The Downballot: Big, big May primary preview (transcript)

The Downballot: Big, big May primary preview (transcript)

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The 2022 election cycle really gets going next month with primaries in more than a dozen states, so we invited Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer to join us on this week’s episode of The Downballot to run us through all the key contests. We analyze some sloppy GOP food fights in Senate races in Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; a pair of primaries in Oregon and Texas where progressive challengers are seeking to oust irritating Democratic moderates; and the first incumbent-vs.-incumbent matchup of the year, thanks to West Virginia losing a House seat.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also shake their heads in disbelief at a bizarre ruling by New York’s top court striking down the state’s new maps; explain why Utah Democrats chose not to endorse a candidate for Senate at their convention last week; discuss the Michigan GOP’s decision to back Trump-endorsed Big Lie proponents for state attorney general and secretary of state, and breathe a sigh of relief over the results of the French presidential runoff.

David Beard:

Hello, and welcome. I’m David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir:

I’m David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. The Downballot is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. We have a big favor to ask you. If you would please rate us on Apple Podcasts and subscribe to us there, that would really help boost our audience. Apple Podcasts is like The New York Times Best Seller List of the podcast world. You can do that very easily. Just go to dailykos.com/thedownballot, click on the Apple Podcasts link, and you’re good to go.

David Beard:

We’ve got a jam-packed episode today. What are we covering, Nir?

David Nir:

We sure do. We are going to be talking about a very bizarre ruling from New York’s top court striking down the state’s congressional and state Senate map. We’re also going to be discussing an unusual decision by the Utah Democrats to not nominate a candidate for U.S. Senate. There was also a GOP convention in Michigan this past weekend, where Republicans nominated two Big Lie extremists for the important post of state attorney general and secretary of state. As well, we are going to catch up on the long-awaited results of the French presidential election. In addition, we have as our guest this week Daily Kos Elections Editor Jeff Singer. Singer is going to walk us through the top primaries that will be taking place, both for Democrats and Republicans, in the month of May. We have more than a dozen states with elections on top, tons of interesting, nasty, messy, and even funny contests, so stick with us as we run them all down with Jeff Singer.

David Beard:

This week, we’re starting with late-breaking news in New York, where the state’s highest court recently brought down a ruling on the state’s congressional and state Senate map. What happened there, Nir?

David Nir:

This is a huge surprise and really a strange ruling in so many ways. New York’s top court is called the Court of Appeals. It’s not the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, bizarrely, is actually New York’s lowest-level court. The Court of Appeals struck down both the new map for the U.S. House and for the state Senate by saying that state legislators simply lacked the power to pass these maps in the first place. The way they got there was by saying that an amendment to the state constitution that voters approved in 2014 created a body that’s called the Independent Redistricting Commission. It’s not independent at all. Its members are mostly appointed by politicians in the legislature. It’s still called the IRC.

David Nir:

The IRC failed to produce new maps. The constitution says that new maps have to come from the IRC and those maps have to be passed on a bipartisan basis. This panel was at a total impasse. It could not agree on any maps, so that meant New York had no maps. The legislature said, “Well, okay. There are no maps. New York has to have new maps and so we are going to pass new maps,” and so they did. Those maps unquestionably favored Democrats, but this was the process that lawmakers believe was left to them.

David Nir:

Well, the Court of Appeals said, “No. Just because the IRC failed to come up with maps, that doesn’t mean that you get to draw the maps instead.” This part of the decision was really, really strange, because at no point did a majority explain what the legislature should have done differently. In a very vague footnote, they say that the courses of action that lawmakers could have resorted to include, quote, “political pressure,” and quote, “more meaningful attempts at compromise on the IRC.”

David Nir:

It’s not at all clear to me how on earth lawmakers are supposed to force an evenly-divided partisan body, like the Independent Redistricting Commission, to quote, “make more meaningful attempts at compromise,” but that seems to have been the only recourse that was left to them. A dissenter said that was really nonsense and said that this view would leave the legislature hostage to the IRC. That’s essentially what the court seems to be okay with. The majority, this was a 4-3 opinion. It was really bitterly divided. There was a lot of nasty sniping between the majority and the dissenters in the footnotes.

David Nir:

The majority also did something really strange, which it said, “Okay, the maps for the state Senate and for Congress, they are void from the get-go. They have absolutely no validity whatsoever. Oh, and this map that has no legal authority whatsoever, we’re also going to say that it is a partisan gerrymander that violates the state constitution.” There was no need to do this. When courts do this kind of thing, it’s called issuing an advisory opinion. Courts aren’t supposed to issue advisory opinions. They’re only supposed to litigate actual controversies.

David Nir:

This pissed off yet another dissenter, who called it inappropriate that the court would do this. A third dissenter ripped that analysis to shreds and said that the majority, in fact, was wrong on this score, too, that the map was an illegal gerrymander. The fact is, four judges on the Court of Appeals said that these maps should be tossed out. Their remedy is to have a trial court, working with an independent special master, come up with new maps for Congress and for the state Senate.

