RFK goes independent

The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 39

This week: 

  • RFK goes independent
  • Kari Lake to enter Senate race in Ariz.
  • Upon Feinstein’s death, Gavin Newsom chooses a temp replacement

President 2024

RFK goes indy: This is interesting, but perhaps not too surprising: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is dropping out of the Democratic presidential primary to run as an independent. As we have noted here previously, he was always going to be handicapped in the Democratic primary by his history of anti-vaccine activism, something that most left-wing voters have no taste for after COVID, even if many of them had been on the anti-vaxx bandwagon previously.

RFK had also begun to court support in interesting quarters on the Right

Advocates of third-way economics have taken a liking to his promise of government-subsidized 3 percent mortgages for all first-time buyers. Conservatives would traditionally view this (and most do) as a recipe for a housing bubble, likely only to drive home prices up. But the idea has some cross-ideological appeal as a natural populist idea.

Threat to Biden? What does this mean? Probably not much. Democrats remain as unlikely as ever to replace Joe Biden on the ballot, despite a growing left-wing sentiment that he will lose to the likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump. What RFK has done, however, is raise fears among party regulars that his independent candidacy will split the vote on the Left just enough to cost Biden a couple of key states. We can take up this debatable theory as the general election approaches, but for now it is at least a fear motivating some Democrats.

On the other hand, RFK’s exit leaves a clear slot in terms of a semi-serious Democratic opponent to Biden. If someone wants to throw him out, he’s ripe for the plucking. But a failed attempt could end the career of someone like Gavin Newsom (D). From his perspective, why take the risk of jumping in this time, when there’s even the tiniest chance that Biden might get out?

Recall that President Lyndon Johnson dropped out of his primary in March 1968. It is purely speculative, but if Biden did something similar — or if he were to pass away — the later Democratic primaries might end up choosing a nominee just as Democrats scrambled their calendar to privilege states with fewer white Democratic voters. 

Governor 2023

Louisiana: Early voting has already started in the state’s jungle primary. The overwhelming favorites to move on to an almost certain runoff are Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) and the only major Democrat left in the race, former Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson (D). Landry would be the overwhelming favorite in such a runoff.

Senate 2024

Arizona: Former news broadcaster Kari Lake (R) is getting into the Senate race against incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I). She begins as a favorite over Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb (R) in the GOP primary, but as an underdog in every poll so far of the general election. This is noteworthy because Rep. Ruben Gallego (D) is expected to win the Democratic primary, setting up a three-way race in which two of the three candidates are basically Democrats, yet Gallego continues to look like the favorite. 

We have believed ever since 2014 that Arizona would turn blue long before Texas ever would. We may be watching the final stages of that transformation. Still, the underperformance by Lake and other statewide candidates in recent cycles suggests that the state party might just have a candidate problem.

California: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), a former mayor of San Francisco, passed away last week. She had developed a reputation as a liberal abortion rights and gun-control advocate, but by the end of her career, the Democratic Party had moved so far to the left that she was considered a moderate.

Although he had previously promised to appoint a black woman, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) had said three weeks ago that he would not appoint Rep. Barbara Lee (D) if Feinstein’s seat opened up, because he did not want to “tip the balance” of the primary in which she is currently running. 

He was true to his word with his appointment of Laphonza Butler (D) of the pro-abortion campaign group EMILY’s List. Over the weekend, Newsom declined to give in to pressure from the Congressional Black Cacuus, Lee herself, and even from her opponents to appoint her. (Rep. Katie Porter (D) seemed to think at one point that this would help get Lee out of the race for a full term, potentially helping her in the long run.) 

Michigan: Former Detroit police chief James Craig (R) is expected to announce a Senate bid this week. He joins anti-Trump former Rep. Pete Meijer (R) and former House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R), who both hail from other major urban areas in the state (Grand Rapids and Lansing, respectively). Craig is already courting Trump’s endorsement, having written favorably about him very recently in the Daily Caller. Were he to win the nomination and the November 2024 election (assuming nothing else changed), Republicans and Democrats would each have the same number of black U.S. senators (two).

New Jersey: Although New Jersey occasionally elects Republican governors, no Republican has won a U.S. Senate election there since 1972. Still, former Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew has decided that next year will be the year. 

He is running against the indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D) or whatever Democrat defeats Menendez in the primary next year. This puts extra pressure on Democrats to get rid of Menendez. It is an important step for some credible Republican to take because Menendez refused to drop out and voters declined to replace him on the ballot the last time he was indicted for corruption.

That process, which began in 2015, took just over a year and a half, only to end with a hung jury one year before he faced re-election in 2018. The feds subsequently dropped all charges. If the case develops along a similar timeline, Menendez could still face trial by the time the primary arrives on June 4 of next year. 

Already, Rep. Andy Kim (D) is trying to primary Menendez, and others may follow him, including Reps. Frank Pallone (D) and Donald Norcross (D). 

Utah: With the retirement of Sen. Mitt Romney (R) after just one term, third district U.S. Rep. John Curtis (R) has said he is strongly considering a run for his seat. Already, state House Speaker Brad Wilson (R)  is running.