Morning Digest: Landslide wins close out Hawaii’s biggest weekend primaries

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

Hawaii: The Aloha State held its primary Saturday, and we have a summary of each of the big contests below.

 HI-Gov: Lt. Gov. Josh Green defeated businesswoman Vicky Cayetano 63-21 in the primary to succeed their fellow Democrat, termed-out Gov. David Ige, while freshman Rep. Kai Kahele notched third with 15%. Green, who continued to work as a physician after going into politics, had a large media presence throughout the worst months of the pandemic, and he was the frontrunner from the start.

Green remains the favorite in November against former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, a two-time Republican nominee who scored a 50-26 victory over Ultimate Fighting Championship champion B.J. Penn. Aiona was defeated by former Rep. Neil Abercrombie 58-41 in the 2010 general election, and Aiona lost his chance for a rematch four years later when Ige beat the unpopular Abercrombie in the primary. Both parties believed that Aiona still had a real shot with another GOP wave looming and with conservative Democrat-turned-independent Mufi Hannemann threatening to siphon off votes from the Democratic ticket, but Ige turned back Aiona 49-37.

Joe Biden carried Hawaii 64-34 (he took each of the state’s two congressional districts by that same margin), and national Republicans haven’t shown any obvious sign of interest in targeting this seat again. Indeed, the RGA didn’t even respond for a Washington Post article that ran just before the primary.

 HI-01: Blue Dog Democrat Rep. Ed Case held off attorney Sergio Alcubilla by a lopsided 83-17 margin in this Honolulu-based seat. Alcubilla, who ran to Case’s left, had the backing of a few big unions, but he raised little himself and never attracted any serious outside spending.

 HI-02: Former state Sen. Jill Tokuda beat state Rep. Patrick Branco 58-25 in the Democratic primary to replace Kai Kahele in a constituency that includes northern Oahu and all of the state’s other islands.

Tokuda, who lost a tight 2018 primary to lieutenant governor to Josh Green, entered the race as the frontrunner, but a quartet of major outside groups—VoteVets, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Web3 Forward, and Mainstream Democrats PAC— spent a total of $1.2 million to elevate Branco or attack her. While this ad barrage represented a truly massive amount for a Hawaii congressional race, it turned out to be far from enough to stop Tokuda.

Senate

FL-Sen: Democratic Rep. Val Demings' allies at EMILY's List have publicized a poll from Change Research that shows her deadlocked 46-46 against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio, a release that came days after two progressive groups unveiled their own survey from Clarity Campaigns that found a 45-45 tie. We have not seen any independent polls of this contest since winter.  

 NC-Sen: NBC reports that Republican Ted Budd and the NRSC will launch a joint ad campaign for $750,000, which will make this Budd's first TV commercial since he won the primary all the way back in May. Democrat Cheri Beasley, by contrast, has deployed $4.7 million since she won the nomination, though the NRSC has spent $6.3 million against her.

House

AK-AL: Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, a Republican whose city is home to about 40% of the state's population, has endorsed businessman Nick Begich III ahead of Tuesday's instant-runoff special.

Meanwhile another Republican, former state Interior Department official Tara Sweeney, announced Friday that she'd registered with the state as an official write-in candidate for the special "after repeated requests from supporters," though she said her main focus would be to advance out of the top-four primary for a full two-year term.

FL-01: Self-funding businessman Mark Lombardo's latest commercial against Republican incumbent Matt Gaetz opens with the primary challenger declaring, "As a member of Congress, Matt Gaetz took an oath to protect America's secrets. He broke that oath when he engaged in illicit behavior on foreign soil, leaving himself vulnerable to blackmail and putting our nation's secrets at risk." Lombardo doesn't let up as the ad goes on, continuing, "To cover up, he paid pedophile Jeffrey Epstein's attorney with donors' cash and pressured Trump for a pardon for any or all crimes."

FL-13: While 2020 nominee Anna Paulina Luna has always looked like the frontrunner to claim the Republican nomination again on Aug. 23 in this newly gerrymandered seat, attorney Kevin Hayslett's outside group allies are deploying a serious amount to stop her. Florida Politics reports that Stand for Florida, a PAC that was set up in February, has spent $860,000 in recent days, which takes its total investment here all the way up to $1.5 million.

Luna, though, has gotten plenty of outside help herself, as the Club for Growth has dropped over $1.8 million to promote her. Conservative Outsider PAC, which is funded in part by Club donor Dick Uihlein, is also using about $110,000 for a commercial that responds to a recent Hayslett commercial that featured a clip of Luna appearing to praise Obama. The audience sees Luna warning that undocumented immigrants will cost conservatives "this country," before the narrator notes that she's Trump's endorsed candidate.

The only recent poll we've seen here was a late July Hayslett internal that showed him trailing Luna 36-34 for this constituency in the St. Petersburg area.

FL-23: Broward County Commissioner Jared Moskowitz has earned endorsements from the National Education Association, the Florida Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers ahead of this month's Democratic primary.  

NY-01: While Nick LaLota once appeared to have a smooth path through the Aug. 23 GOP primary for this competitive open seat, the chief of staff of the Suffolk County Legislature went up with a commercial against his main intra-party rival, cryptocurrency trader Michelle Bond, earlier this month.

The narrator insists that Bond is a "liberal D.C. lobbyist" with a history of "working for Obama and Biden as a registered Democrat." The spot also declares that Bond "bankrolled a Trump-hating senator [and] lives in a mansion in the Swamp." (That last bit is a reference to Bond's newly purchased estate in Maryland, which she said is one of the "multiple residences" she has.) The rest of the ad promotes LaLota as a loyal Long Island conservative and "Trump conservative."

Bond is airing her own ads (here and here) that tout her as a conservative businesswoman, though they do not mention LaLota. Bond has used her personal wealth to decisively outpace LaLota in the money race, and the outside spending has also very much benefited her. Stand for New York, a group that hasn't gotten involved in any other races, has dropped $580,000 to attack LaLota. Another committee called Crypto Innovation PAC has also spent another $160,000 to promote Bond: The group is funded by crypto notable Ryan Salame, who just happens to be her boyfriend. (Salame has also bankrolled American Dream Federal Action, another super PAC that's gotten involved in other GOP primaries.)

LaLota has not received any super PAC aid, though he does sport endorsements from the local Republican and Conservative parties. The contest to succeed GOP gubernatorial nominee Lee Zeldin also includes government relations firm executive Anthony Figliola, though he's attracted little money or attention. The winner will go up against Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who has no Democratic primary opposition, in an eastern Long Island constituency that Biden would have carried by a tiny 49.4-49.2.

NY-10: Attorney Dan Goldman on Saturday earned the backing of the New York Times, which is arguably one of the few newspaper endorsements still capable of moving voters in a local Democratic primary, ahead of the packed Aug. 23 contest for this safely blue seat based in Lower Manhattan and northwestern Brooklyn. The Times’ nod was especially coveted here: City & State wrote earlier this month, “One campaign said they’ve probably had 20 supporters email or call members of the board to make their case,” while an unnamed operative added, “Everybody lobbies … The question is to what degree.”

Those candidates may have had good reason to lobby. City & State notes that the NYT’s endorsement last year provided a huge lift to then-Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia in the primary for mayor of New York City and helped establish her as a frontrunner. Garcia still narrowly lost the instant-runoff contest to Eric Adams, but she performed well in areas that overlap with the 10th District as well as the 12th, which is home to another big Democratic primary.

Politico's Joe Anuta also reports that Goldman has so far spent $2.8 million on TV ads, which is a truly massive sum for a campaign taking place in America's priciest media market. Goldman, though, is an heir to the Levi Strauss & Co. fortune, and he has plenty of personal wealth and connections: The candidate, who would be one of the wealthiest members of Congress, has self-funded $4 million so far and raised another $1.5 million from donors through Aug. 3.  

