The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 33
- Republicans survive Dems’ Ohio surge
- Kansas governor’s race, another test of Trump’s intraparty authority, headed to recount
- Photo finish likely in Wisconsin GOP Senate primary
President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, will have his first hearing right after Labor Day, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced this week. This finally puts a timeline on the Kavanaugh nomination and confirmation. The decision will be made before the election, but close enough (Republicans hope) to affect the outcome.
Although abortion groups are rallying (with help from Chelsea Clinton in one case) and the more progressive senators are acting like this nomination is the end of the world, Democrats have basically failed to come up with anything substantive with which to oppose Kavanaugh. His personal character seems upright enough. His legal decisions on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals seem sensible, and basically no more controversial (maybe even a bit less so) than those that had posed only a nominal obstacle for Justice Neil Gorsuch.
In short, the good money is on a confirmation in time for the high court’s October term. And in the meantime, several vulnerable Democratic senators will be forced into uncomfortable contortions, required by their base to oppose Kavanaugh, but facing electoral risk if they don’t vote for him.
Nancy Pelosi made clear over the weekend that she doesn’t care if Democratic House
candidates distance themselves from her during the election season — she’ll make the pitch for herself as speaker after it’s all over, and then she wants their support.
It’s a fishy argument that undermines a lot of their efforts to keep away from her, if you think about it. But there’s an important point to be made here. Not all House leaders are so polarizing, not by a longshot. Pelosi has a unique problem with her national unpopularity.
For years — and particularly in the 2010 and 2014 election, Pelosi’s name has been used over and over again by Republicans because it is a focus-group-proven way of driving voters away from the Democratic Party. The exact reason Pelosi provokes such a visceral response from conservative and independent voters is not easy to identify, but the fact is, she really does. And why shouldn’t Democrats do something about that by finding a new party leader who won’t be quite such an electoral drag?
Yet in the final analysis, it’s pretty hard to argue that the person who led your party to a takeover of the U.S. House doesn’t deserve the speakership. That’s why, if Democrats win, then nearly all the Pelosi skeptics in the Democratic Party will quiet down and disappear. On the other hand, if they fail to take over the House, then retirement seems like Pelosi’s most reasonable option, and any attempt to run again for House Democratic leader would surely be folly.
This is by no means a must-win seat for Democrats, nor even a seat where they will be competitive, but their nominee, Steven Foster, got the nomination uncontested despite his having been arrested last fall for one of the more amusing DUI’s you’ll read about this year. He was just convicted this week and awaits sentencing. There’s talk that he may have to be removed from the ballot.
The full video of his ranting at the arresting officers, cursing the county and stumbling through the sobriety test, is available here (audio begins at 10 minutes, 15 seconds).
Yes, Republicans are aware that they should win this suburban district by more than a fraction of a single percentage point. President Trump, after all, carried it by 11 points, after all, and past GOP presidential candidates did much better than that. But at moments like this, when the national political trends are running against you, it’s nice just to win. The margin doesn’t matter. They’re happy to see state Sen. Troy Balderson take the seat and leave behind Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor.
Looking forward to November, Republicans can surely be expected to make up some of that ground when turnout is more robust. In these low-turnout special elections, only the most dedicated voters turn out, and progressive Democrats, hopping mad at everything happening in the Trump administration, are exceedingly eager to get out and vote at all costs. This has distorted the electorate somewhat in this year’s special election contests.
Wow, that was a close one! Gov. Jeff Colyer finished just 110 votes (as of Saturday) behind Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach, who had just received President Trump’s endorsement days before the primary, might have been expected to finish stronger. But based on public polling, backers of the other minor candidates in the race seem to have figured out that Kobach would win the nomination unless they backed anyone but Colyer.
The contest will be decided by provisional ballots, whose number is as yet undetermined. This is a rare case in which the margin among such ballots really will make the difference — unlike the race in Ohio, in which Balderson would have to lose by as much as 50 points among the remaining ballots in order to lose.
There’s an interesting subtext here. Colyer, the NRA-endorsed candidate, is in a virtual tie with Trump’s late endorsee. With Republicans mostly falling in behind Trump and accepting his leadership of the GOP, there haven’t been that many conservative vs. Trumpist contests this season. Here’s one to watch as the counting of provisional ballots and a likely recount looms.
This may seem to be coming out of left field, but this race might actually be competitive, contrary to everyone’s expectations until now.
Gov. Kate Brown, D, came to office to popular acclaim after Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber was forced to resign in 2015 due to serious corruption allegations. But in the time since, Brown has fallen from favor. For one thing, she tarnished her own ethics mantra by raising a vast amount of money from government contractors and racking up a number of questionable office expenses.
This perhaps helps explain why two new polls of the race — admittedly both by Republican firms (Gravis and Clout) — show her even with Republican nominee Knute Buehler or even slightly behind. These are the first and only polls taken since January, when Brown led in a hypothetical matchup by an easy double digits.
Another thing: The Clout poll interestingly found that only 32 percent of Oregonians support Brown’s policy of making Oregon a “sanctuary state” — meaning illegal immigrants who are arrested and held in state and county jails cannot legally be handed over to immigration authorities for deportation upon their release. Buehler strongly opposes sanctuary state status, and 40 percent of Oregonians side with him on the issue, with the remaining 28 percent undecided.
So that very Trump-ish issue could also explain some of Brown’s growing unpopularity in a state that many Republicans have written off as too liberal for the GOP to compete. It actually may not be so.
With the gubernatorial nominations all but sewn up, the Republican fight to take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin is the marquee contest here. State Sen. Leah Vukmir has built up support, coming from far behind to a virtual tie against Marine vet and former Democratic youth leader Kevin Nicholson.
This race was unusual because Vukmir has won most local conservatives’ support, even though Nicholson won the early endorsement of the national Club for Growth. (The Wisconsin Club for Growth, a separate entity, is backing Vukmir.) The group’s early attacks on Vukmir as a RINO generated lots of backlash, especially because it was essentially attacking her for supporting Gov. Scott Walker’s budget — you know, the one for which conservatives have been eagerly taking credit for years now.
One consequence of this has been perhaps the first accusations in the national Club’s history that it endorsed someone with financial motives — a major Nicholson backer gave the group $1.5 million. That may or may not be so, but it’s been a very spirited (some would say very ugly and negative) race, and it’s so close now that the polls basically show a coin-flip.
So give the slight edge to Vukmir, whose steady, grass-roots progress against Nicholson (a very attractive) candidate has turned this race from a coronation into a true barn-burner.