David Nir:

They didn’t put a timetable on it. All they said was that the maps should be passed with, quote, “all due haste.” It really throws New York’s politics into turmoil, though, because the filing deadline passed several weeks ago. In New York, filing is not just a mere formality. You don’t just tick a box on a piece of paper and mail it in. You actually have to collect thousands of signatures in order to get on the ballot. All of these candidates for the U.S. House and for state Senate, they’re going to have to start this process all over again. They can’t do it right now, because there are no district lines. They don’t know which voters would actually be eligible to sign their petitions. You can’t just get it from any random person in the state. You have to get it from within the district that you’re seeking to run in. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming. The only thing these candidates do is cool their heels.

David Nir:

This is a really bizarre outcome and Democrats obviously are extremely unhappy about this. No one has any idea what the next set of maps will look like, but those also will be subject to appeal. It’s certain that New York’s primary will be delayed. The Court of Appeals said it probably has to take place in August, but there’s a whole other round of litigation that’s going to have to be resolved over the maps drawn up by this special master. Right now, New York’s maps are a total black hole and there is just no predicting what’s going to come out the other side.

David Beard:

Yeah. To take it from a New York-focused point of a view to a national point of view just for a minute, the end result will probably be less gerrymandered maps for the State of New York, which in a vacuum, one could think, “Oh, well, that’s a good thing. Gerrymandered maps are bad,” but when you look at it from a national perspective, what you see is that, in New York, a gerrymandered map to favor Democrats was struck down by a Democratic court, but in Ohio, Republican gerrymandered maps were struck down once by a Republican court. They allowed the Ohio legislature to go back and draw another gerrymandered map and now those maps are being litigated. The expectation is that the primary will go ahead and the general will go ahead with these current gerrymandered maps. The Republican Legislature was allowed to do a second round of gerrymandering and just pass it through, at least through 2022.

David Beard:

Even worse, in Florida, where they just passed a significantly gerrymandered Republican map, the broad expectation is that the Florida Supreme Court is going to simply wave it through, despite very clear restrictions against gerrymandering in Florida law that was passed by Florida voters. The expectation is, because it’s a Republican court that has a lot of DeSantis appointments, that they’re just going to wave it through. Maybe they won’t. I very much hope that the Republican Supreme Court in Florida will strike down the DeSantis gerrymander and will force fair maps. I don’t have very high expectations on that. What you see nationally is Democrats in New York being forced to move into a fair map, while similar big key states on the Republican side are being allowed to slide through, despite laws that were passed, despite judgments from the Ohio Supreme Court, and have gerrymandered Republican maps go through that skews the entire House nationwide. It’s just an extremely frustrating result.

David Beard:

Now that we got through that, I’m going to talk a little bit about Utah, which is very different, and the Utah Senate race. Delegates to Utah’s State Democratic Convention voted on Saturday not to run a candidate, which is pretty unusual. That’s not something you would expect a state Democratic convention to do very often. What they decided to do instead is back conservative Independent Evan McMullin’s campaign. What you’ll have as a result is Republican Senator incumbent Mike Lee riding on the Republican ticket and you’ll have Independent Evan McMullin. You’ll have no Democratic candidate, but you’ll have it at least publicly known that the Democratic Party is backing McMullin’s independent run.

David Beard:

Now, this is of course in Utah, which is an extremely red state. The idea is obviously that there was basically next to no chance for any Democrat to have any chance of unseating Mike Lee, but McMullin, if he can pull some moderate Republicans and conservative Independents who would otherwise never consider voting for a Democrat, he might be able to put together a coalition that would allow him to win and defeat Lee. Lee, of course, is extremely conservative. He was anti-Trump, like so many were in the beginning, pre-2016, but has now become a very, very tight ally to Trump. He’s somebody who’s extremely conservative and probably a little bit to the right of the State of Utah, which is much more of a Romney-esque Republican state, but still very hard to beat a Republican incumbent senator in a red state.

David Beard:

Utah Democrats are taking the very narrow path to try to get through with McMullin, so that at least you’ll have somebody a little bit more to the center, a little bit more pro-democracy, if not a Democrat, somebody who doesn’t like Mitch McConnell, who has promised not to vote for Mitch McConnell for majority leader. Now, who that means he would vote for if he theoretically won is not clear. Would he vote for a different Republican? Would he vote for a Democrat? Would he vote for himself?

David Beard:

On the off chance he wins and we end up with some sort 50-49 Senate plus McMullin, it’ll be a really interesting scenario to investigate. Again, that’s not super likely. McMullin ran for president in 2016 as an Independent, largely didn’t do very well, except in Utah, where he got over 20% of the vote. In fact, Clinton and McMullin combined in 2016, got 49% of the vote, which was more than Trump’s 45% of the vote. There is at least a theoretical path there for McMullin, if you could combine his 2016 coalition of McMullin voters and Clinton voters to get to something like 49% that he would need to win the election.

David Beard:

Of course, in 2020, the more recent election, Trump got 58% of the vote, as a lot of those McMullin voters, when they didn’t have somebody like McMullin to vote for, went home to Trump. You’re going to have to pull a lot of those voters back. It’s still a tough thing to accomplish, so we’ll see how well McMullin is able to ride this very narrow path. It’s very easy I think to imagine McMullin giving Lee a real scare, maybe even forcing Lee to spend some real money that he wouldn’t have otherwise needed to spend, but it’s still pretty hard to imagine him winning, but it’s certainly something worth keeping an eye on as we move closer to November.