Anuta relays that only one Goldman opponent, 17th District Rep. Mondaire Jones, has joined him on television, and he's deployed a considerably smaller $784,000. The other contenders have stayed off the airwaves, which is a common strategy for candidates running in the massive New York City media market. (Over 20 million people live in this market, and relatively few can vote in the 10th District's primary.)

"You're wasting your spending on 90% of the people who see your ad," explained Matthew Rey, a strategist who isn't involved in this race. He added, "So is it a powerful way to persuasively and effectively reach that other 10%? Yes. But dollar-for-dollar, it's a luxury." Another unaligned consultant, Basil Smikle Jr., was even more skeptical, saying, "In a congressional race where you are expecting turnout to be low, there are much more efficient ways to spend your money than doing a large broadcast buy in the last couple of weeks."

Goldman, though, is betting that voters will indeed react well to his TV spots, including a new piece touting his work in civil rights law and "leading the impeachment of Donald Trump." The commercial also displays Trump's message on his Truth Social platform (which, yes, still exists) reading, "Dan Goldman puts in his ad used in running for Congress that he 'impeached Donald Trump'" to argue, "Donald Trump doesn't want Dan Goldman in Congress, but we do."

 NY-12: The New York Times on Saturday endorsed incumbent Jerry Nadler in his Democratic primary against fellow Rep. Carolyn Maloney and attorney Suraj Patel. 

NY-17: The New York City Police Benevolent Association, which endorsed Trump in 2020, has spent $310,000 to oppose state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi in her Democratic primary against Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. The spot labels Biaggi an “anti-police extremist,” which is the type of rhetoric Republicans usually love to throw at Democrats in general elections.

 NY-19 (special): VoteVets has launched what Politico reports is a $450,000 ad buy to aid Democrat Pat Ryan, which makes this Team Blue's first major independent expenditure ahead of an Aug. 23 special election. The narrator echoes Ryan in framing the contest as a choice between a pro-choice candidate and "a Congress that'll pass a nationwide ban on abortion first chance they get." She adds that Ryan, who served with the Army in Iraq "sure didn't fight for our freedom abroad to see it taken away from women here at home."

The NRCC, for its part, is continuing to try to frame Ryan as weak on public safety in its new spot.

 OH-09: Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur's latest commercial argues that, while she's fighting to lower drug prices, Republican J.R. Majewski "made a rap video." Yes, you read that right: The QAnon-aligned candidate did indeed star in a piece called "Let's Go Brandon Save America," and Kaptur's spot treats viewers to a mercifully small piece of it. "Not to poke fun at dementia, it's a serious disease," raps Majewski, "But come on, man, squeeze your cheeks when you sneeze." Kaptur's narrator concludes, "We don't need celebrity wannabes, we need serious leaders tackling serious challenges."

 OK-02: The newest commercial in what's turned into a very expensive Aug. 23 Republican runoff is a spot from the Club for Growth affiliate School Freedom Fund starring Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who extols former state Sen. Josh Brecheen as an ardent "Trump conservative."

This group has deployed $1.8 million during the second round to promote Brecheen, who is a former Club fellow, or rip his opponent, state Rep. Avery Fix, in the contest for this safely red eastern Oklahoma constituency. Two other organizations, Fund for a Working Congress and American Jobs and Growth PAC, have dropped a similar amount to help Frix, who outpaced Brecheen just 15-14 in late June.

Other Races

 GA Public Service Commission: On Friday, an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel stayed a recent lower court ruling that had blocked Georgia from holding elections this fall for two seats on its Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, on the grounds that the statewide election method violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Black voters. The district court ruling had postponed the elections until Georgia lawmakers adopted a district-based election method next year, but the appellate judges ruled that it was too close to November to implement any election changes to ongoing 2022 elections and stayed the lower court's decision while Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's appeal is pending.

Ad Roundup

McCarthy does damage control with House Republicans over leaked recordings

Despite Tucker Carlson's rant saying he “sounds like an MSNBC contributor” in recently released recordings and is a “puppet of the Democratic Party,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appears to be hanging on to the support of his fellow House Republicans. 

In January 2021, in the wake of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, McCarthy claimed he was going to pressure Donald Trump to resign. He said Rep. Matt Gaetz was “putting people in jeopardy” and that he would tell Gaetz to “cut this shit out.” He wondered, of some House Republicans, “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?” But apparently, McCarthy has done enough sucking up over the past 15 months to convince the far right, including Trump, that he can be relied on to keep sucking up and supporting assaults on democracy.

RELATED STORY: Awkward recording of Kevin McCarthy emerges hours after his denial. What else do reporters have?

McCarthy reportedly got a standing ovation at a House Republican meeting Wednesday, after he claimed that all those comments were part of a “conversation about scenarios” and worked to focus attention on winning in November.

”McCarthy has explained that his comments about resignation were made only in the context of an anticipated impeachment conviction, and he has argued that he did not really want to kick members off Twitter,” The Washington Post reports, based on an anonymous “person familiar with the comments.” The part about the comments about resignation isn’t too far out of line with the recordings, in which McCarthy said, “This is, this is what I think. We know [the impeachment resolution will] pass the House. I think there’s a good chance it’ll pass the Senate, even when he’s gone. Um, and I think there’s a lot of different ramifications for that,” and speculated about whether Democrats would follow through on impeaching Trump if he resigned first. But the part about not really wanting Republicans kicked off Twitter is a strong case of “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying ears?” Most House Republicans are apparently willing to believe McCarthy, despite the clarity of the recording.

Gaetz remains unhappy, speaking out at the Republican meeting. But while Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene reportedly called on Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, to apologize for his comments on the recordings, and said she was hurt by McCarthy’s comments, it seems that McCarthy has done enough to butter her up—Greene isn’t after his head. And all it took was McCarthy coming out of a discussion about her speaking at a white nationalist event and pledging that he’d restore her committee assignments if Republicans control the House, and—as she told her fellow Republicans on Wednesday—working on getting her reinstated on Twitter.

In addition to his Wednesday comments claiming he had just been gaming out scenarios and hadn’t meant what he said and don’t Republicans want to win in November, a large part of McCarthy’s effort to get past his recorded comments has involved further sucking up to Trump. He talked to Trump three times in the 24 hours after the first round of recordings became public, the Post reports, and Trump told The Wall Street Journal the two men’s relationship was good. 

But it’s Trump, so it’s all transactional. “He will extract something from it. I’m sure of that. He will hold it over McCarthy,” someone who had talked to Trump about the recordings told the Post. Trump understands that he’s dealing with someone weak, someone he can handle:

" 'Inferiority complex,' Trump said." https://t.co/68nQvjJnYV

— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) April 28, 2022

It’s not transactional with only Trump, either—as the explanation for Greene’s muted tone about the recordings shows. McCarthy has spent 15 months making sure that Trump and Greene and everyone else understands that his ambition to be speaker is definitely more important than upholding democracy or ensuring accountability after an insurrection.

Whatever McCarthy really thinks about January 6, or about some of his members’ Twitter accounts … doesn’t matter. Because the only thing that matters for McCarthy is Republican power, and his own power within his party. And since most of his fellow Republicans share the former goal and think he can help deliver it, his barrage of phone calls to Trump and his refusal to discipline Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar for speaking at a white nationalist event, and his help with Greene’s Twitter account are enough for him to hang onto the latter.

RELATED STORIES:

Kevin McCarthy is in large trouble with his fellow Republicans after more recordings released

Trump’s Big Lie rules Republicans, and the traditional media is letting them get away with it

Sex trafficking investigation seems to be hurting Rep. Matt Gaetz’s pocketbook

If you haven’t heard, Florida Man Rep. Matt Gaetz continues to be the focus of speculation that he has done some real dirtbag criminal stuff. Since one of his best buds, Joel Greenberg, has cut a plea deal with investigators, there have been numerous reports of witnesses who seem to say Mr. Gaetz has involved himself in human trafficking, sex with a minor, illegal drug use, and possible misuse of campaign funds. This is on top of completely unrelated reports that Rep. Gaetz has received dubious campaign donations from sketchy sources. 

