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Morning Digest: Wisconsin’s first Black lieutenant governor hopes to repeat feat with Senate bid

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Barnes joins a crowded primary where one candidate currently enjoys a big fundraising advantage over the rest of the field. Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry outpaced state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski $990,000 to $470,000 during the second quarter of 2021 (Godlewski loaned her campaign an additional $45,000, while Lasry did not do any self-funding this time), and he ended June with a $1 million to $245,000 cash-on-hand lead.

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Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, meanwhile, raised $240,000 and had $405,000 to spend while state Sen. Chris Larson hauled in $50,000 during his first month in the race and had $20,000 in the bank. Nonprofit head Steven Olikara, who set up a campaign account in late May but has not yet entered the race, also took in $60,000 and had $55,000 on-hand.

The biggest question surrounding this race right now, though, is what Johnson will do. The far-right incumbent has been incredibly vocal when it comes to spreading lies about COVID-19 vaccines, global warming, and the Jan. 6 terrorist riot, but he’s keeping everyone guessing about whether or not he’ll be on the ballot next year; Johnson once again said over the weekend that he didn’t even have a timeline to decide.

The senator, though, ramped up his fundraising efforts recently: Johnson hauled in $1.2 million during the second quarter, a big increase from the $520,000 he took in during the previous three months, and he ended last month with $1.7 million on-hand.

Senate

AZ-Sen: Even though termed-out Gov. Doug Ducey ruled out a Senate bid in January and has spent the ensuing months on the receiving end of numerous attacks from Donald Trump, NRSC chair Rick Scott said this week that Republicans still “have a shot” at recruiting him. Ducey himself has not given any obvious indication that he’s even open to reversing his plan not to challenge Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly.

GA-Sen: Read into this what you will: Former Sen. David Perdue met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday and ignored questions from CNN reporter Manu Raju asking if he would run again. Perdue had considered challenging Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock earlier this year, but he took his name out of contention in February.  

MD-Sen: NRSC chair Rick Scott said this week that “there’s a chance” termed-out Gov. Larry Hogan runs against Democratic incumbent Chris Van Hollen, which may come as news to Hogan. The governor told Washingtonian last month that, while he believed he’d decisively beat Van Hollen if he got in, “I just don’t have a desire to be in the Senate.”

PA-Sen: The Keystone State is arguably Team Red’s most vulnerable Senate seat next year, so it came as a surprise that the Republican who raised the most money from donors during the second quarter was someone who looks like a pretty minor figure in GOP politics. Nonetheless, author Kathy Barnette, whom we hadn’t previously mentioned, outpaced Army veteran Sean Parnell $590,000 to $525,000, though Parnell ended June with a $595,000 to $475,000 cash-on-hand lead.

Both Parnell and Barnette unsuccessfully ran for the House last year, but only Parnell attracted much attention. Parnell raised a serious amount for his campaign against Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb in the suburban Pittsburgh-area 17th District and ended up holding the incumbent to a surprisingly close 51-49 win. Barnette, by contrast, took on Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean in the safely blue 4th District, which is based in Montgomery County at the other side of the commonwealth, and predictably lost 60-40.

Barnette, like her idol Donald Trump, refused to accept her defeat, and she declared on election night, “All plans of the enemy will be thwarted.” She later attended the Trump rally that took place just before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, though her team says she didn’t take part in the riots. Barnette launched her new Senate campaign in April, saying, “We’re told Black lives matter, except of course my Black life, because I’m a Black conservative.”

The GOP contender with by far the most money at the end of last month, though, wasn’t either Parnell or Barnette. That honor instead goes to 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Jeff Bartos, who took in $560,000 from donors but self-funded an additional $445,000 and had $1.9 million in the bank. Two other Republicans we’d previously mentioned, attorney Sean Gale and businessman Everett Stern, reinforced their Some Dude statuses by each having less than $10,000 on-hand. Another GOP contender, former Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands, announced her bid earlier this month after the new quarter began.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman outraised Montgomery County Commission Chair Val Arkoosh $2.5 million to $1 million during her opening quarter, and he enjoyed a huge $3.1 million to $630,000 cash-on-hand lead. State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta was further behind with $500,000 raised and $280,000 in the bank, while Pennsylvania Hospital Chief of Emergency Services Kevin Baumlin brought in $380,000 and had $125,000 to spend. State Sen. Sharif Street, who is still in exploratory mode, took in just $245,000 and had $190,000 on-hand.