David Nir:

Michigan Republicans also held a convention over the weekend. This was a convention to choose their nominees for state attorney general and secretary of state. In both cases, two Trump-endorsed candidates who are Big Lie proponents defeated more traditional choices that were backed by the establishment. The GOP went with Matthew DePerno in the race against Attorney General Dana Nessel and Kristina Karamo in the race against Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Both Nessel and Benson won close races in 2018. In their roles as the top elections official in the state and the top law enforcement official in the state, they have played an important role in making sure that elections are run safely and soundly, whereas the candidates preferred by Trump, who just won the GOP convention, obviously believe that the only legitimate elections are ones that Republicans win and would unquestionably use their powers, if elected, to overturn any Democratic wins.

David Nir:

That’s particularly crucial, given that Michigan will, almost certainly once again, be a major swing state in 2014. This is a reflection of a broader pattern we are seeing in other states, where really extremist candidates, Big Lie supporters are running for secretary of state. They want their hands on the election machinery. We’re seeing it in Arizona. We’re seeing it in Georgia, as well. DePerno, who is the candidate for attorney general, he shot on to the scene in 2020 after the elections, when he claimed that there was election fraud in Antrim County, that’s in Northern Michigan, a small conservative community, because the vote totals initially showed Joe Biden leading. It turns out it was just a clerical error. It was quickly fixed. Trump did, in fact, win by a big margin in the county, but of course, none of that ever matters in the MAGA world, so DePerno has continued to press his claims that election fraud, which again didn’t exist, wound up causing Trump to lose the State of Michigan to Joe Biden.

David Nir:

Karamo, the candidate for secretary of state, is a similar figure. She was a poll worker in Detroit and claimed, again without any evidence, that she saw fraud in the 2020 elections while she was working as a poll worker. As is typical with this flotsam and jetsam that Trump has managed to bring into the party, Karamo is also a total nutcase of the more traditional variety. She had a podcast, where she obviously said a whole ton of absolutely nutty things. She claimed that Beyonce was, quote, “Bringing black Americans into Paganism.” She claimed that gay people or anyone who has sex outside of marriage, quote, “violates God’s creative design.” She said that yoga was a satanic ritual, that’s an actual quote. Believe it or not, that makes her not the only Republican candidate running for office this year on an anti-yoga platform.

David Nir:

We laugh about this, but there is a very real chance that these candidates could win and jeopardize, really, the very operations of democracy, and again I say not just in Michigan, but in a whole host of other states. I will say, though, that the story is not completely written here. Michigan Republicans actually have to have another convention in August and so do Democrats to officially designate their nominees. This was a pre-convention to allow their candidates to get an earlier start on the general election, but it isn’t official yet. There is perhaps some small chance of these results getting overturned when the delegates meet again in August.

David Nir:

One other candidate who lost in the race for attorney general says that they might actually have to go this route, because they think that DePerno could lose his law license or even be indicted. Republicans might have found themselves in a total mess. The one good thing, I suppose, is that the Republican establishment is pretty despondent about this. One losing candidate for the secretary of state race said, “I’m disappointed that Jocelyn Benson will be the secretary of state for the next four years.” In other words, he assumes that Republicans have just conceded the race by nominating these lunatic candidates. I’m not so sanguine at all. We have seen the GOP win general elections in swing states, nominating the most unacceptable of candidates. These two, DePerno and Karamo, present a real danger.

David Beard:

Just another example of the importance of these downballot races, obviously we talk a lot about the Senate and the House here, but a lot of these races have really important results and so we’ll be continuing to track these Michigan races and other races that affect elections and election rights moving forward. I’m going to take us now across the pond to follow a couple of election results in Europe that went pretty well, all in all.

David Beard:

In France, as we’ve been covering for the past few weeks, the presidential runoff took place between centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, for Macron’s second term. Macron won with 59% of the vote to Le Pen’s 41% of the vote, which is a pretty large feat, a little bit larger than the polls were showing just before the election, which had been about 10 points, but was a significant narrowing from their 2017 election, which Macron won 66% to 33%. There was a real increase for Le Pen and her vote five years later.

David Beard:

We also saw that turnout was 72% out of registered voters, which was a low for French presidential runoffs dating back to 1969. More than 3 million voters went to the polls that cast a blank ballot in protest of the two candidates who were available. I mean, it’s safe to assume these were primarily left-wing voters who were unhappy with the options of a centrist and a far-right candidate. Now, the interesting thing about French elections is that legislative elections are now coming up on June 12th. It’s a weird quirk of the election calendar in France that legislative elections now take place a couple of months after presidential elections.

David Beard:

It’s like if all of the House and Senate races in the U.S. took place on the same timetable as the Georgia runoffs happened back in the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. It’s very strange. What’s resulted usually is it’s been a big benefit for the winning presidential candidate, because they’re on still a honeymoon period. The voters want to give them the ability to govern, so they tend to support the candidates of the winning presidential candidate’s party, so that’s what you expect. Macron’s party won an absolute majority back in 2017 and it looks like they might do so again.

David Beard:

The difference here, obviously, is that Macron is definitely less popular now than he was in 2017. There was much more of a sense that a lot of people voted for him purely to keep Le Pen out, rather than out of real energy on his behalf. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in the legislative elections. It’s a similar system, where all of the races go to runoffs between the top two candidates a couple of weeks later, just like the presidential system was. What we’ll see is a lot of instances where either a centrist candidate and a far-right candidate or a centrist candidate and a left-wing candidate or maybe a left-wing candidate and a right-wing candidate are the ones to advance to the runoffs. That will cause different alliances and different vote decisions all throughout the country. It’s a very messy legislative election to follow, but we’ll definitely check in and see how that turns out when that happens in June.