In the meanwhile, Gaetz has alternately hidden from the public, and then burst back into the public on what can only be called political theater events. Along with Marjorie Taylor Greene, and other MAGA diehards who may be feeling the need to find a dictator who can pardon them in the future, Gaetz continues to promote the Trumpian Big Lie that our elections were stolen and that anyone investigating what happened on Jan. 6 is probably a part of the “deep state.”

These moves have seemed desperate attempts to both provide cover for what investigators may very well discover concerning a possible conspiracy to overturn the election results in 2020, and a way to fundraise for elected officials who have voted against every single piece of popular legislation that lands on their desks.

According to ABC News, Mr. Gaetz’s most recent campaign financial disclosures show that the suspected sex trafficker seems to be having a hard time keeping up the big fundraising numbers. In the final quarter of 2021, born-rich Gaetz reportedly pulled in just over $500,000 in donations—less than a third of what the Gaetz campaign was able to fundraise in the final quarter of 2020.

According to ABC, this diminishing return for the Gaetz campaign has been a pattern since Donald Trump lost the election, and certain GOP representatives decided to hitch their train to outright support of transplanting a fascist into power. This follows with how poorly Gaetz and fellow mad king cosplayer Marjorie Taylor Greene’s attempt at fundraising together has gone. Over the summer, the Daily Beast reported that the Gaetz/Greene “joint fundraising committee” were posting “a combined loss of $342,000.” Not to get wonky here, but that’s the opposite of fundraising.

The Daily Beast is now reporting that Gaetz’s legal costs, the costs he put toward paying PR firms to spin the ongoing sex and drug crimes investigations have left his Friends of Matt Gaetz campaign committee at an almost $100,000 net loss on the year. Gaetz told the Beast that he is the only Republican that doesn’t take “lobbyist or PAC money.”

This may be true [once again, see the strange money contributions story about Matt Gaetz]. It may also be true that the money Matt Gaetz has taken for his campaign was used both illegally and for illegal things. But kissing the ring of a wannabe dictator is also costly, according to the Daily Beast.

As is customary for MAGA fixtures like Gaetz, the campaign paid its tributes to Donald Trump, tithing more than $2,200 to Trump properties in 2021. More than half of it came during the final months—$729 on Nov. 2 for lodging at Mar-a-Lago, and $445 for a late-October meal at Trump International Hotel in D.C.

Recently Matt Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend reportedly reached an immunity deal with investigators in exchange for her cooperation in the investigation of the Florida official. Gaetz has steadfastly said that all reports of illegal activities on his part are lies, and that the investigation is a witch hunt of sorts. Does this sound familiar?

Rep. Matt Gaetz is out of friends, drugs, and pimps. Might be time to cut your losses, pal

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz has long been a terrible, terrible person, which for the past 10 years has been a near-requirement for Republican officeholders in general. He made a name for himself as a rabid partisan of no particular values other than devoted sucking-up; his main contribution to his nation has been a vocal defending of Donald Trump each and every time Trump was caught in some new crookedness. That's it. He's known for that, for launching retaliatory strikes against Trump's enemies, for near-obsessive attempts to ingratiate himself with Dear Golfing Leader, and oh, would you look at that, living a not-so-secret life as a House Republican ultraperv now under investigation for drug-fueled sex trafficking. What are the odds: A man who fetishizes Donald Trump and is joined at the hip to Jim Jordan turned out to be a child rapist? Wow, go figure.

So we are absolutely allowed to enjoy his downfall, and if the man wants to drag this out in order to tarnish or implicate as many of his fellow House Republican sedition-backers as possible then by all means he should knock himself out with that. Do a backflip on the way down, buddy.

The latest humiliation, just so we are all gloriously up to date, is an expected one. Matt Gaetz evidently sought an urgent meeting with Donald Trump "after it was first revealed he was being investigated," says CNN, but was turned down by Trump's aides. Yes, the man who polished Dear Crooked Leader's boots to a shine in multiple impeachment investigations is being cut loose by the Mar-a-Lago crowd.

Now, just to put the proper emphasis on this: If there is any group in Florida that has their pulse on everything corrupt or worth corrupting, it is the denizens of Dear Golfing Leader's For-Profit Living Room and Covid Dispensarium, home of the all-you-can-eat Crime Buffet. The rapist and tax dodger Trump was carried into office by an assembly of small-time and mid-ranking conservative griftologists able to ingratiate themselves because they spoke the same two-bit language; once in office, he was treated as the Jesus of Petty Extortions. This crowd thinks the brown-nosing Matt Gaetz is cooked. This is the crowd that's cutting him loose.

Yeah, he's toast. Already, there's a robo-poll going around Gaetz's district testing names for who in Republicandom should run to replace him. Nobody's fessing up to paying for it, though.

The New York Times has our latest look at Joel Greenberg, the Florida Republican minor officeholder whose goings-on turned his friend Gaetz into a subject of a federal sex trafficking investigation, and the sheer scope of the man's seemingly compulsive crime-doing is ... yeesh. He may be the perfect Florida Republican, a lifetime screwup who spent just enough money to land himself a smalltime elected position in a state that doesn't give a damn about governing to begin with, a belligerent little hack who campaigned on swamp-draining but after taking office immediately seemed to fill his scorecard with every crime he could think of, both petty-ass and prison-worthy. As with every other crook in Florida, he latched onto the Gaetz and Trump crowd because go figure, it turns out sex crimes are one of the key Republican means of bonding, and now it seems he is a bit of a wreck because after f--king up everything else in his life he has a sudden fear of going to Big Boy Jail.

This is a child who would willingly burn every other conservative in Florida if it got him an extra pudding cup in prison lunchlines. He's going to cling to Gaetz's ankles so tenaciously Matt won't be able to board a plane without declaring him luggage.

Here's where things stand: House Republican Matt Gaetz is being probed for the possible sex trafficking of a 17-year-old. Along the way to answering that one last (?) question, people "familiar" with What Gaetz Was Doing have already confirmed to reporters that Gaetz has been openly bragging to his fellow House Republicans about his "conquests" (complete with videotapes); at least once accompanied Greenberg to Greenberg's fake-ID procurement office; "repeatedly" boasted to others about his antics with Greenberg; made at least one apparent sex trip to the Bahamas involving "female escorts" provided by another ally; appears to have assisted in procuring sex for other Republicans; and there are literally Venmo records of Gaetz paying at least three of the women through Greenberg. There's alleged drug use throughout, of course.

Oh, and he sought a "blanket" Trump pardon after he learned, in the last bits of Trump's time in office, that the feds were on to him. Oh, and his (other?) actions while in Congress were so continually grotesque his own staffers were sending videos to other Republicans.

That's not even all of it. That's just the highlights. And House Republicans knew about quite a bit of this, because Matt liked to "brag," and they did nothing because the party is a fascist cult now premised on letting their members get away with crimes.

Unfortunately for Matt Gaetz, he has failed to learn any of the basic lessons of Washington, D.C. Polishing Dear Leader's boots will get you absolutely nothing in return; there is no quid or quo among sociopaths and narcissists. When doing crimes, only do crimes that your associates can keep covered up. Attempt, if at all possible, not to be so universally hated in the nation that every last one of your Not Jim Jordan associates is putting out the popcorn and sitting themselves down on a couch to watch rigor mortis set in on your career.

If the man had an ounce of common sense he'd resign now, if only to make it not quite so spectacularly rewarding for national journalists to squeeze out new detail after new detail while he squirms. Instead, he's promoting seditionist conspiracies and being publicly dim. In times of trouble, some people retrench. Matt here is retrenching.

But Matt Gaetz has been a garbage human being ever since he first slithered out of the Florida swamps like an invasive python, he deserves every bit of it, everyone around him is a garbage human being for not ditching him long before this, and the sooner the Republican base figures out their party is just a crime-fueled sex cult with an advertising budget the better.

