Trump’s late backing boosts JD Vance

JD Vance
JD Vance, co-founder of Narya Capital Management LLC and U.S. Republican Senate candidate for Ohio, during a campaign event in Huber Heights, Ohio, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. Vance says his Silicon Valley experience makes him ideal to take on big technology companies, a favorite target of Republicans, but hell have to brush off attacks from rivals who question his sincerity on tech issues. Photographer: Gaelen Morse/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 17

  • Nikki Haley is backing Palin’s political comeback
  • Republicans win last major last round of redistricting in Florida
  • Hassan struggling against no-name Republicans

House 2022

Alaska-AL: Former Gov. Sarah Palin is back, and this time she has a narrow lead in a crowded race for U.S. House. 

The death of Rep. Don Young means that there will be a special election held at the August primary, followed by a four-way general election between the top four vote-getters in the primary itself. The state GOP’s preferred candidate is Nick Begich, the Republican offspring of a Democratic political family dynasty that includes his late grandfather Democratic Rep. Nick Begich, and his uncle, former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. 

Among those stepping up to help Palin is former South Carolina Gov. and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has a favor to return after she received Palin’s backing in the contested 2010 primary for governor of South Carolina. At that time, Haley was not the political juggernaut that she later became as a two-term governor and member of the Trump administration. Her support of Palin could have an effect later on the presidential bid she is obviously intending to launch after the midterm. 

Florida-redistricting: At the tail-end of the redistricting process, there is a bit of extra good news about Republicans’ chances to retake the U.S. House. 

The Florida legislature’s adoption of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ preferred congressional map is a huge leap forward for Republicans after a redistricting season that has tilted slightly against them. Assuming the map stands long enough to go into force for the 2022 races, Democrats stand to lose three friendly seats in Florida and Republicans stand to gain four. 

Even better, this map is not an aggressive, grotesque gerrymander of the sort that will be easy to challenge in court. Nor does it look like an obvious “dummy-mander” that will hand an advantage to Democrats mid-decade.

Although it will surely be litigated, the new map is easily both geometrically and geographically defensible. Unlike absurdly partisan Democratic attempts to gerrymander Maryland and New York (struck down by courts) and Illinois (still in force), the districts are extremely compact. The map looks sensible on its face, following geographic and political boundaries in nearly all cases. 

DeSantis believes (with good reason) that it will survive scrutiny both at the state level (in front of the new conservative-majority state Supreme Court) and at the federal level (before the current, more conservative U.S. Supreme Court) in terms of how it handles the issue of racial gerrymandering. DeSantis believes that his map is most faithful to the Supreme Court’s recent decisions on this matter. 

There is a caveat: the Supreme Court’s overall position on the question of racial gerrymandering is essentially incoherent and has been for decades. Racial gerrymandering, under the reigning interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, is both forbidden and required. 

The good news is that a more conservative court may now have the opportunity to set forth a less impossible standard that is neither self-contradictory nor incomprehensible. 

Governor 2022

Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp is already on path to win renomination next month in spite of former President Trump endorsing David Perdue against him. Kemp also just received the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, although this may not be as significant as the media is trying to make it. The NRA has a policy of backing incumbents who support its issue, full stop, including even Democrats, so it is not going out on a limb to oppose Trump.

Nevada: The Republican nomination contest has shaped up as a battle between Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, and former Sen. Dean Heller. 

Lombardo is an out-and-out moderate who supports gun control. Lee is a former Democrat who switched parties last year due to what he decried at the time as the “socialist takeover of the Nevada Democratic Party.” It should be noted that this is not just some kind of hyperbolic conservative rhetoric either — the state Democratic committee actually was taken over by socialist acolytes of Bernie Sanders last year, a traumatic event that may have serious electoral consequences for the party’s ability to get out the vote in November.

Heller is the best-known quantity statewide, as a former U.S. senator who formerly represented the northern portion of the state in the U.S. House. But don’t forget, he is staging a comeback after losing his seat in 2016.

Contrary to Lombardo’s contention, it already appears likely that any of these three Republicans would defeat incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak, D, who polls as far down as the 30s. Although Republicans have struggled in Nevada since they won a massive low-turnout victory in 2014, their margins improved throughout the Trump era. They have a serious opportunity in 2022 to rebuild. 

Senate 2022

Arizona: President Trump has not yet endorsed in this race, but last week he pointedly dis-endorsed Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who refused to embrace Trump’s assertions that he won Arizona but for a stolen election. 

Brnovich, who would arguably be the strongest general election candidate, clings to a lead in the latest polls. But it isn’t an impressive lead, and it’s a very long way to the Aug. 2 primary. If and when Trump decides to intervene, his endorsement won’t have to be incredibly effective to be decisive.

Missouri: The Kansas City Star’s extremely vicious hit piece against Rep. Vicki Hartzler’s religious faith — it incredibly tries to tie her to the Salem Witch Trials of the late 17th Century — will counterintuitively stand her in good stead and she seeks to take a lead in the crowded Republican primary in the home stretch. If you’re a conservative Republican capable of hodling it together in public, as she is, then liberal media attacks on your religion are generally good for business.

Currently, Hartzler is vying against Attorney General Eric Schmitt and disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, with Rep. Billy Long in a distant third. There is no evidence yet that Long has been helped significantly by former President Trump’s kind words (in which he stopped short of endorsing Long). Greitens, meanwhile, is the only one who would have a serious chance of losing this otherwise-safe open seat. 

Democrats are supposed to keep this one a race by nominating last-minute entrant, beer heiress, and potential self-funder Trudy Busch Valentine, but she has to defeat former state Sen. Lucas Kunce first.

New Hampshire: At this early stage, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D, already trails state Senate President Chuck Morse and is just one point ahead of two other third-string Republican candidates. It had been a concern that neither Gov. Chris Sununu nor former Sen. Kelly Ayotte were willing to run this year, but it might not be necessary for Republicans to field the A-team in 2022, given how hard the wind is blowing at their backs.  

Ohio: It’s been quite a roller coaster ride for J.D. Vance, whose campaign seemed to be in its death throes after an early surge. Now, a last-minute (or rather last-month) endorsement from former President Trump has him on the cusp of victory. The polling leader, former State Treasurer Josh Mandel, held only the slimmest lead before the endorsement. Mike Gibbons, who at one point had taken the lead and seemed to be competing for Trump’s endorsement, appears to have fallen behind. 

The anti-Trump candidate, state Sen. Matt Dolan, has not managed to pull himself out of single-digits. This is not a huge surprise, as Ohio is a state where Trump is far more popular than the pre-Trump Republican Party. His presidency arguably built up the state GOP and restored its dominance to levels it had not seen in decades.

Trump’s endorsement will therefore probably carry a great deal of weight for Vance, who must therefore be considered the favorite in the May 3 primary.  

Utah: Democrats will not even run a candidate for Senate this time — instead their party will back Evan McMullin in his independent bid against Sen. Mike Lee

It’s just as well for them. Even given Trump’s relative unpopularity in the state, Hillary Clinton was unable to crack 30% and Joe Biden failed to crack 40%, generally because Utahns generally don’t trust Democrats. 

As for McMullin’s chances, he probably doesn’t have any. Trump actually improved his margins in Utah in 2020 over 2016, and he won nearly 60% of the vote. But Lee cannot take victory for granted, nor should he.