David Nir:

You mentioned that Macron’s winning margin fell considerably from 2017. It was about 33 points then, about 18 points now, but you also mentioned that a lot of left-leaning voters, in all likelihood, left their ballots blank or just didn’t participate. If we could imagine perhaps a clearer fight between the right and left in France, do you think that might yield a result that was somewhat less concerning than this sizeable drop in Macron’s winning share?

David Beard:

Honestly, I wish that it would be true, that if we just run a left-wing candidate, that they would have energized the French populace and won by even more, but I do think there’s a not inconsiderable amount of center and center-right voters who were pretty happy with Macron and voted for Macron against Le Pen, who I think would have, from their point of view, faced a very difficult choice if it had been the leading left-wing candidate, Melenchon, and Le Pen.

David Beard:

I think that there are definitely plenty of voters in France who voted for Macron who probably would have voted for Le Pen or stayed home or cast a blank ballot in a Melenchon-Le Pen race. There wasn’t really any polling done for that race in a runoff, because Melenchon was way behind for most of it until really the last couple of weeks, when left-wing voters united around him tactically. It’s hard to know exactly how that race would have turned out, but I don’t think that it would have resulted in a bigger win. I think Melenchon, there was a good chance he would’ve still won. Obviously, those millions of blank voters, who were probably left-wing voters, would’ve voted for him instead, but I think there are plenty of Macron voters who would have not gone with Melenchon.

David Beard:

Turning to the other election that recently took place in Europe, this in the small country in Southeast Europe that was formerly part of Yugoslavia, Slovenia, who had their election, as well. They had a right-wing populist, Prime Minister Janez Jansa. He was defeated by a political newcomer, Robert Golob, and his Freedom Movement. Golob is the former executive of a state-owned energy company who took over, in a friendly way, the country’s very newly constituted Green Party, renamed it the Freedom Movement, and led it to victory all in the course of about a year.

David Beard:

Now, Jansa had styled himself very much in the same vein as Viktor Orban in Hungary, very much this far-right populist, go after the media, go after the courts. In fact, Slovenia had experienced the sharpest decline in Democratic rights in Eastern Europe or Central Asia over the past two years, according to an NGO called Freedom House. Now, Jansa had only been in government for two years. He also importantly didn’t have an absolute majority in parliament. One person observed that Jansa governed like he had Orban’s majority, but he was actually in a minority and was reliant on coalition partners, which may have been a key reason why he was not able to build the dominance and media dominance that Orban has been able to build in Hungary. Golob is going to be governing an alliance with a couple of other left-wing parties that made it into parliament and will hopefully turn Slovenia away from its more populist far-right direction that it had been trending over the past couple of years.

David Nir:

Well, that wraps up our weekly hits. Stay with us. After the break, we will be talking to Daily Kos Elections Editor Jeff Singer about the huge slate of primaries coming up in the month of May. We are really excited to welcome back Daily Kos Elections Editor Jeff Singer for this week’s episode. Though primaries started back in March with Texas, the 2022 election cycle really gets underway in the month of May. We haven’t had any primaries since then, but coming up next month, there are 13 different states holding primary elections, and that includes Texas, once again, because they’re hosting runoffs.

David Nir:

First up is May 3rd. This coming Tuesday, we have two states on the docket, Indiana and Ohio. They are holding primaries, of course, for a huge range of offices up and down the ballot, but we are going to start with a top tier contest that has attracted a great deal of attention and that is the Republican primary for Ohio’s open Senate seat, which has been one of the nastiest primaries in a year full of many, many nasty primaries. Jeff Singer, welcome back. Why don’t you kick us off talking about what’s going on in the Buckeye State?

Jeff Singer:

Thank you, Nir. It’s great to be back. As you said, the main event on Tuesday will be the Ohio Republic Senate primary. It’s an open seat, because Republican Senator Rob Portman decided to retire. We have no fewer than five major candidates running. It’s been a mess. Donald Trump recently decided to weigh in. He endorsed venture capitalist J.D. Vance, who is best known as the writer of Hillbilly Elegy. Vance, like plenty of Republicans in 2016, was a vociferous Trump critic, who at one point mused he might even vote for Hillary Clinton. He since reinvented himself as a born-again MAGA conservative, but he’s still taking plenty of flack for his past statements.

Jeff Singer:

We have also former state Treasurer Josh Mandel. He was the Republican nominee for the other Ohio Senate seat in 2012. He lost to Sherrod Brown. Mandel has the support of the Club for Growth, a really deep-pocketed conservative organization that’s been particularly aggressive about going after Vance for what he said about Trump. We have Portman’s choice, former state party chair Jane Timken, who is the only woman who’s running a serious campaign here. We also have a wealthy businessman, Mike Gibbons, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2018 primary for the other Senate seat. We have state Senator Matt Dolan, who also is very rich. His family co-owns Cleveland’s baseball team. Trump hates him, because the team is trying to change its name to the Guardians. It’s just been this giant messy race. Trump may have clarified things when he endorsed Vance. There was a recent poll from Fox that gave Vance a 23 to 18 lead over Mandel, but that’s pretty tight. A polarity of respondents were still undecided. Vance might have some momentum going in, but we’ll really see on Tuesday.