Morning Digest: D.A. leading reform charge in Philadelphia faces primary challenge from skeptic

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

Philadelphia, PA District Attorney: Larry Krasner's 2017 victory in the race for Philadelphia district attorney gave criminal justice reformers an early high-profile win, but he faces a competitive May 18 Democratic primary fight to hold onto his office. Krasner's opponent is former prosecutor Carlos Vega, who has argued that the incumbent has been running "an experiment that is costing the lives of our children." The eventual nominee should have no trouble in the November general election in this heavily blue city.

Politico's Holly Otterbein writes that Vega, who was one of the 31 prosecutors whom Krasner fired shortly into his tenure, has avoided "campaigning as a tough-on-crime politician." Vega instead has argued he can deliver "real progressive reform" and insisted that "we don't have to choose between safety and reform." Vega has also blamed the city's spike in homicides on the district attorney's policies.

Krasner has responded by pointing out that murders have increased nationwide for reasons far beyond his control, saying, "What has happened, and essentially every criminologist agrees on this, is that the pandemic, closing of society and closing of so many different aspects of what protects and surrounds especially young men have disappeared." Krasner has further defended himself by arguing, as Otterbein writes, that he's "delivered on his campaign promises by lowering the jail population, exonerating the innocent and reducing the amount of time people are on probation and parole."

Campaign Action

The incumbent, in turn, is framing his contest as a choice between criminal justice reform and "past that echoes with names like [Frank] Rizzo," the city's racist late mayor. Krasner is also trying to turn the local Fraternal Order of Police's support for Vega into a liability by pointing out that the national organization backed Donald Trump last year. Vela, who was the first Latino homicide prosecutor in Pennsylvania, has pushed back, saying it was "really rich" for Krasner to compare him to Trump "when this is coming from a person who's white, elite, from an Ivy League school."

Krasner outraised his opponent by hauling in $420,000 during the first three months of 2021, but Vega still brought in a credible $340,000. Krasner also has to deal with a well-funded group called Protect Our Police PAC, which has mostly been financed by pro-Trump megadonor Timothy Mellon. The PAC, though, generated plenty of negative attention in early April when it sent out a fundraising email falsely blaming George Floyd for his own death.

Vela quickly disavowed the group, which blamed the message on a marketing firm, and said he didn't want its backing. Protect Our Police, in turn, responded by saying that it wasn't endorsing Vela but was "laser-focused" on unseating Krasner.

One major question looming over the race is whether billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has in the past donated heavily to groups supporting Krasner and likeminded candidates, will help him again. Otterbein also notes that there have been no public polls here, and insiders disagree on how vulnerable Krasner is next month.

1Q Fundraising

NV-Sen: Catherine Cortez Masto (D-inc): $2.3 million raised, $4.7 million cash-on-hand

Senate

AK-Sen: The prominent GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund has backed Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who already faces an intra-party challenge from former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka. Murkowski, who has not yet announced if she'll seek re-election, had suggested she might run as an independent back in January, but SLF's endorsement indicates that party leaders doubt she'll abandon the party label.

As we've noted before, Alaska will not hold a conventional party primary next year thanks to a new ballot measure Alaska voters passed in November that radically reforms how elections are conducted in the state. Under Measure 2, all candidates from all parties will now run together on a single primary ballot, with the top four vote-getters advancing to a November general election. Voters would then choose a winner from that quartet by means of an instant runoff.

AZ-Sen: The far-right anti-tax Club for Growth has released a survey from its usual pollster WPA Intelligence showing its ally, extremist Rep. Andy Biggs, edging out Gov. Doug Ducey 46-45 in a hypothetical Republican primary.

Biggs said a few weeks ago that he'd decide by the end of March if he'd challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, but the month concluded without any public comment from the congressman about his plans. Ducey, by contrast, took his name out of consideration in January, though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly has been trying to get him to reconsider.

GA-Sen: While Donald Trump generated plenty of chatter about former NFL running back Herschel Walker's interest in this race last month when he not-tweeted "Run Herschel, run!", the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Walker himself has remained "silent" about a possible campaign against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. The paper says that Walker, who remains a Texas resident, also "hasn't returned the calls of even some senior Republican officials trying to ascertain his next move."

Meanwhile another Republican, banking executive Latham Saddler, filed paperwork with the FEC on Friday for a potential campaign.

NC-Sen: On Thursday, a consultant for far-right Rep. Ted Budd named Michael Luethy told the News & Observer that his boss would make his decision whether to run for the state's open Senate seat "sooner than later." Luethy also said of the Budd's deliberations, "It's fair to say he's leading towards it."

That same day, the conservative Carolina Journal published a piece by Dallas Woodhouse, the infamous former executive director of the state GOP, who wrote that multiple unnamed sources believed that Budd "will enter the U.S. Senate race in the coming weeks." Luethy, though, insisted that, while Budd is putting together a "formidable team," the congressman had not yet made a final decision.

The only notable Republican in the running right now is Budd's former colleague, ex-Rep. Mark Walker, though others are eyeing this contest. The potential candidate who continues to generate the most attention is former Trump campaign adviser Lara Trump, while former Gov. Pat McCrory has been flirting with a bid for years.  One Republican who will not be running, though, is state party chair Michael Whatley, who took his name out of contention on Thursday.

NV-Sen: On Thursday, former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval unambiguously ruled out running against Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto. "I have no interest in running and I will not be a candidate" said Sandoval, who now serves as president of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Governors

MD-Gov: Former Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker announced Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nomination to succeed termed-out Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Baker's decision came as a surprise, as his name had not been mentioned much before he kicked off his second campaign for this office.

Baker, who would be Maryland's first Black governor, competed in the 2018 primary to take on Hogan, and he attracted the support of almost the entire state party establishment. However, Baker lost by a surprisingly wide 40-29 margin to former NAACP president Ben Jealous, whom Hogan went on to defeat in the general election.

The Washington Post's Arelis Hernandez took a close look at what went wrong for Baker right after the primary and pointed to a number of factors that led to his downfall. These included his refusal to heed advice that he campaign more visibly, Jealous' aggressive courting of unions and stronger fundraising, and the fact that Baker didn't jump on developments coming out of the Trump White House in the way that Jealous did. On Friday, fellow Post writer Rachel Chason noted that Baker was also held back by "political enemies he made in Prince George's, including labor unions and opponents of his controversial efforts to improve county public schools."

In an interview Thursday with Maryland Matters, Baker acknowledged that his underwhelming fundraising had played a big role in his defeat last time. Baker argued, though, that he was limited at the time by his responsibilities as county executive and local ethics rules restricting how much officeholders could take from developers, which will not be factors for him now.

Baker joins a primary field that already includes state Comptroller Peter Franchot, who has been running for over a year, and former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain, while more could be in before long. Maryland Matters' Bruce DePuyt writes that former Attorney General Doug Gansler, who badly lost the 2014 primary for governor, is "expected to announce that he's running later this month." DePuyt also relays that Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski "is expected" to decide next month after the county council acts on his proposed budget.

Several other Democrats could also join the field, but it looks like Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks will not be one of them. Alsobrooks, who was elected in 2018 to succeed Baker as leader of the state's second-largest county, said last month that "in this moment I'm running for re-election."

While Alsobrooks' statement didn't quite close the door on a campaign for higher office, Baker said Thursday that he'd only made his decision after talking with her the day before. Baker said he'd spoken to her about the gubernatorial race and added that "[w]e're genuinely friends" and "our supporters are the same."

NV-Gov: Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo acknowledged to the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Thursday that he was thinking about seeking the Republican nomination to face Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. Rep. Mark Amodei also recently reaffirmed his interest, while former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchinson has reportedly been considering as well. The paper writes of this group, "The consensus among local Republican political operatives is that the trio is working to reach an agreement on a single candidate to support by the beginning of summer.

NY-Gov: Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik's team on Thursday put out their first statement directly addressing the possibility that she could run for governor, which came hours after her colleague, Lee Zeldin, kicked off his own bid. "Congresswoman Stefanik continues to receive encouragement from all corners of the state as she would immediately be the strongest Republican candidate in both a primary and general gubernatorial election," said senior advisor Alex DeGrasse, who added that she "is not ruling anything out - nor will she make her decision based on others' timetables."

