Thursday, August 18, 2022

Last Call For Here Comes The Gov, Con't

Kyle Kondik over at Sabato's Crystal Ball notes that Democrats have a long road to get back to evening up the country to go from 22 to even 25 governor's mansions this year. Even with big pickups in Maryland and Massachusetts from outgoing Republicans Larry Hogan and Charlie Baker, Dems have a lot of heavy lifting to do in order to defend seats in nearly a dozen competitive races...including Oregon.

Republican incumbents are in great shape to hold New Hampshire and Vermont. Elsewhere in New England, Gov. Ned Lamont (D-CT) has posted surprisingly robust approval ratings as he faces a rematch with businessman Bob Stefanowski (R). Next door, Gov. Dan McKee (D-RI) — who took over when his predecessor, Gina Raimondo (D), became Secretary of Commerce — has to get through a primary against, most notably, Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (D) and former CVS executive Helena Foulkes (D). The primary victor is likely to face newcomer Ashley Kalus (R). If things break right for Republicans down the stretch of the election, Connecticut or Rhode Island might be like New Jersey’s race was last year — surprisingly close and competitive.

As of now, the hottest race in New England comes in Maine, where Gov. Janet Mills (D) is seeking a second term against her predecessor, former Gov. Paul LePage (R). Our understanding is that while this race remains a viable Republican target, it has not moved into true Toss-up territory yet. It definitely remains worth watching, though, as we can imagine LePage — who has been on decent behavior recently, given his typical penchant for stirring controversy — rallying the state’s large cadre of white, working-class voters to victory once again.

A key thing to watch in Pennsylvania is whether the well-heeled Republican Governors Association actually decides to spend there; as it is now, Shapiro has a ton of money to spend while Mastriano hardly has any. The Keystone State is so competitive that we would not expect Shapiro to win by the big margin that some polls show given what we still expect to be a Republican-leaning overall political environment, but it does appear that Shapiro retains the edge. The same is true of Whitmer in Michigan, which is really the only swing state that appears likely to have a statewide ballot issue on abortion this year. That issue dominating the race is just fine for Democrats, who have already highlighted GOP nominee Tudor Dixon’s (R) stringent anti-abortion stance.

As noted above, GOP incumbents DeSantis in Florida and Kemp in Georgia both appear to be ahead in their races. One very clear bright spot for Republicans is that, in our eyes, all of their incumbent governors are favored to win. Kemp is really the only one who appears locked in a legitimately close race. We’ll see if Florida comes online at some point, but the political trendlines for Democrats in that state are bad even as it remains competitive. We might as well mention Texas in this group; Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is seeking a third term against former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D, TX-16). Like Abrams in Georgia, O’Rourke gives Democrats in Texas an energetic and well-funded challenger — but also gives Republicans a useful foil to inspire their own turnout.

We may not have a strong handicap in aforementioned Wisconsin until the weekend before the election — and even then, we might not feel very confident about it. In picking businessman Tim Michels (R) as their nominee, Republicans probably rolled the dice a bit more than if they had picked former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R): Michels may have some added appeal as more of an outsider candidate, although he’s also less vetted than Kleefisch, who served a couple of terms as former Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) no. 2. Next door in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz (D-MN) faces former state Sen. Scott Jensen (R), a one-time moderate who moved to the right during the political battles over the pandemic. The environment will be the main determinant of how vulnerable Walz truly is.

Kansas, where Gov. Laura Kelly (D) is seeking a second term, remains the most obvious Republican pickup opportunity, if only because it is by far the reddest state that Democrats are defending. But Kelly, despite running in a clearly Republican-leaning state, is not dead in the water, and there are questions about how strong of a campaign her opponent, state Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R), is running. Kelly’s approval rating remains above water, it appears, and she may be able to thread the needle much like Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA) did in 2019. Edwards, like Kelly, initially won office by defeating a weak Republican opponent — Edwards beat scandal-plagued then-Sen. David Vitter (R), while Kelly beat the very right-wing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) in 2018. Edwards then survived in 2019 against businessman Eddie Rispone (R), who was a better candidate than Vitter but was not exactly top-tier, either. Schmidt is probably comparable in candidate quality to Rispone, and that very well may be sufficient for him to win. But we thought this race might’ve drifted into clear Leans Republican territory by now, and our understanding is that it has not. Pro-abortion rights forces just won a major victory on abortion in Kansas earlier this month as voters strongly rejected a statewide ballot issue that would have given the state’s GOP legislature the power to restrict abortion rights. We do wonder if the Democratic intensity over abortion will remain in this state, or if the August vote put the issue more on the backburner for November (certainly Republicans are hoping for the latter, given the lopsided margin against their side in the vote a couple of weeks ago).