David Nir:

Something funny happened just on Wednesday, right? Where the Club for Growth launched an ad attacking Vance and Trump?

Jeff Singer:

Yeah. What the Club did was they ran an ad that not only showed Vance beating on Trump in the past, but it showed various people questioning, “Has Trump seen this?” To add insult to injury, it showed a clip reporting that, back in 2018, Trump endorsed none other than Mitt Romney for the Senate and one of the stars of the ad said, “Well, look how that turned out.” They’re gently, but very much questioning Trump’s judgment here. If we know Trump, that’s not going to go well. There’s already been some fighting between Trump and the Club. Trump sent a profane text message to the Club’s president recently, after they kept airing anti-Vance ads. This is not a small thing. The Club is a major power player in Republican politics. If they’re on Trump’s bad side, it could have a big effect on future races.

David Beard:

One thing I’ll be watching for, and obviously we don’t know who’s going to win, but I think you maybe put the scales a little bit on Vance’s side, now that he has Trump’s endorsement, though other results wouldn’t shock me, is that we’ve clearly seen that Vance is not one committed to a certain ideology. He’s completed reinvented himself to get Trump’s endorsement to win this primary, but once he wins the primary, does he really need Trump anymore? If he doesn’t need Trump, does he reinvent himself into some other direction, either in a Portmanesque way or something?

David Beard:

It’s really an Etch A Sketch. We have no idea who Republican nominee J.D. Vance is going to end up being. If he does win, that’ll at least be interesting to watch. Let’s move on now to the following week in May, May 10th, where we have two more states holding their primary elections, Nebraska and West Virginia. These are both fairly small, very strongly Republican states. We’ve got a couple of interesting primaries on the Republican side, one in each state. Let’s start off with Nebraska’s governor race, which has had some interesting developments.

Jeff Singer:

Yeah. Nebraska, that’s a very Republican state. The winner of the Republican primary is probably going to go on to win the general election. There are three major candidates. This race is open because Governor Pete Ricketts, who hails from one of the most influential donor families in the Republican Party, is termed out. Ricketts is backing Jim Pillen, who is a University of Nebraska regent and a pig farmer. Donald Trump is endorsing wealthy businessman Charles Herbster, who was at the January 6 rally that came right before the attack on the Capitol, although Herbster says he wasn’t there for that.

Jeff Singer:

Then, you have a third major candidate, state Senator Brett Lindstrom, who is more moderate. He’s backed workplace protections for LGBTQ people and he voted to override Ricketts’ veto on a gas tax and death penalty repeal. There was a recent poll that showed a very close three-way race with Lindstrom for the first time with a small lead, but very little polling here. The race took a really unexpected turn two weeks ago when eight women, including a sitting Republican state senator, accused Herbster of groping them and other forms of sexual assault. Unsurprisingly, that’s not shaken Trump’s confidence in him in the least, but we’ll see if that affects things on May 10th.

David Beard:

Yeah. What’s interesting is I think Lindstrom probably wouldn’t have a shot in a straight-up two-way race against either of those other candidates, but in a three-way race, you could imagine him coming out with 35% of the votes, squeaking past the other two. That would be comparatively—obviously nothing’s ideal here when you’re in such a Republican state—but a comparatively more moderate candidate who would probably end up becoming governor there. Let’s move on to West Virginia, where we’ve got another Republican primary, this time between two incumbent congressmen. Due to reapportionment, West Virginia lost one of their congressional districts, which forced two incumbent Republicans to run against each other. What do we have here?

Jeff Singer:

All right. In the second congressional district in the northern part of the state, we have our first incumbent-versus-incumbent primary of the whole cycle between Alex Mooney and David McKinley. This is a very red state. Whoever wins is almost certainly going to prevail in November. There’s a lot to see here. The two congressmen, they voted the same way most the time, but they diverged on two very important issues recently. McKinley supported creating a January 6th commission, Mooney very much didn’t. McKinley was one of the few Republicans who voted for the Biden Administration’s infrastructure bill, Mooney very much did not. McKinley’s backed by Governor Jim Justice; Mooney has Donald Trump and the Club for Growth in his corner.

Jeff Singer:

This is an interesting one. If it comes down to who’s more Trumpy, Mooney easily takes it, really no question. If it comes down to who has more local roots, though, that’s where things get more interesting. McKinley is a longtime West Virginian. His family’s been there for a long time. He’s been very involved in Republican politics. Mooney, by contrast, served in the Maryland state Senate. He moved to West Virginia in 2013 when he launched his campaign for governor. Mooney’s chief of staff is also a current Maryland state senator. The Office of Congressional Ethics is also investigating Mooney for allegedly misusing campaign money, including $2,000 for Chick-fil-A. There’s a lot going on here. McKinley represents about two-thirds of this new seat, Mooney represents the other third. If it comes down to geography or who’s the more West Virginian, it’s McKinley. If people want the more MAGA-approved candidate, Mooney.