House

FL-01, NY-23: The House Ethics Committee on Friday announced that it had opened investigations into two Republicans embroiled in separate scandals, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and New York Rep. Tom Reed.

The committee says it is "aware of public allegations" that Gaetz "may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct." Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for sex trafficking, has rejected calls for his resignation.

The Ethics Committee, meanwhile, is probing allegations that Reed "may have engaged in sexual misconduct." Last month, a woman named Nicolette Davis accused Reed of sexually harassing her at a Minneapolis restaurant in 2017. While Reed initially denied Davis' account as "not accurate," he published a statement two days later apologizing to her and announcing that he would not be on the ballot for anything next year.

FL-20: The Sun Sentinel writes that, while Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness hasn't yet launched a campaign to succeed the late Rep. Alcee Hastings, Holness has "been informally running for months" for this safely blue South Florida seat. The paper also name-drops Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard as another possible Democratic contender for the unscheduled special election.

NY-01: Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who took third in last year's Democratic primary, filed paperwork with the FEC on Friday for a potential bid to succeed Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is running for governor. Fleming did not immediately announce a bid, though she responded to a tweet the previous day urging her to run by writing, "Stay tuned."

Still more details emerge showing that Matt Gaetz was using his pal Greenberg to pimp young women

The story of Rep. Matt Gaetz is like one of those horror films that generates an extra large jolt of fear by first tossing up something that causes laughter. It’s clear that what Gaetz has done is genuinely criminal, and that the way his crimes were systematically ignored by Republicans at every level in both Florida and Washington, D.C. speaks to an incredible level of hypocrisy and corruption. On the other hand, the details are … ridiculous.

For example, Gaetz has repeatedly put out statements saying that “Rep. Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex.” It turns out this may be true. Technically. Because as Daily Beast reports, records show that Gaetz only paid his friend Joel Greenberg. It was Greenberg who then actually paid for the sex. This is the kind of logic that’s certain to make heads nod on the couches of Fox & Friends. “See? Gaetz was telling the truth.”

But to take this claim and turn the facepalm level to 11, it turns out that Gaetz paid Greenberg $900 using the cash app Venmo. Greenberg then sent cash along to three women, also using Venmo, that totaled $900. And before anyone starts up the Fox-brand coincidence engine, Gaetz included a memo along with his payment saying “hit up ___” where “___” was the name of one of the women involved.

This comes on the same day that Gaetz’s office issued a statement saying the women on his staff thought of him as “a principled and morally grounded leader” and that none of them had witnessed anything other than “the utmost professionalism and respect.” There was no mention of whether Gaetz had provided these women with blindfolds or fireplace pokers on entry into his office.

In an over-the-top op-ed, Gaetz warned that there would be a “drip drip drip” of news coming out about his activities. Somehow, Gaetz seems to think that the more information appears, the more it shows that he is innocent. But at this point, the sheer amount of daily material appearing on Gaetz is more than a little daunting, and it’s not as if all of this is coming through leaks at the FBI or Department of Justice. Gaetz seems to have done almost nothing to hide his activities.

Gaetz defending Trump during Trump’s second impeachment.

And that’s perhaps the most disturbing part of this story. Not what Gaetz did, but that he did it so loudly.  From the sex games he played in the Florida House—where sleeping with interns was a goal and finding virgins scored extra “points”—to the nude videos he has circulated on the flood of the U.S. House, Gaetz was absolutely open with his fellow Republicans. Gaetz walked around preaching family values while apparently jetting off to visit sex workers in the Bahamas, or working with Greenberg to generate fake IDs for underage girls, or paying for those girls to fly to hotels where Gaetz could be “generous” to them with “gifts.” 

No Republican in either Washington or Florida can claim to be surprised about Matt Gaetz. The news that’s drip, drip, dripping out each day isn’t a revelation to them. Gaetz has bragged about these things for years. This is a guy who ran a concerted campaign in favor of revenge porn. And not once was any of it allowed to slow his rise through Republican ranks. Gaetz was passing around nude photos of his conquests on the House floor as other Republicans were lining up behind him as a “leader.”

Whether it was acting as one of Donald Trump’s biggest supporters, voting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, or storming a secure facility with phone cameras running, other Republicans have repeatedly stood behind Gaetz both figuratively and literally, and all the time they knew exactly who he was. There may be staffers now coming forward with horror stories, but it’s been only weeks since congressmen with decades of experience lined up to champion Gaetz.

Gaetz stands in front of two dozen House Republicans after leading them in an invasion of a secure facility in violation of House rules.

PizzaGaetz, FloodGaetz, GaetzGate ... whatever the name, it just keeps getting worse. And it’s not just about Matt Gaetz. It’s about the Republican Party and a culture that regularly ignores misogyny, sexual harassment, and genuine crimes. Because when it comes to abuse of women … that’s what being a Republican is all about.

It certainly explains the difficulty in passing a new version of the Violence Against Women Act. 

In any case, the specifics of this little bit of the story about teenage sex trafficking, buying sex for other Republican officials, and the international “ganjapreneur” story may be about to unwind in the public eye as Greenberg has apparently decided to take a deal in exchange for testimony. As The New York Times reports, Gaetz isn’t involved in all of Greenberg’s charges—such as stalking a political opponent or trying to bribe a federal official—but Gaetz was certainly there for many of the charges that are about to be laid out in great detail.

What’s a good sign that Greenberg’s testimony won’t be good for Gaetz? Maybe this statement from Greenberg’s attorney: “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” said attorney Fritz Scheller. 

Republicans in general shouldn’t be feeling too comfortable. Unfortunately, they are.

When it comes to Joel Greenberg and the trio of women to whom he distributed Gaetz’s funds, there is no direct mention of their age. However, the terms that Greenberg placed in the memos of their payments might give a clue: “Tuition,” “School,” and “School.”

Friday, Apr 9, 2021 · 2:19:44 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

New: @RepMattGaetz has hired white collar criminal defense lawyers Marc Mukasey & Isabelle Kirshner to lead his legal team. Mukasey has a long history in former President Trump’s orbit, and notably defended SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who was acquitted of murder in 2019.

— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) April 9, 2021

The GOP’s Dr. Seuss distractions couldn’t be more different than 2009 stimulus derailment strategy

We’re not in 2009 anymore. President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP)—which passed with only Democratic support—makes that clear. In 2009, also in the midst of a terrible crisis, we enacted a very different economic package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The differences in content between the two are stark.

The current one is more than twice as large, delivers money directly to people who need it (rather than fruitlessly seeking bipartisan support, in part by including tax cuts which are far less effective in terms of impact), and is strikingly more progressive, more so than anything proposed by a president since LBJ, according to Ezra Klein—in particular in its approach to poverty. But equally stark is the difference between the Republican response this time versus 12 years ago.

Despite newly elected President Barack Obama’s inclusion of various elements Republicans should have supported, his 2009 stimulus package faced sustained and ruthless attacks from conservative politicians and, just as importantly, the right-wing media. At the time, the “de facto leader” of the Republican Party was Rush Limbaugh, whose audience size beat that of all his radio rivals. His assaults on the Obama stimulus package are representative of those put forth by the rest of the right-wing media ecosystem.

Day after day, the host attacked Obama’s plan—at a time when the president was immensely popular, more so than Joe Biden at a comparable point in his presidency. The Obama stimulus itself was broadly popular when it was enacted on Feb. 17, 2009, although it did not garner quite as much support as Biden’s plan does right now. Conservatives like Limbaugh made it their business to turn the American people against the bill, and not just by criticizing it on the grounds of small-government ideology. They had a good deal of success, in part because of flaws in the ARRA, but also because they were laser-focused on poisoning the discourse around it.