Nevada is another Toss-up defended by a Democratic incumbent, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D). Back in June, Republicans picked Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo (R) as their standard-bearer, and he was probably the best candidate running. Most of the time, one wouldn’t consider a county-level official to be all that prominent, but in Nevada — which is in some ways a city-state — Las Vegas’s Clark County casts about 2/3rds of the statewide vote. With crime an issue, Sisolak and Lombardo are trying to see whether they can blame the other. The Senate and gubernatorial races likely will run fairly closely to one another — in 2018, Sisolak won by 4 points and now-Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) won by 5 — and as we wrote a couple of weeks ago, we think Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) is the most vulnerable Democratic senator this year. If that’s the case, then it stands to reason that Sisolak is awfully vulnerable too.

We mentioned above that we are moving Oregon’s open-seat race from Leans Democratic to Toss-up. This is despite the state’s blue lean and the fact that Republicans have not won a gubernatorial race there since 1982. However, the state is hosting an unusual 3-way race among a trio of women who are all recent members of the state legislature: former state House Speaker Tina Kotek (D), former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan (R), and former state Sen. Betsy Johnson, an unaffiliated, former Democrat who is more conservative than most of the members of her former party and who has been backed by Nike co-founder Phil Knight. The race sets up an unusual situation where the winner may not need to crack even 40%. Additionally, the 3 candidates all served concurrently in the state legislature, which should provide the campaigns ample opportunities to draw contrasts among the candidates. Outgoing Gov. Kate Brown (D) is deeply unpopular, and there may be some desire for change in the Beaver State. Johnson, the independent, would still be the most surprising winner, and Kotek and Drazan both will be working to try to prevent their voters from flocking to her banner. There’s just enough uncertainty here that we’re looking at the race as a Toss-up now.

We are not quite there yet in another western blue state, but it’s becoming clearer to us that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) is locked in what appears to be a very close contest with 2020 Senate nominee and former TV meteorologist Mark Ronchetti (R)
. Unlike many other Republicans, Ronchetti has tried to show some nuance on the abortion issue, and Lujan Grisham has a number of vulnerabilities, as documented by Axios’s Russell Contreras and Josh Kraushaar, that by themselves aren’t much, but could be harmful to her taken together. We still give Lujan Grisham a small edge, owing to incumbency and the state’s overall lean.

Next door, in Arizona, is another open Toss-up. Republicans have nominated a fringe candidate, former TV newscaster Kari Lake (R), who just won the GOP nomination with a backward-looking campaign over imagined voter fraud in the 2020 election. She faces Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), who had to belatedly apologize last year over an employment discrimination controversy dating back to her time as the state Senate minority leader (a Black woman was fired from her job as a Senate aide and successfully sued over the matter). We ultimately have some questions about how well Hobbs can capitalize on Lake’s problems, making Arizona a pure Toss-up, still.
In other words, while Dems are going to pick up two states in MD and MA, Republicans can win ME, CT, RI, NV, OR, KS, WI, NM, MN, MI, and PA, 11 states which currently have Democratic governors. I expect all of these races to be very close, and frankly Republicans have a better chance in all 11 of these states than Dems do picking up Georgia, Florida or Texas.

We've concentrated on House and especially Senate races so far this year, but Dems absolutely need to get going on the Governor front, and now.

Vote like your country depends on it, because it does.

Bragging...Rights, Or, I Owe Alvin An Apology

It looks like Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg got an across-the-board guilty plea deal with cooperation out of Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, meaning that the now extremely guilty executive will have to testify as a star witness against the Trump Organization itself in just a few months.


Allen H. Weisselberg, for decades one of Donald J. Trump’s most trusted executives, has reached a deal to plead guilty on Thursday and admit to participating in a long-running tax scheme at the former president’s family business — a serious blow to the company that could heighten its risk in an upcoming trial on related charges.