David Nir:

We’re going to keep rolling right along here, because like I said earlier, there are so many states coming up in May. On May 17, we have five states, including a couple of very big ones. The one we want to start with is North Carolina. That’s a state that’s seen a lot of political upheaval this year. It has a brand new court-imposed congressional map. It’s also gaining a congressional district, but the marquee contest has been yet another Republican primary. I promise we’ll get to some Democratic contests soon enough, but the GOP primary for North Carolina’s Senate seat, which is another open seat race and another truly nasty affair, Singer, what’s going on there?

Jeff Singer:

North Carolina’s Senate seat is open because Republican Senator Richard Burr is retiring. There are three major Republicans running. There is former Governor Pat McCrory, might remember him from 2016, when he narrowly lost reelection over the backlash over the transphobic bathroom bill. Here’s how far Republican politics has gone to the right. McCrory, if anything, is the less far-right candidate; that’s because Ted Budd, who is Trump and the Club for Growth’s candidate, is also in.

Jeff Singer:

You also have former Congressman Mark Walker, who has some connections with the religious right. Walker has trailed very badly in the polls, but kept running, even though Trump tried to convince him to run for a House seat. There’s some fear that Walker could cost Budd some much-needed votes, but while McCrory went into the year with leads in even a Budd internal poll, the recent numbers we’ve seen have shown Budd well-ahead. Things very much appear to have changed. Maybe it was Trump pushing Budd extra hard. Maybe it was the Club for Growth, which has been spending very heavily here on Budd’s behalf, making the difference. Maybe people are just tired of seeing McCrory’s face. The polls show Budd’s really taking control of the race. McCrory’s fired back. He’s run ads that show Budd saying nice things about Putin and commending him as pretty smart when he invaded Ukraine, but so far that doesn’t seem to be moving the needle the way he needs it to.

David Nir:

Regardless of who wins, the Democrats will be nominating former State Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, who doesn’t really face any opposition in her primary, but there is yet another primary in North Carolina for a House race in the far western part of the state that we absolutely have to discuss. We have talked about Madison Cawthorn plenty on this show. He also has a primary. This one, the runoff rules could have an effect on the ultimate result.

Jeff Singer:

Yeah. Madison Cawthorn, who needs no introduction, there is really no shortage of scandals attached to him, could do a whole podcast episode just on him, but his greatest liability might be because he essentially tried to switch districts. Last year, the Republican Legislature adopted a congressional map and put most of Cawthorn’s existing seat in a different Western North Carolina district. Cawthorn, he gets a little greedy and says, “I’m going to run for an even more Republican seat that I barely represent in the Charlotte area.”

Jeff Singer:

No one’s quite sure why he did that. Might have just been increase the statewide name recognition, might have been just to show what a big dog he was, but it really backfired, because that map no longer exists. That map got struck down. The map that was adopted by the State Supreme Court no longer gave Cawthorn any real option except to run at home. Most incumbents would be quite okay with that, but Cawthorn’s constituents, they felt that he just tried to straight-up abandon them. That could be an even bigger liability than all the coke and orgy allegations in the world that he lives in.

Jeff Singer:

The good news for Cawthorn is that he has seven opponents. As you said, Nir, North Carolina’s runoff rules are different than many states. Many states, if you take less than a majority of the vote, you’re in a runoff. North Carolina, though, no second round, unless no candidate takes more than 30% of the vote. Even if a large majority of voters want Cawthorn gone, if he clears 30% and gets more votes than anyone else, he’s renominated, which is pretty good, considering how red this district is.

Jeff Singer:

Cawthorn’s main opponent right now looks like state Senator Chuck Edwards, who has the endorsement of Senator Thom Tillis. Edwards has been running ads saying, “I’m not some vapid celebrity, unlike my opponent. I’m just a hardworking, dependable conservative.” If 31% of the voters here want a vapid celebrity, that’s pretty good for Cawthorn. Edwards, himself, even released a poll just last month that gave Cawthorn this huge 32 to 20 advantage. More ads are being run here. A Thom Tillis-aligned super PAC has also been running ads against him. We’ll see if that moves the needle, but even Edwards knows he’s starting well-behind.

David Nir:

One super interesting thing to note is that Edwards got into the race during that brief period of time when Cawthorn said “See you” to western North Carolina and was going to run in Charlotte instead. Cawthorne jumped back into the race in the 11th District and Edwards said, “Well, I’m not going anywhere.” Really, Cawthorn’s attempt to abandon his constituents could be his true undoing.

David Beard:

We promised some Democratic primaries and now we’re going to get to them. We’ve got two really interesting, for different reasons, Democratic primaries over in Oregon, who will also be voting on May 17th. Let’s start with Oregon Five.

Jeff Singer:

This is held by moderate Democratic Congressman Kurt Schrader, who has annoyed progressives for, among many other things, saying last year that the idea of impeaching Donald Trump was like a lynching. Schrader apologized and voted to impeach Trump anyway, but the damage was done. Schrader’s one and only Democratic primary opponent in the seat, which takes up some of the Portland suburbs in Central Oregon, is Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who would be the state’s first LGBTQ member of Congress. She’s run to Schrader’s left. She’s arguing he’s dependent on special interests. One very prominent Democrat doesn’t agree. Joe Biden, just over the weekend, endorsed Schrader. Biden, in many ways, is not like Trump. One of them is he does not really take part in competitive Democratic primaries that often, so it’s pretty notable he’s weighing in here, even for someone who’s tried to obstruct his agenda.