Finally there’s Lamb, whom many Democrats are convinced will run for the Senate but has not yet revealed his 2022 plans. Lamb hauled in $980,000 for his House campaign and had $1.8 million in the bank that he can use to campaign for either chamber.

Gubernatorial

IL-Gov: On Monday, Republican Rep. Rodney Davis responded to Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s announcement that he’d seek reelection by publicly expressing interest in taking him on. Davis made the dubious prediction that any Republican would beat the incumbent and added that “if I choose to make a race, I don’t get in it to lose.”

Democrats will once again be in charge of redistricting in Illinois, which will lose a House seat under the new map, and Davis may prefer to take his chances statewide rather than run in a transformed district.

House

AZ-01: Navy SEAL veteran Eli Crane announced Tuesday that he’d seek the Republican nomination to face Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran in what is currently a competitive seat in northern Arizona.

Crane, whose idea for making bottle openers out of .50-caliber shells was well-received on a 2014 episode of the “Shark Tank,” joins state Rep. Walt Blackman in the primary, but Crane’s fellow military veteran won’t start out with much of a financial edge. Blackman raised just over $105,000 during the second quarter of 2021, and he ended June with $80,000 in the bank. O’Halleran, for his part, took in $365,000 and had $615,000 on-hand.

FL-13: Former lobbyist Amanda Makki confirmed Tuesday that she would once again campaign for the Republican nomination for this St. Petersburg-based seat, which Democratic incumbent Charlie Crist is giving up to run for governor again. Makki will face a primary rematch against Anna Paulina Luna, who defeated her 36-28 last year before losing to Crist, and their second bout has already gotten incredibly ugly.

Last month, Luna obtained a restraining order against another opponent named William Braddock, claiming that Braddock and two other potential rivals, Matt Tito and Makki, were conspiring to murder her to prevent her from winning next year’s election. Politico obtained a recording a short time later of Braddock threatening to kill Luna, and he exited the race soon after. Both Makki and Tito, though, have angrily denied any involvement, and no publicly available evidence has linked either of them to Braddock.

GA-06: Former State Ethics Commission Chair Jake Evans earned a GOP primary endorsement this week from Newt Gingrich, who represented much of this turf when he was speaker of the House.

GA-10: Retired Air Force Col. Alan Sims announced this week that he was joining the crowded Republican primary for this safely red open seat in the east-central part of the state. Meanwhile another contender, businessman Mike Collins, received an endorsement from former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich and Collins’ late father, former Rep. Mac Collins, served together in the state’s congressional delegation until the speaker’s 1998 resignation, and Gingrich supported the younger Collins’ failed 2014 run.

NH-01: Former White House staffer Karoline Leavitt announced Monday that she would seek the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas. Leavitt, who is 23 but will turn 25 in time for Election Day, is a former employee at WMUR, so she naturally kicked off her bid by attacking what she called the “biased fake news media.” The current version of this seat backed Joe Biden 52-46, but the GOP-dominated state government has the power to make it far more hostile for Pappas.

OH-11: The National Journal reports that Democratic Action PAC, a group that was formed last year to aid former state Sen. Nina Turner, is spending at least $200,000 on a commercial defending Turner and attacking Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown ahead of the Aug. 3 Democratic primary.

The narrator, without repeating the attacks against Turner, declares that she’s being smeared by “Brown and her special interest groups.” The ad continues by saying Turner’s foes “are straight up attacking a Black woman who has only ever help working people,” (Brown is also Black) and reminds the audience that the ex-state senator has the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s endorsement. The narrator concludes, “Shontel Brown: Girrrlll, you need to stop. And we need to vote for Nina Turner.”

The Huffington Post also reports that another pro-Turner group, the Working Families Party, is spending $150,000 on get-out-the-vote efforts.

TX-24: Texas state Rep. Michelle Beckley, who is in Washington, D.C. with most of her fellow Democratic members in order to stop the GOP legislature from passing a new voter suppression bill, announced Tuesday that she’d challenge Republican Rep. Beth Van Duyne next year.

Beckley won her seat in 2018 by narrowly unseating a GOP incumbent in a rapidly changing district that began the decade as safely red turf, and she held it last year after another close contest. Republicans, though, still kept their majority in the lower chamber despite a serious Democratic attempt to take control, and they’ve attempted to use their power to pass new voting restriction legislation.

Democratic members managed to thwart Team Red’s plan in June by leaving the session and denying the state House the two-thirds quorum it needed to conduct business. Republicans soon announced they’d hold a special legislative session, which Beckley and most other Democratic members decided to boycott. This time, though, they fled the state in order to avoid being arrested and forcibly returned to the state capitol by Texas law enforcement.