In addition to lying about the specifics, Limbaugh race-baited his listeners by slamming the ARRA as a “welfare payment”—a racially loaded term that conservatives going back to Ronald Reagan used as a dog whistle, to evoke stereotypical images of Black people supposedly not working while being supported by the government. The host linked the Obama plan to welfare in different ways, on numerous different broadcasts, and mentioned how “civil rights coalitions” supported the push to “redistribute” money by “taking it from you” (given that his audience was overwhelmingly white, we know who “you” referred to). He went after the bill for sending money to ACORN—which advocated for low-income folks and people of color, and worked to increase voter registration—despite the fact that the group got no money from the ARRA. Limbaugh also speculated baselessly that Al Sharpton and his group got stimulus funds.

The host also lied about the ARRA giving tax credits to “illegal aliens”—which did not happen. Additionally, he characterized the Obama stimulus as an “effort to buy votes,” and then immediately played an exchange of the president talking with a Latino student. In this and other similar segments, the host’s goal was to paint the plan as seeking to help those Black and brown people whom he depicted as wanting to avoid work. As Limbaugh told it, the ARRA was another plank in a race war fueled by Obama’s “rage”—and inspired by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Bringing it all together on June 22, 2009, the host spewed the following racist claptrap: “Everything in the stimulus plan, every plan he’s got is reparations. … Redistribution of wealth, reparations … whatever you want to call it, it’s reparations.”

Although today’s Republicans are employing different tactics in opposing Biden’s plan, some habits are hard to break. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham went after a provision aimed at helping Black farmers who suffered a century of systemic discrimination after the Civil War, using the same language as Limbaugh: “In this bill, if you're a farmer, your loan will be forgiven up to 120% of your loan if you're socially disadvantaged, if you're African American … some other minority. But if you're (a) white person, if you're a white woman, no forgiveness! That's reparations!” House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, who hails from the same state, called Graham out: “He ought to be ashamed of himself. He knows the history in this country and he knows what has happened to Black farmers,” and added that his fellow South Carolinian ought to “go to church … Get in touch with his Christianity.”

Graham didn’t attack the overall bill in race-baiting terms, however. I’m not suggesting that’s because the 2021 version of the Republican Party has grown more enlightened on race since it fell under the sway of Donald Trump. It’s because the circumstances around the American Rescue Plan are different from those in play in 2009. Republicans haven’t stopped using racially or culturally divisive attacks as a way to distract from the unpopularity of their policy positions. It’s just that, with over half a million deaths that have affected all communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even they don’t think it’s a winning move to attack Biden’s relief bill on the same sort of race-baiting grounds, or with the same level of intensity, as they did Obama’s ARRA package.

Republicans can’t even successfully go after the ARP as “big government” overreach or for increasing the national debt, because they supported multiple COVID-19 bills last year that in total spent even more, not to mention their having busted the budget on Trump’s Rich Man’s Tax Cut in 2017. The last thing Republicans want to do is remind voters that they blew a trillion-plus dollar hole in the national debt and sent just about half of that money to the richest 5%, while Biden’s bill will put 70% of its money into the pockets of the bottom 60% of Americans by income.

Democrats must make sure voters don’t forget that. New York. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s messaging nailed it: “We should shout it from the rooftops that we are passing historic legislation that will reboot the economy and end the pandemic. They're always ready to help a big corporation or a rich person, but when a working family needs help, the Republicans tell them to drop dead.”

Even Republican mayors—32 of them in fact, from states ranging from Oklahoma to North Carolina to Indiana to Arizona to Michigan—signed on to support the Biden plan. Directly countering lies from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about “blue state bailouts,” Republican Mayor Bryan Barnett of Rochester Hills, Michigan, stated: “This isn't because of some gross mismanagement or some bad contracts that were signed or historic deficits. This is about addressing the needs of a global pandemic that are really (for) the same constituents they serve in D.C. that we're serving here at the local level.”

For multiple reasons, including the fact that their current leader, aka Mr. Former Guy, supported the main element—a check going out to most Americans—the Republican response to the American Rescue Plan has been “more muted” than 12 years ago, and that includes the response from Trump.

The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote (Twice) actually slammed his once and possible future ally McConnell over his opposition to those very checks. Republicans can’t seem to get on the same page when it comes to the specifics of the ARP, so it’s hard for them to condemn it in a coherent way. Sen. McTurtle has issued a few statements rebuking the relief package, but it’s nothing compared to 2009.

Rather than go hard after the ARP in the way Limbaugh had done with the ARRA a dozen years ago, Trump all but ignored it at his biggest and best opportunity: CPAC. He devoted only two sentences to the bill during a speech lasting an hour and a half, instead spending much more time talking about the election, impeachment, and those who truly demonstrated, in the words of Luca Brasi, their “ever-ending loyalty.” As for those who didn’t, they could sleep with the fishes as far as Trump—who has himself been accused of acting like a mafia boss—was concerned.

Instead, Trump and his party made a decision to attack Biden in a very incoherent way. This is not to suggest that they don’t know what they are doing, but rather that what they are doing is not going to work. They are banking on people, when they vote in 2022, somehow not remembering how bad the situation was when Biden took office, so that Republicans can then say that the ARP didn’t really do all that much, or wasn’t necessary in the first place—as Moscow Mitch just claimed on Thursday—or was just a bunch of progressive ideas (yeah, and people like those ideas). Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi is actually trying to take credit for the bill, even though he (and every other Republican) voted against it. Talk about incoherence. You know their attacks are pretty weak when they sound like this one, from Texas Sen. John Cornyn: “Unfortunately, there’s going to be a sugar high because free money is very popular … So this may be temporarily popular, but it’s going to wear thin over time.”

If you have to say twice that the bill is going to be popular, then maybe you’ve got a political problem here, senator. Republicans are already trying to “pre-deny” credit for the coming boom to Biden’s policies—even as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s analysis found that the American Rescue Plan would increase economic growth in our country by an impressive 3% over previous estimates, and would add over 1% to worldwide economic growth. That’s a Big Fucking … oh, forget it, everyone else has already used that line. It is a BFD, though.

There were a couple of other echoes of 2009 coming from conservatives. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee issued a statement in early February criticizing the increased child tax credit that ended up in the final bill as “welfare assistance.” Chris Hartline, National Republican Senatorial Committee spox, went off about Democrats not caring if stimulus checks went to undocumented immigrants. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has made similar complaints, and also carped about ARP money going to incarcerated prisoners.

However, there are two problems for The Man Who Threw His Own Daughters Under The Bus: first, his proposed amendment would have blocked 2 million American citizen children from receiving stimulus checks just because their parents are undocumented. As Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the majority whip, noted: “These American kids should receive this relief just as other American kids do.” Second, the previous COVID-19 stimulus checks—the ones with the Orange Julius Caesar’s name on them—also went out to prisoners, something Cruz absolutely knew before the December COVID-19 bill was passed. Did he utter a peep about it when that bill was under discussion? I think you know the answer.

So, although conservatives have made their pro forma condemnations of the ARP, what they are actually spending the bulk of their time and energy screaming about these days reveals their fundamental strategy. Their goal is not to rile up their voters about what the president is doing—which will help just about every American—but instead distract them with totally unrelated culture war issues.

Do Fox News viewers even know about the American Rescue Act, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that passed the Senate? They might not. The network, like most right-wing media, has largely ignored the Covid-19 relief legislation, instead fixating on silly culture-war controversies involving Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss. In the days leading up to the Senate vote, the network was far more concerned with the availability of Dr. Seuss’s Scrambled Eggs Super than it was with any aspect of the bill itself.

Want to guess how many times Fox mentioned Dr. Seuss just through March 3? Not one fish, and not two fish. Try 60 times, as counted by The Washington Post. Beyond the cancel culture crap, the Party of Trump has one arena of actual policy that it seems to think is worthy of more time, attention, and vitriol than COVID-19 relief: the great danger they insist is posed by transgender athletes. To his eternal credit, Florida (Man) Rep. Matt Gaetz combined two manufactured controversies in a single bank shot when, at CPAC, he quipped: “Mr. Potato Head was America’s first transgender doll and even he got canceled.” I haven’t seen anyone get this worked up about Mr. Potato Head since this guy yelled at his little nerdy buddy.

