would not run against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet next year and indicated he would instead seek re-election to the House. The decision was something of a surprise as Buck had stepped down as chair of the Colorado GOP in December, a move that appeared to presage a bid for statewide office. A number of Republican names have been mentioned as possible Senate contenders but so far no notable candidates have entered the race, and in fact Colorado Politics’ Ernest Luning reports that his sources tell him that “no other Republicans have been talking about challenging Bennet.”

GA-Sen: The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker reports that both David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler “are possible candidates and are keeping their options open” with regard to a possible comeback bid against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock next year. Neither, however, has commented about their possible interest.

OH-Sen: Former Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman tweeted on Wednesday night that he was considering seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman.

Coleman, whose 1999 election made him the first Black mayor of Ohio’s capital city, has shown some interest in seeking higher office over the years, but it’s yet to work out. Coleman entered the race for governor in 2005, but he ended up dropping out later that year. Coleman, who did not seek a fifth term as mayor in 2015, also showed some early interest in competing in the following year’s Senate race, but he opted not to go for it.

Meanwhile, an unnamed source tells Buzzfeed’s Henry Gomez that they anticipate another Democrat, former state health director Amy Acton, to “formalize her interest in some fashion” sometime over the next week. Acton has not said anything publicly about this contest, but Gomez relays that she’s being encouraged to run by people close to Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Brown himself says he’s not backing anyone yet, and he used an interview with WKYC to name-drop some other potential candidates. Brown said, “I think Congresswoman (Joyce) Beatty has shown interest,” though the congresswoman herself hasn’t made any deliberations public yet. The senator also added Rep. Marcy Kaptur as a possibility, though he adds that he hasn’t spoken to her; this is the first time we’ve heard Kaptur, who was first elected to the House in 1982, so much as mentioned for this race.

Governors

CO-Gov: The Colorado Sun’s Jesse Paul reports that University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl “is seen as a likely candidate” to challenge Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who is up for re-election next year. Ganahl was elected to one of two at-large seats on the Board of Regents in 2016, making her the last Republican to hold statewide office in Colorado. Republicans have not won the governorship since 2002, when Bill Owens won a second term.

TX-Gov: Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, who last year didn’t rule out seeking the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, now says it’s “very unlikely” he’ll run for any office in 2022.

House

WY-AL: Air Force veteran Bryan Miller, who also chairs the Sheridan County GOP, tells CNN that he plans to run against Rep. Liz Cheney in next year’s Republican primary. If he follows through, he’d be the second challenger to do so, along with state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, who recently announced a campaign following Cheney’s vote to impeach Donald Trump. Miller has twice run for Senate, in both 2020 and 2014, and took 10% of the vote in the GOP primary each time.

Mayors

Atlanta, GA Mayor: City Council President Felicia Moore announced Thursday that she would challenge incumbent Keisha Lance Bottoms in November’s nonpartisan contest. While Moore did not mention the mayor in her kickoff, she made it clear that she’d be focusing on the city’s crime rate and local income inequality as she argues for a change of leadership

If Moore wins, she’d need to overcome two unfavorable trends in Atlanta politics. Local voters haven’t ousted an incumbent mayor since 1973, when Maynard Jackson’s victory over Sam Massell made him the city’s first Black leader. And while the City Council president has the advantage of being elected citywide, the post has not proven to be a good launching pad: Five previous council presidents have run for mayor over the last 25 years, and each of them has lost.

Other local pols could join the contest including former Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen, who told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she’s thinking of running. Another prospective contender is former City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, an independent who lost to Bottoms 50.4-49.6 in 2017 but has refused to recognize the legitimacy of her defeat three years later. A December runoff would take place if no one wins a majority in the first round of voting.

Boston, MA Mayor: Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George on Thursday became the first major candidate to enter the mayoral race since Joe Biden nominated incumbent Marty Walsh to serve as secretary of labor. Essaibi-George, whose father is originally from Tunisia, would be the first woman or person of color to be elected to this post.

Essaibi-George joins two of her colleagues, Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu, each of whom would also achieve this historic milestone. City Council President Kim Janey would become acting mayor following Walsh’s departure, which would make her the first Black woman to lead the city; Janey has not yet announced if she’ll run in her own right.

Essaibi-George has focused on mental health and homelessness on the Council, and those were among the issues she highlighted in her kickoff. The Boston Globe’s Danny McDonald also notes that there are some clear policy differences between Essaibi-George, whom he writes “is seen as something of a centrist,” and her two current rivals.

Notably, Essaibi-George was part of the Council majority that passed Walsh’s budget last year, while Campbell and Wu opposed it. Campbell and Wu argued that the mayor’s plan didn’t do enough to combat racial or economic inequality, while Essaibi-George said that it would have been fiscally irresponsible to defeat the budget and that it contained vital funding for programs.

A number of other others are eyeing this contest, but one big name recently took himself out of contention in an unexpected way. Boston Police Commissioner William Gross had expressed interest earlier in January, with one unnamed source saying he was “90%” likely to run. Gross then announced Thursday that he would resign from his post, a move that briefly looked like a precursor to a mayoral bid. However, Gross said hours later that he would not be running for mayor.

One other major question looming over the race is whether there will be a special election this year for the final months of Walsh’s term in addition to the regularly-scheduled contest this fall. If Walsh resigns before March 5, which seems very likely, the city charter would require a special take place 120 to 140 days after his departure.

The City Council, however, is scheduled to vote on Wednesday on a home rule petition that would cancel the special election. The legislature and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker would need to sign off afterwards, though their recent move to quickly approve a similar petition in Lawrence indicates that they’d let it go forward.

Cincinnati, OH Mayor: Physicist and businessman Gavi Begtrup announced Wednesday that he would join this year’s open seat race for mayor. Begtrup, who said he’d already raised $65,000 for his efforts, identifies as a Democrat, and he previously served as an advisor to Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords when she served in Congress.

Begtrup founded a local business called Eccrine in 2013, which the Cincinnati Business Courier described as “once one of the region’s most-promising startups.” Eccrine failed last year, though, which Begtrup said was a result of it losing vital funding after the pandemic devastated the economy.

Other Races

CA-SoS: Both chambers of California’s legislature unanimously confirmed Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber as secretary of state to fill the vacancy left by Alex Padilla, who was appointed to Vice President Kamala Harris’ seat in the Senate. A special election will now be held for Weber’s seat in the Assembly, a safely blue district in San Diego.




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