Beckley filmed her congressional announcement video from her hotel room in D.C., where the caucus has been meeting with their national counterparts and raising further awareness of their plight. The state representative went after Van Duyne for objecting to Joe Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania, saying, “Beth Van Duyne can walk away from her duty to defend democracy, but not me.” She concluded by referencing the most famous Texas Democrat in modern times, declaring, “LBJ said, ‘we do not choose to be the guardians of the gate, but there is no one else but us. Join me.”

The current version of Van Duyne’s 24th Congressional District, which is located in the northern Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs, swung from 51-44 Trump to 52-46 Biden, but GOP mapmakers will have the chance to pass a new gerrymander to protect her for 2022. The only other notable Democratic candidate so far is Marine veteran Derrik Gay, who launched his campaign earlier this month.

Mayoral

Albuquerque, NM Mayor: A Monday administration hearing upheld the city clerk’s decision to deny Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales about $660,000 in public funds, and Gonzales quickly announced that he’d challenge his rejection in state court. The sheriff is running against Mayor Tim Keller, a fellow Democrat, from the right in the November nonpartisan contest.

Clerk Ethan Watson said earlier this month that he was denying Gonzales public money because of two ethics investigations concerning his campaign submitted by Keller’s camp. One included testimony from a voter who claimed that the sheriff’s team told him that he didn’t need to actually provide the $5 donation that would help Gonzales qualify for the program, and that the campaign would instead pay it. The other complaint alleged that about 150 voter signatures for contributions to Gonzales’ did not actually match those people’s signatures, an effort Keller’s camp said involved two senior Gonzales staffers.

Gonzales’ team, as the Albuquerque Journal‘s Jessica Dyer writes, has “confirmed that it turned in forged documentation,” but insisted Monday that “forgeries are typical in campaigns and that the sheriff was not responsible for them.” Administrative officer Ripley Harwood, though, was unswayed by the challenger’s arguments, saying, “I reject the corollary notion that some level of fraud and falsification is tolerable or OK.” Harwood added, “In my view, the Clerk has the right and the duty to deny participating candidate certification whenever fraud or falsification is discovered, without the need to first quantify it.”

Other Races

Nassau County, NY District Attorney: On Monday, the Nassau County GOP chose prosecutor Anne Donnelly as the party’s nominee in this November’s special election. Donnelly will go up against state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (a nephew of none other than the legendary comedian Mel Brooks), who is campaigning to hold this post for Team Blue.


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Gaetz and Greene’s joint fundraising efforts are hemorrhaging money

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Not well, it turns out! The Daily Beast now reports that the Put America First tour has been hemorrhaging money, with less than $60,000 in reported contributions raised for events that cost almost $290,000 to put on. Team Creepy has, in other words, lost something approaching a quarter million dollars on this tour. And that’s even though Team Creepy was, in the months immediately after the Republican attack on the Capitol building, raking in cash as two of the most prolific Republican fundraisers in the House.

This is not necessarily dire news for the Republican pervert-plus-insurrection duo. A major goal of the Gaetz-Greene appearances is probably just as proof that they can still make such appearances without being booed off the stage; while both have been distanced by House Republican colleagues who really, really do not want to appear in new photographs next to someone who might at any moment be led away in handcuffs for raping a minor or who might pipe up yet again with rhetoric comparing vaccinations to the Holocaust, they are teaming up to prove that among the nastiest element of the Republican base, they both remain welcome.

It’s a dare, of sorts, to their colleagues: cut us loose if you want, but know that among a good chunk of the Republican base, we are the heroes they want to follow, not you.

Unfortunately for Greene and Gaetz, the sort of Republicans who like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene do not seem to be the sort of Republicans who have a lot of disposable income. The Daily Beast reports that the Put America First committee has only received four donations that topped $500 … ever.

There are other signs that members of the pro-Trump, pro-insurrection, pro-sex-crime Republican base are feeling a bit more sluggish in their support than they were earlier in the year. Ticket sales for an announced tour pairing Donald Trump with fired Fox News sex pest Bill O’Reilly have so far been slow, either indicating that support for Trump is petering out a bit, at least when “supporting Trump” requires paying Ticketmaster money, or that Everybody Hates Bill O’Reilly to such an extent that not even Trump supporters are willing to pay to see Trump if Bill O’Reilly is his scabby warmup act.

Similarly, a new “Freedom Phone” being marketed to paranoid Trump conservatives as being the ultimate answer to your super-secret communications needs is being blasted to hell and back for being a seemingly obvious scam—a cut-rate Chinese-made phone with software that may or may not be secure to begin with.