Just look at a snapshot of Fox News’ website after the ARP passed compared to that of CNN. The latter has the vitally important piece of legislation at the top, over the entire three-column page. The former leads with the Meghan Markle/Piers Morgan clash, and its largest mention of the president is in an article about how his “handlers” are, wait for it, “hidin’ Biden.” Yep, they’re still going with that campaign calumny about the guy who trounced Trump being somehow infirm.

Anything to avoid reality.

The Fox News website is an alternative universe from what the actual top news story is. pic.twitter.com/ONv5z7JE6M

— Richard W. (@IceManNYR) March 10, 2021

Why are Republicans following this strategy? After being fed political junk food for so long—especially by the demagogue who has led their party going on five years now—it’s the only thing their voters want to imbibe. These kinds of culture war attacks “unif[y] the party but expands it into the area we need to—the suburban moms, the college educated men that we struggled with in 2020, there’s common ground with these constituencies,” according to Mercedes Schlapp, who worked for the twice-impeached president. Republican strategist Matt Gorman added that such tactics represent “a cultural touchstone for folks that shows where a party's priorities are.” Famed Republican pollster Frank Luntz thinks they are “definitely” a good way to excite the right-wing base.

Daniel Cox, a researcher at the American Enterprise institute who has done extensive research about the topic, found that "concerns about cultural influence, political power and status are really overwhelming other ideological concerns on the right. Traditional conservative principles, whether it's commitment to a strong national defense or support for limited government, do not animate Republican voters." Other Republicans offered similar opinions.

Even the recently deceased Limbaugh typically used to tie his race-baiting attacks to larger ideological questions or at least policies under discussion in the moment—not that that’s praise, mind you. Now, however, the Party of Trump can’t even bother to do that, as per POLITICO: “Today, much of the fracas doesn’t even involve Biden, or his administration, or his policy agenda. Instead, it involves things like corporate decisions around kids’ toys.”

In the end, as Ron Brownstein pointed out, Republicans were unable to “ignite a grassroots backlash” against Biden's COVID-19 relief package. One Democratic pollster, Nick Gourevitch, saw a lack of passion behind the Republican attacks on the bill: “It doesn't seem like they are even really trying.” Brownstein reported that, off the record at least, a number of Republicans agreed.

For their part, the Biden White House is more than happy to put its actual policy accomplishments up against the trash the other side is throwing out there.

Joe Biden isn’t worried about culture war attacks over Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head and Neanderthals. A White House official sends over a statement for our time.https://t.co/BmihkPQuDp More, w/ the great @meridithmcgraw pic.twitter.com/jWBU2ACQTE

— Christopher Cadelago (@ccadelago) March 5, 2021

One of the criticisms leveled at Obama—including by Barack himself—was that he didn’t always do a great job advertising his own achievements to voters. The 44th president acknowledged: “We did not always think about making sure we were advertising properly what was going on,” and added that his White House should have taken more “victory laps.” His veep, now the 46th president, appears to have learned the lesson well, as evidenced by the primetime address he delivered Thursday night.

Democrats think they have a winner with the American Rescue Plan, and it looks like they know how to tell the story of what they’ve accomplished.

DNC digital team w/ a Love Actually-themed response to covid package passage. Via @Adrienne_DNC pic.twitter.com/GPGX1Lmb5z

— Alex Thompson (@AlexThomp) March 10, 2021

The most recent polling shows not only that the American people favor the bill, but also that there’s a significant class divide that portends even more danger for the Party of Trump. Overall, 41% of Republicans like the ARP, which is bad enough for them. However, among the quarter of Republicans who are lower income, that percentage is 63%.

Pew finds a huge gap in support for Biden's relief bill between lower income and upper income Republicans -- nearly two thirds of lower income Republicans support it. pic.twitter.com/SPpDXILKjV

— Will Jordan (@williamjordann) March 9, 2021

Here’s the analysis from Daily Kos’ Kerry Eleveld: “This GOP divide along class lines gives Democrats a real opening to both win back some blue-collar voters as well as remind some Trump voters why they were never sold on the Republican Party to begin with (thereby discouraging them from turning out next year).”

It’s easy to say that, come the next election, the bullshit will win out over substance. We are Democrats, after all, which means we often see the glass as half-empty when it comes to electoral politics. But that’s not always how it plays out. Republicans may hope that if they just yell and scream about other, unrelated topics, voters in 2022 will forget that Biden’s relief plan significantly helped just about every American finally get past this devastating pandemic.

It’s up to all of us to help Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and the rest of the Democratic Party make sure voters remember who did that for them.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Morning Digest: How Ossoff and Warnock ran up the score to turn Georgia blue and flip the Senate

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

Senate-by-CD: With Democrats officially regaining control of the Senate on Wednesday, Daily Kos Elections is pleased to release the results of Georgia's Jan. 5 regular and special Senate runoffs, as well as the contest that same day for state Public Service Commission, for each of the state's 14 congressional districts. To help you follow along, we've put together a sheet with the results of each of these contests, as well as the 2020 presidential race.

Raphael Warnock defeated appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler 51.0-49.0 in a special election for the final two years of former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson's term, while fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff beat Republican Sen. David Perdue by a slightly narrower 50.6-49.4 in the contest for a regular six-year term. At the same time, though, Republican incumbent Bubba McDonald won re-election to the Public Service Commission by fending off Democrat Daniel Blackman 50.4-49.6.

Warnock, Ossoff, and McDonald each won the same six Democratic-held House seats that now-President Joe Biden took two months before when he was winning 49.5-49.3, while the remaining eight Republican-controlled constituencies voted for all of the GOP's statewide candidates. However, there were some notable differences in how each of these four Democrats performed that we'll briefly discuss.

Campaign Action

Ossoff ran ahead of Biden's November margin in 10 of the 14 seats, while Warnock outran Biden in 11, though in the runoffs, of course, there were no third-party candidates. The one seat where Warnock did better than Biden by margin but Ossoff didn't is the Atlanta-based 5th District, which is held by freshman Democratic Rep. Nikema Williams, though the differences were extremely small.

Ossoff and Warnock's biggest overperformance compared to Biden was in Democratic Rep. David Scott's 13th District in the southwestern Atlanta suburbs, where the two ran about 4-5 points ahead of the top of the ticket. Interestingly, both Senate candidates also eclipsed Biden in the 7th District, a historically red seat in the northeast Atlanta area that Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux flipped last year.

A bit surprisingly, both Ossoff and Warnock did a little better in the 7th than in Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath's 6th District, another former conservative stronghold in the Atlanta suburbs that has swung hard to the left in recent years. This seat also represented the largest underperformance for both Senate candidates compared to Biden, just as it did in November, despite the fact that Ossoff ran in the famous 2017 special election here; on Jan. 5, Ossoff trailed Biden by 6 points and Warnock trailed him by five.

Warnock also ran ahead of Ossoff in all 14 congressional districts. The largest gap was in the 6th District, where, as noted just above, Warnock did two points better, while the smallest was in Republican Rep. Buddy Carter's 1st District in the Savannah area, which saw almost no difference.

One important reason the two Democrats prevailed is that, while turnout unsurprisingly dropped from November to January in every congressional district, Team Blue was better able to mobilize its voters for the second round. As our map shows, Perdue hemorrhaged votes in heavily Republican seats, while Ossoff's dropoff was smaller in the very blue districts that ring Atlanta.

In fact, the site of Perdue's second-worst falloff (by just a hair) was rural northwest Georgia's 14th District, the new home of notorious insurrectionist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—and the site of an election eve rally by a certain resident of Mar-a-Lago. There, in what should have been the heart of GOP country, Perdue's turnout plummeted 12.5%.

Turning briefly to the race for Public Service Commission, Blackman ran behind Biden in 11 districts. The largest source of Democratic downballot underperformance was again in the 6th District, which may indicate that this area has plenty of voters who have turned against the GOP in presidential races but are still open to supporting Republicans in other races. Blackman's best seat compared to Biden was, like Warnock's and Ossoff's, also the 13th District.

