By now, it’s a well-worn Democratic Party refrain.
The Republican Party is being taken over by a bunch of subversive election deniers who stand ready to crash democracy at the behest of former President Donald Trump — that is, if they prevail in midterm elections this year and take the reins of power ahead of the 2024 elections.
But whether the Democrats are as anxious about the apparent fragility of democracy as they claim is an open question after key party organizations intervened in Republican primaries this spring to elevate the very candidates, plural, they say would happily tank the country for Trump. As a matter of pure politics, this strategy is sensible and the obvious choice for Democrats as they attempt to stem losses in what could be a massive red wave.
The Republicans pushed by the Democrats in at least four governor’s primaries and one Senate primary are weak general election contenders. Nominating them, as Republicans did in Pennsylvania with Doug Mastriano, gives Democrats a better opportunity to hold on in November. But with President Joe Biden’s job approval ratings cratering, what if the Republican victory is so sweeping in the fall that it carries weaklings like Mastriano across the finish line?
What if Biden runs for reelection and beats Trump in a rematch that hinges on another narrow victory in Pennsylvania? It would seem Democratic fears of unlawful Republican manipulation of the results, if not a blatant bid to overturn the election itself, are more likely to be realized with Mastriano as governor than any of the other more electable Republicans he defeated in the GOP primary last month.
In addition to the Pennsylvania gubernatorial primary, Democrats have attempted to sway GOP nominating contests for governor in Colorado, Illinois, and Nevada. They are doing the same in the Colorado Senate primary. I asked Democrats about this and to explain the cognitive dissonance between warning about Republican threats to democracy and actively working to put such candidates one step closer to power because of political expediency.
Look at Rep. Tom Rice’s ouster Tuesday in the primary in South Carolina’s 7th Congressional District and what is likely to happen to Rep. Liz Cheney in Wyoming at large. Republican voters, Democrats argue, are, without help from them, answering Trump’s call to fire incumbents who opposed his effort to overturn the 2020 election and criticized his unsupported claims that the contest was stolen. All the Democrats are doing, they say, is playing the political hand they were dealt.
“The DGA is wasting no time in educating the public about these Republicans,” David Turner, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, told the Washington Examiner Wednesday. “These elected and formerly elected officials want to deceptively retell their histories, and we’re just filling in the gaps.”
As for Mastriano specifically, Democrats say he was well on his way toward winning the nomination. A relatively modest investment from the campaign of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, they explained, was hardly the difference between winning and losing for Mastriano (Trump no doubt would argue his endorsement was the difference-maker.)
Of course, to say that Republican voters are blanket-choosing so-called election deniers over rule-of-law candidates is not true either, as Trump discovered in recent months. Just ask former Sen. David Perdue and Rep. Jody Hice, who got shellacked by Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, respectively, in the Georgia GOP primaries in May.
Now, to the field …
Pennsylvania Senate race. There’s a fresh poll out of the Keystone State, and it’s not all bad for the Democrats. Indeed, it’s pretty good. In the Suffolk University survey conducted for USA Today, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee, was leading Republican nominee Mehmet Oz 46% to 37%, with 13% undecided. That’s not a bad place to start this open-seat race for Fetterman, who remains off the campaign trail while recovering from a stroke. That’s especially not a bad position for the Democrat considering Biden’s job approval in Pennsylvania is a lowly 39%.
So how is Fetterman leading Oz, a renowned heart surgeon and television personality? Voters like the lieutenant governor a lot more than they like Oz, giving him a 45%/27% favorable/unfavorable rating, compared to the Republican’s underwater 28%/50% rating, although that is surely due in part to getting roughed up in the recently concluded GOP primary.
By the way, Mastriano did not fair all that poorly in this poll, trailing Shapiro 44% to 40%, with 13% undecided and the rest for third-party candidates. Shapiro led Mastriano 37% to 32% among crucial independent voters, but a substantial 24% of this cohort said they were undecided. This poll of 500 likely voters has an error margin of 4.4 points.
New Jersey: The legacy state. Rob Menendez, son of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), is a lock to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Albio Sires in New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District when voters head to the polls in the Garden State this November, as my Washington Examiner colleague Barnini Chakraborty reported.
Rob Menendez, 36, is a lawyer and commissioner for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He is not only following in his father’s footsteps — Sen. Menendez was a House member for 13 years before moving to the north side of Capitol Hill — but he is providing something of a Menendez bookend to Sires’s tenure in Congress. When the elder Menendez retired from the House in 2006 to run for Senate, it was Sires who succeeded him.
Additionally, New Jersey voters can send a second legacy candidate to Congress this fall — this time, a Republican.
Tom Kean Jr., son of popular former GOP Gov. Tom Kean, is the party’s nominee in the 7th Congressional District, where he is facing incumbent Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ). Kean first sought federal office in 2000, falling short in a GOP primary in the 7th. He tried again in 2006, battling none other than Bob Menendez for an open Senate seat. It was a Democratic wave year, and Kean Jr. came up short, but he impressed New Jersey Republicans and later became the GOP leader in the state senate. Kean Jr. finally tried for Congress again in 2020, losing to Malinowski.
However, with a red wave developing, some Republicans are optimistic the 53-year-old might finally hit pay dirt. The newly configured 7th District was drawn as a competitive battleground seat that slightly favors the GOP.
2024 watch. That former Vice President Mike Pence hit the road in recent days is not that interesting. Pence has been traveling to early primary states, particularly South Carolina, since not long after leaving the White House early last year. But the former vice president’s itinerary was interesting, suggesting that he and his team are gearing up for a 2024 bid.
On Monday, Pence traveled to battleground Arizona to inspect the southern border, meet with local law enforcement and ranchers, and comment on a key issue for Republican primary voters. “We have a crisis that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans. I’m here because I wanted to see firsthand what was happening on the ground,” Pence said during a news conference there.
On Thursday, Pence was scheduled to be in Cincinnati with Republican Gov. Mike DeWine for a roundtable hosted by the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Exploration Program. According to a press release issued by Advancing American Freedom, the former vice president’s political nonprofit group, he was to speak on domestic energy exploration and his support for policies that would make the United States “energy independent.”
Ohio might be a redder shade of purple than in the pre-Trump era. But the state remains politically important, as are energy and related issues with GOP primary voters — especially with the average price of a gallon of gas hovering around $5. Pence is expected to decide about 2024 after this year’s midterm elections. The former vice president is signaling that Trump will have no bearing on his plans.
Earlier this year, Trump told the Washington Examiner that his rift with Pence over the 2020 election would make it impossible for him to invite the former vice president to reprise the role of running mate on his ticket — should he run in 2024 and win the nomination.