That somebody’s trying to scam conservatives for a quick buck, mind you, is not news. That it might not be working? That’s unheard of.

It’s too early to say what any of this means for the future. Events can and almost certainly will overtake whatever short-term trends Gaetz and Greene are swimming through at the moment. Matt Gaetz, for example, could be arrested for sex crimes. That might sharply reduce donations to his campaign—or, because Republicanism, might double them. Marjorie Taylor Greene might find new fame with a campaign comparing Tide Pods to the Holocaust; she might also stick a fork into an electrical outlet because she thought she saw a communist inside it. It’s anybody’s guess.

For the moment, though, we know that Greene and Gaetz have now bled something quickly approaching a quarter million dollars on a national redemption tour that nobody asked for and that will itself not likely survive whatever new scandals the pair jumps into next. So that’s something.


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Republicans are discovering that they’ve done too good a job in separating their base from reality

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Most “slippery slope” arguments are just another example of right-wing mushroom farming used to push back against even the most modest proposals. As in Rep. Madison Cawthorn suggesting that asking volunteers to go door-to-door offering COVID-19 vaccine is the first step into “constructing a mechanism” that will reach into every home in America to “take your Bibles.”

But what Republicans built in their anti-reason agenda wasn’t so much a slope as the pathway to the top of a cliff. All along the tattered rightward edge of what was the “alt right” just a period of months ago, people from high school drop-out bar owners to college drop-out real estate scammers have discovered that all they had to do to pocket millions from a party already tumbling through the void was to do exactly what Vladimir Putin had taught them: Get on social media and confirm every racist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual position that had been minted from the Know Nothings to date.

Why hasn’t Q spoken in months? Why should he? Who would even notice in a party where a senator is waging a daily battle to charge a doctor with a felony for trying to protect the country?

The weaponization of social media against the Republican base has been amazing, and absolutely predictable. What Russia did in 2016 was nothing more than putting a modest military budget behind a digital crowbar that could open the nation along lines of weakness. It knew where to find those lines because Republicans drew big circles around them every election cycle. Russia didn’t create a million bots to spread a ridiculous message that the system was unfair to white people and overly generous to Black people by coincidence. They just took the script Republicans had been selling for years. Once you can believe six impossible things before breakfast, there really is no limit.

Of course, none of this means that the Republican Party is doomed to fade away. Republicans have made a blatant and so far successful effort to cripple the election system in America. They’ve demonstrated that they can turn out record numbers in support of an agenda that left a million people dead. And they’ve turned mumble-mumble racism into an overt, out-and-proud bigotry that has touched the hearts of millions of America’s most downtrodden: middle class white people.

So what have they got to worry about?

Well … in the last week, Republicans have noticed that the up = down machine has put them in a position where 90% of the people dying from COVID-19 are their people. That’s because 90% of Democrats are already vaccinated and 99.5% of those dying are unvaccinated. Who are those unvaccinated? Oh, right, the Republican base that’s been taught scientists, doctors, and experts can’t be trusted. 

Over the course of that week, Republicans who still think of themselves as party leaders have begun to get louder about suggesting to their followers that maybe, just maybe, taking five minutes out of their day to not die would be a good thing. And this is the kind of response they’re getting.

You know what they say: How are you going to get them back in the land of boring old reason once they’ve seen all the glittery lights and spectacular claims of Bigfoot driving UFOs land?

But it’s worse than that. For Republicans who ever actually cared about the traditional Republican agenda, eh. That’s all gone. For those who care about nothing but their own personal power, they’re out of luck as well. Just ask former Rep. Scott Tipton. Tipton was a conservative Republican who checked all the boxes. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He frequently angered environmental groups with a push to privatize public lands. He was solidly against reproductive rights as well as gay marriage, supported by wads of cash from the oil and gas industry, and he easily won election for 10 years. Then Tipton was knocked out of his primary by a woman who claimed to have inside knowledge about Hillary Clinton’s upcoming arrest as well as secret documents that would reveal the QAnon truth about the pizza-ordering  cannibals in Congress.