David Beard:

Then, nearby, we’ve got another Democratic primary, where there’s an open seat because the seat is new, but at least one candidate has money like an incumbent. What’s going on there?

Jeff Singer:

Yes. In Oregon’s 6th District, in the Willamette Valley, you have a large field, but only two of the nine Democratic candidates have really gotten a lot of attention. One of those candidates is Economic Development Adviser Carrick Flynn, who has benefited from over $7 million from Protect Our Future PAC, which is a group that’s funded by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried. $7 million in outside spending for a House primary, that’s, if not unheard of, it’s very, very rare. Even more rare is what the Democratic group House majority PAC, which exists to keep Democrats in majority is doing, they don’t intervene in primaries, except this time, they spent $1 million to help Flynn, as well.

Jeff Singer:

That’s caused a lot of consternation here. Why would they get involved in a primary for a seat that, since Biden won at 55 to 42, really shouldn’t be that competitive. It doesn’t look like Flynn is such a great candidate that the group needs to intervene here. It’s caused a lot of angst. The other candidate who’s got plenty of attention here is state Rep. Andrea Salinas, who would be the first Latina to represent Oregon in Congress. She has endorsement from Governor Kate Brown and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has also spent $1 million on her. That’s far less than what Flynn has benefited from, but it’s still quite a lot. It’s still going to help her get her message out. There are seven other candidates here. So far, none of them have benefited from anything like the endorsements the other two have, but we’ll see. It’s a very, very strange race.

David Nir:

We are going to swing back to the eastern portion of the United States and hit the third major state that has a primary on May 17th. That is Pennsylvania, where we have competitive Democratic and Republican primaries in the Senate race. How do you see both of these going, Singer?

Jeff Singer:

On the Democratic side, things are a bit more clear. We have three major candidates, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who’s the tattooed, six-foot-nine candidate, who has this big fan base. He’s had an advantage in every poll we’ve seen against Congressman Conor Lamb, who won a very closely watched special election in Western Pennsylvania in 2018, and State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta, who would be the first Black and gay senator to serve, ever.

Jeff Singer:

To try to break Fetterman’s lead, a pro-Lamb super PAC has spent heavily on ads that, relying on a since-corrected media report, falsely claims that Fetterman was a self-described socialist. He’s not. The group had to pull the ad and edit it. The PAC seems to think that this is a good line of attack to argue Fetterman is unelectable, because they’ve attacked Fetterman for applying for the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, even though Fetterman explicitly said in their questionnaire he’s not a socialist. We’ll see if that does him any damage, but so far it doesn’t seem to be, at least in the primary.

Jeff Singer:

The GOP race, on the other hand, such an expensive mess. Trump recently decided to endorse TV personality Mehmet Oz, as in Dr. Oz, who has very weak ties to the state. He didn’t even vote there in 2020. Oz has been self-funding much of his bid, but so has former hedge fund manager David McCormick and his allied super PAC. They’d been running ads attacking one another. McCormick is portraying Oz as this vapid celebrity. He’s benefited from recent footage of Oz kissing his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There are other candidates. We don’t have any recent polls, but it’s really been this demolition derby between Oz and McCormick.

David Nir:

There is another demolition derby going on in the governor’s race. There, the current Democratic incumbent is term-limited and Democrats have rallied around state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, but the GOP primary, once again, is a total shit-show.

Jeff Singer:

That, it is. There are nine candidates running. Not all of them have much money or name recognition, but anything can happen here. One of the worst candidates in the nation, and that’s saying a lot, is state Senator Doug Mastriano, who, among many other things, tried to help Trump steal the state after the 2020 election and on January 6th, he was filmed passing breached barricades at the Capitol. Mastriano also recently addressed a QAnon-aligned group, although he claims not to have anything to do with it.

Jeff Singer:

Mastriano has plenty of competition, though, on the far-right. You have former Congressman Lou Barletta, who lost the 2018 Senate race really badly to Democrat Bob Casey. Barletta, back in the early 2000s, was this virulent anti-immigration crusader when he was mayor of the small town of Hazleton. He, himself, has said he was a Trump conservative before there were Trump conservatives. You also have wealthy businessman Dave White, who has used his resources to outspend everyone else. He lost his election in Eastern Pennsylvania to the Delaware County Council back in 2017, but he’s still a big presence, thanks to his wealth.

Jeff Singer:

You have former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, who was trying to portray himself as the Trump candidate, but he got a huge setback earlier this month when Trump himself denounced him for allegedly not doing enough to uncover voter fraud in 2020, which of course didn’t exist. Then, you have state Senate Leader Jake Corman, who just this month, Corman was running out of money. He was about to drop out, then Trump attacks McSwain, and Corman suddenly gets another idea. The very day he was about to announce he was dropping out of the race, Corman says, “Never mind. I’m going to stick around.” There are four others. In a race this packed, anything could happen, but those seem to be the big five. We have seen really no recent polls to indicate anyone is the frontrunner right now.

David Nir:

Once again, Pennsylvania is a state that does not use runoffs, so whoever wins this primary could do so with a very small share of the vote.