Mr. Weisselberg will have to admit to all 15 felonies that prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office accused him of, according to people with knowledge of the matter. And if he is called as a witness at the company’s trial in October, he will have to testify about his role in the scheme to avoid paying taxes on lavish corporate perks, the people said.

But Mr. Weisselberg will not implicate Mr. Trump or his family if he takes the stand in that trial, the people said, and he has refused to cooperate with prosecutors in their broader investigation into Mr. Trump, who has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Even so, his potential testimony will put the Trump Organization at a disadvantage and is likely to make Mr. Weisselberg a central witness at the October trial, where the company will face many of the same charges.

On cross-examination, the Trump Organization’s lawyers could accuse Mr. Weisselberg of pleading guilty only to spare himself a harsher sentence; under the terms of the plea deal, Mr. Weisselberg, who was facing up to 15 years in prison, will spend as little as 100 days behind bars. They might also argue that it would be unfair to hold the Trump Organization accountable for a crime that was not committed by the Trump family, who control the company.

But Mr. Weisselberg’s testimony — an acknowledgment from one of the Trump Organization’s top executives that he committed the crimes listed in the indictment — would undercut any effort by the company’s lawyers to contend that no crime was committed.

The indictment placed Mr. Weisselberg at the center of a conspiracy that prosecutors said allowed him to avoid paying taxes on leased Mercedes-Benzes, an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and private school tuition for his grandchildren.

Prosecutors have said other employees benefited from a similar arrangement, but no one else has been charged with a crime. Mr. Weisselberg’s testimony could help prosecutors prove their broader claims.

The prosecutors also essentially accused him of conspiring with the Trump Organization, which he will have to acknowledge at his plea hearing on Thursday and at the trial if he is called as a witness.
After pillorying Bragg for essentially sandbagging the Manhattan DA's office investigation into Trump itself, I have to say that I'm shocked that it now looks like Bragg may actually be able to bring charges against the Trump Organization and have the company's CFO admit in trial that there was a conspiracy to commit corporate fraud with the Trump family at the center.
I'm okay with admitting when I was wrong upon receiving new information, and apologizing to Bragg, even though he'll never know who I am. He knew what he was doing after all, and his office has a massive win here that will lead to serious problems for Trump, weeks before the midterms.

Take a bow, Mr. Bragg.

You got a righteous victory here.

The Big Lie, Con't

I will say this until I'm blue in the face, but if Trump election deniers win these secretary of state, attorney general and gubernatorial races races in 2022, they will absolutely wholesale nullify Democratic wins in 2024, full stop.

The Republican nominee for secretary of state in Arizona is a self-proclaimed member of the far-right extremist group the Oath Keepers who repeatedly shared anti-government conspiracies and posts about stockpiling ammunition on social media. 
CNN's KFile team uncovered previously unreported posts from Mark Finchem, an Arizona state representative who won his party's nomination with the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, on several social media websites linked from his since-deleted former Twitter account. 
The posts included a Pinterest account with a "Treason Watch List," and pins of photos of Barack Obama alongside imagery of a man clad in Nazi attire making a Nazi salute; Finchem also shared photos of the Holocaust claiming it could happen in the United States. 
The Oath Keepers, of which Finchem self-identified as a member since 2014, is an anti-government, far-right militia composed of former and active military and law enforcement that purports to defend the US Constitution. The group is perhaps best known for providing security for the January 6, 2021, "Stop the Steal" rally preceding the Capitol riot. Eleven members, including its leader, were charged by the Justice Department with "seditious conspiracy" related to the Capitol attack. 
Finchem, who attended the January 6 rally before the attack on the US Capitol but has denied he participated in the riot and has not been charged with any crimes, campaigned extensively on the false claim the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. If Finchem wins his race against Democrat Adrian Fontes, a former county clerk of Maricopa County, Arizona, Finchem would be tasked with running the state's elections in 2024. In Arizona, the secretary of state is second in line to the governorship. 
Finchem said CNN is not credible and declined to comment.
I still believe that in states where these jackasses already control the government, like Texas, there's a good chance that if a Democrat wins anything but the most gerrymandered races, they'll simply be annulled and awarded to the Republican. Beto O'Rourke, for example, will never be allowed to win, even if he does win. He'll be accused of massive voter fraud, the seat will be awarded to Ted Cruz, and Cruz will smile and nod and lie and gladly take it.


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