Marjorie Taylor Greene didn’t step into a seat that was formerly held by a Democrat. She ousted Rep. Tom Graves, who had one of the most conservative ratings in the House. Cawthorn took over Mark Meadows’ former seat in a district freshly gerrymandered to make it super Republican safe, but in doing so Cawthorn actually defeated well-funded conservative businesswoman Lynda Bennett, who was the choice of not just Republicans in the state party but also endorsed by Donald Trump. It’s easy to say that Cawthorn won in spite of posting an Instagram photo celebrating his visit to Adolf Hitler’s vacation residence while explaining that a visit to see “the Führer’s” home was on “my bucket list.” But a more truthful framing would be that Cawthorn won because of his unabashed adoption of white supremacist positions.

What most Republicans in leadership positions today are just beginning to discover is that they are the alt-right. The white nationalist agenda that was cautiously courted along the fringe a decade ago is now the mainstream. If there is still a pro-business agenda, it exists only so much as it locks in racism. If there’s still a social conservative agenda, it survives only as a means of tacking a halo onto actions of hate. And the media outlets that Republicans were counting on to keep the base in line have discovered that it’s even more lucrative to feed them to the volcano god who pays Tucker Carlson’s bills.

The new Republican Party demands that America explicitly cover up slavery, Jim Crow, and every expression of racism. Why teach kids about the Civil Rights era when obviously Black people have always had the edge over poor, struggling, mistreated whites? In the last few years, Republicans have already tried to revive the idea that Joseph McCarthy was a hero. Don’t worry—they’re also holding pedestals open for George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. 

Republicans have thought they might cut the bleeding off with a Justin Amash here and a Jeff Flake there. But those who see just signing onto “yes, Donald” as a solution to their electoral ills are missing the big picture. If there was anyone who still cared about “traditional conservative values,” they can forget it. And if all they care about is their personal power, they won’t have that either. 

There’s always another Boebert in the weeds.


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Republicans continue dragging out infrastructure talks, while calling Democrats ‘unreasonable’

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Transit. It’s only an essential, core part of what we like to call “transportation.” Portman says Democrats are “not being reasonable.” Apparently that’s because Democrats want to adhere to existing law under it that says the federal gas tax-funded Highway Trust Fund has to be split 80% for highways and 20% for transit. Republicans want to renege on that, arguing that transit systems already got COVID-19 funding (to make up for lost revenue from the pandemic) and shouldn’t get more from this bill.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, chair of the Banking Committee which has jurisdiction over transit, is frustrated. “The Republicans don’t have great interest in public transit,” he said. “Their proposals are far too inadequate.” He added that “there’s been a tradition of fairly good public transit funding, but it doesn’t seem to be on the table from them yet.” Brown continued “I just want to get to an agreement where they take seriously public transit funding, and they haven’t yet.” Sen. Jon Tester—a member of that bipartisan gang—was more succinct. “Republicans hate transit, Democrats like transit.[…] It’s that simple.”

It’s not entirely that simple, though, because what this is is another manufactured excuse from Republicans to keep on dragging this thing out. They are also arguing about “broadband, Davis-Bacon requirements, and rescinding unspent COVID funds” according to an aide. So, pretty much all of it? Even if there is a weekend miracle and the gang produces something on Monday, there’s no guarantee at all that there will be 10 Republicans interested in voting even to start talking about it next week. If they were that close, they would have agreed to starting the process on Wednesday.

The Democrats in charge of making Biden’s plan happen in the Senate are prepared for the contingency of having to fold this “hard” infrastructure piece into the larger budget reconciliation bill that can pass with just Democratic votes, the part of the Biden plan that would transform the lives of millions, in a really good way. They’ll vote for this bipartisan thing if it ever happens, though most who aren’t in the gang will do so grudgingly because the damned thing has to get done so they can have the good stuff.

That good stuff, chief economist Mark Zandi at Moody’s reports “will strengthen long-term economic growth, the benefits of which would mostly accrue to lower- and middle-income Americans.” The report also concludes that concerns about inflation that Republicans have been shouting about are “likely misplaced” and “overdone.”

“It is a unique opportunity,” Zandi told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “The economic environment is ripe for game-changing policies that address long-running, pernicious problems that only government can address, because the scale of the problems is so large.” His report says that the failure to pass the  bills—the entire $4.1 trillion package either as two bills or combined into one—”would certainly diminish the economy’s prospects.”

“The nation has long underinvested in both physical and human infrastructure and has been slow to respond to the threat posed by climate change, with mounting economic consequences,” the report says. “Greater investments in public infrastruc­ture and social programs will lift productivity and labor force growth, and the attention on climate change will help forestall its increas­ingly corrosive economic effects.”

That’s critical analysis for the Democrats to keep front and center in this last push to get the job done, to make the bills as expansive as possible (yes, climate change policies, yes expanding health care, yes fixing the safety net, yes education).


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