David Beard:

Yeah, this one is a real mess. We’ll have to watch and see how that develops. There are also two other states that have primary elections on the 17th, just to note, Idaho and Kentucky. We’ll definitely cover any notable results from those states as we track these races week by week. Moving on to May 24th, we’ve got three states holding a primary, along with the Texas runoffs. That’s Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia. Let’s start off in Alabama, where the Republican Senate primary is taking place. We’ve talked a little bit about that one. That’s where Trump withdrew his endorsement of Mo Brooks. What’s going on there now?

Jeff Singer:

Brooks is still limping along. The Club for Growth is still on his side. Ohio isn’t the first time the club and Trump have parted ways, it seems. Brooks really is in bad shape. There are two other major candidates to watch. There’s Katie Britt, who ran the state’s Chamber of Commerce. She’s the former chief of staff to retiring Senator Richard Shelby. Shelby’s going all-in for her. He’s using his money to finance super PACs to help her.

Jeff Singer:

Then, there’s Army veteran Mike Durant, who was held prisoner in Somalia for 11 days in 1993 in the incident that was dramatized in the movie Black Hawk Down. He’s been self-funding. He’s all over the air. We’re waiting to see if Trump’s going to take sides now that he’s abandoned Brooks, or if he just lets this one play out. Alabama’s another state where you do need to win a majority to avoid a runoff. With three major candidates, or two and-a-half if you count Brooks, and a bunch of pretty minor contenders on the ballot, it’s very unlikely anyone’s going to win the first round outright. This one will probably go to a second round almost certainly.

David Beard:

That runoff would take place June 21st?

Jeff Singer:

Right.

David Nir:

Well, next door in Georgia, we have another whole host of compelling primaries. At the top of the ticket is the GOP battle in the Georgia governor’s race. This one might’ve gotten more ink than any other, but it seems like it’s possibly about to fizzle?

Jeff Singer:

It very well could. Brian Kemp, the governor, he rode to victory in the 2018 primary after Trump endorsed him. Trump’s not so fond of him anymore, especially after Kemp refused to help him steal the state two years later. Trump’s gone all-in for former Senator David Perdue, who lost last year’s runoff very narrowly. The problem for Perdue, it seems, is that Kemp still is liked by a majority of the base. Kemp is anything but a moderate. He’s fervently conservative on pretty much everything.

Jeff Singer:

Perdue’s trying to still get to his right. He’s been focusing pretty much entirely on how he’s Trump candidate and he’s been proclaiming the Big Lie at every chance he gets. At a recent debate, he began, “The election in 2020 was rigged and stolen,” but that doesn’t seem to be working. Every poll we’ve seen has shown Kemp either at or very close to the majority he’d need to avoid a runoff also on June 21st. Perdue’s sticking with his strategy. Maybe the polls are wrong, but if they’re not, it’s looking like Trump’s going to take a very big black eye here. Whoever wins this one is going to take on Stacey Abrams, who was the 2018 Democratic nominee. She has no primary opposition this time.

David Beard:

If it is a rematch between Kemp and Abrams, that will certainly be a blockbuster in November.

Jeff Singer:

Oh, yeah.

David Beard:

We’re going to wrap up in Texas, where they’re taking some runoffs from their March primary. The highlight, of course, is Texas 28, which we’ve covered extensively here already, but what has been going on since the first round down there in South Texas?

Jeff Singer:

On March 1st, conservative Democratic opponent Henry Cuellar led his progressive Democratic primary opponent, Jessica Cisneros, just 49 to 47%. Very close, just below what Cuellar needed to avert a runoff. Cuellar’s pretty much stuck with his strategy from the first round. He’s argued Cisneros is weak on public safety. Cisneros, this time she’s focused more on abortion rights. She’s attacked Cuellar for siding with Texas Republicans to restrict the right to choose.

Jeff Singer:

There was an interesting turn in this race back in January, when the federal investigators raided Cuellar’s home and campaign office, allegedly over his ties to Azerbaijan. Cuellar’s attorney recently said the congressman is not a target in a federal investigation. No corroboration on this claim from the FBI or Department of Justice, but it hasn’t emerged in campaign ads this time. We’ll see if that changes, but so far Cisneros is focusing on abortion rights.

Jeff Singer:

Cuellar has long had a money advantage. He still does, but it’s narrowed quite a bit. Cisneros is not getting outgunned the way she did back in 2020 when she narrowly lost in the first round. The Republicans also have a race to watch here, but the GOP establishment’s going all-in for a former Ted Cruz staffer named Cassy Garcia. Garcia faces Sandra Whitten, who lost a very little-noticed campaign in 2020 to Cuellar. Whitten doesn’t have any big-name supporters, so it’ll be a surprise if Garcia had any problem with her. The seat in the Laredo area is a longtime Democratic stronghold, but Biden won it only 53 to 46 in 2020, so it could be in play.

David Nir:

Well, it’s obvious there is quite a lot to watch coming up in the month of May and there are many races on the ballot in all of these states, beyond those that we mentioned. We will, of course, be covering many of these contests in the weeks to come. Jeff, we are extremely grateful to have you on, once again, to share all your knowledge of all of these many, many elections with our listeners.

Jeff Singer:

Thank you, Nir. It’s been great.

David Beard:

That’s all from us this week. Thanks to Jeff Singer for joining us. The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you find podcasts. You can reach us by email at thedownballot@dailykos.com. If you haven’t already, please like and subscribe to The Downballot and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks also to our producer, Cara Zelaya, and editor, Tim Einenkel. We’ll be back next week with a new episode.

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