Senate

CA-Sen, GA-Sen-A, GA-Sen-B: In one of her first acts after being sworn in on Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris in turn administered the oath of office to the Senate's three newest Democratic members: Alex Padilla of California and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia. With that act, the Senate returned to full strength, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, but because of Harris' tie-breaking vote, Democrats retook control of the chamber. As a result, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer was elevated to the post of majority leader, making him the first Jewish person to hold the job.

Both Padilla and Warnock will go before voters again in 2022, while Ossoff will not face re-election until 2026.

FL-Sen, FL-01: Rep. Matt Gaetz, a leading insurrectionist and peddler of the lie that left-wing forces were responsible for the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, says he has "no interest" in running against Sen. Marco Rubio in next year's Republican primary after a GOP official at the other end of the state talked up the idea to a local reporter. However, Gaetz added that he "would consider running" for state Agriculture Commissioner, a post currently held by Democrat Nikki Fried. If Gaetz were to seek a promotion, that would prompt an open-seat race for his heavily red 1st District, located in the Florida panhandle.

NC-Sen: The New York Times reported on Tuesday that, just hours before the new administration took office, the Justice Department told Republican Sen. Richard Burr that it would drop an investigation into allegations that he engaged in insider trading last year after receiving classified briefings as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The paper says, however, that a parallel SEC inquiry may still be ongoing. Burr long ago announced that he would retire next year, but last month he ever-so-slightly re-opened the door to a bid for a fourth term.

Governors

AK-Gov: Activists seeking to recall Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who put their campaign on hold last year when the coronavirus made signature-gathering very difficult, say they plan to restart their effort with vaccination now underway. Organizers say they will seek to collect petitions both by mail and safely in person.

Before pausing, recall proponents said they'd obtained almost 50,000 signatures, meaning they'd need at least 22,000 more to hit the threshold required to commence a recall election. If successful, officials would have to schedule an election 60 to 90 days after all signatures are verified, a process that can take up to 30 days. A bipartisan coalition kicked off the process in 2019, furious with Dunleavy's draconian budget cuts, including a retaliatory reduction in funds for the Alaska Supreme Court after it ruled against him in an abortion rights case.

While Dunleavy is on the ballot in 2022, one organizer explained the renewed push by saying, "There's so many things, so many reasons why two more years is way too long." If Dunleavy is ultimately removed from office, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, a fellow Republican, would take his place.

NE-Gov: State Sen. Brett Lindstrom recently told the Lincoln Journal Star that he was leaning towards running to succeed his fellow Republican, termed-out-Gov. Pete Ricketts, but that he wouldn't be making any announcements until the legislative session ends in late May.

Lindstrom, who played as a walk-on for the University of Nebraska's football team in the early 2000s, got his start in electoral politics in 2012 when he ran against then-Rep. Lee Terry in the GOP primary for the 2nd Congressional District, a contest where Terry prevailed 59-23. Lindstrom successfully won an Omaha area state Senate seat two years later, and as the online magazine Ozy wrote in a 2017 profile, he's occasionally defied his party's far-right orthodoxy.

Lindstrom was the crucial vote to repeal the death penalty in Nebraska during his first year in office, a stance that led to at least one death threat. (Ricketts and his allies successfully promoted a ballot measure to reinstate capital punishment.) Lindstrom also backed workplace protections for LGBTQ people and voted to override Ricketts' veto of a gas tax.

House

OH-11: Former state Sen. Shirley Smith announced this week that she would enter the Democratic primary if there's a special election to succeed Rep. Marcia Fudge, who is President Joe Biden's nominee for secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Smith joins ex-state Sen. Nina Turner, Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown, and former Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson in the contest for this safely blue seat which, according to new Daily Kos Elections data, backed Biden 80-19.

Smith has a long career in Cleveland politics going back to her 1998 election to the state House and her subsequent service in the upper chamber. Smith was termed-out in 2014 and ran for Cuyahoga County executive, but she lost the Democratic primary to the eventual winner, Armond Budish, by a 56-20 margin.

WY-AL: Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, just earned a primary challenge from state Sen. Anthony Bouchard as a result of her vote to impeach Donald Trump last week. Bouchard slammed Cheney in his kickoff, saying her "long-time opposition to President Trump and her most recent vote for impeachment shows just how out of touch she is with Wyoming."

The Casper Star-Tribune describes Bouchard as a gun activist and says he's "built a reputation in the Wyoming Legislature as one of its most conservative members." Politics1 also reports that on social media, Bouchard has been "a vocal fan" of two of the most extreme Republican members of the House, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert.

Legislative

Special Elections: Here's a recap of Tuesday's special election in Alabama:

AL-HD-33: Republican Ben Robbins defeated Democrat Fred Crum 68-32 to hold this Sylacauga-area seat for the GOP. This district became vacant when former Rep. Ron Johnson died last year. Robbins' victory was a very slight improvement for Team Red from Johnson's 67-33 win in his final race in 2018.

This makeup of this chamber is now 76-28 in favor of Republicans with one other seat vacant.

Prosecutors

Criminal Justice: 2021 will feature contests for district attorney and sheriff in a number of major counties, and the Appeal's Daniel Nichanian is out with a detailed preview of what to watch this year as criminal justice reformers look to make more inroads and defend influential allies.

One early test will take place on May 18 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where one of the most prominent reformers in the country, District Attorney Larry Krasner, faces a challenge in the Democratic primary from former prosecutor Carlos Vega. Vega has been a loud critic of the incumbent, whom he argues has been running "an experiment that is costing the lives of our children." The winner of the Democratic nomination should have no trouble in the November general election in this heavily blue city.

Another very high-profile race is also underway in Manhattan, where the winner of the June 22 Democratic primary will also be the heavy favorite. Incumbent Cy Vance has yet to announce if he'll seek a fourth term, but New York City politicos almost universally expected him to retire even before they learned he'd raised just $2,000 during the second half of 2020.

Eight fellow Democrats are currently competing to replace Vance, and with the exception of attorney and former prosecutor Liz Crotty, all of them have pitched themselves as progressives who will bring much needed changes to the office. There's no obvious frontrunner at the moment in what's already an expensive race.  

There's plenty more to watch across the country this year, and you'll want to check out Nichanian's preview of this year's major criminal justice contests.

Grab Bag

Where Are They Now?: Defense One reported Tuesday that former Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat who lost his bid for a second term last year in New York's 11th District, would take a job in the Biden Defense Department as an advisor on COVID-19. Rose, who previously served in the Army in Afghanistan, does not require Senate confirmation.  

Where Are They Now?: On his way out the door, Donald Trump issued pardons to three former Republican congressmen who had been convicted in a trio of unrelated public corruption scandals: Arizona's Rick Renzi, California's Randy "Duke" Cunningham, and North Carolina's Robin Hayes. Trump also commuted the sentence of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, a Democrat who had served six years of a 28-year sentence for corruption.

Republicans give Pelosi just what she wanted with outrage over ripped up State of the Union

Republicans really, really want Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ripping up of Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to be A Very Big Thing. They desperately need to frame her act of incivility as equal to or worse than all of Trump’s trespasses against democracy and decency, especially in the wake of Sen. Mitt Romney denying them their narrative of a purely partisan impeachment. (And yeah, they want to retaliate against him, too.)

Rep. Matt Gaetz is leading the asshat charge by filing an ethics complaint against Pelosi with, get this, the claim that “Nobody is above the law.” Gaetz is calling for a criminal referral, claiming that Pelosi violated a statute dealing with “Concealment, removal, or mutilation of documents,” as if every single physical copy of a document is sacred. This temper tantrum about Pelosi tearing up a document is especially special given that—as Dana Houle pointed out on Twitter—Trump is known tear up papers after he finishes with them, in violation of the Presidential Records Act.

Gaetz isn’t the only Republican in high dudgeon about Pelosi, of course. Rep. Kay Granger is touting a privileged resolution expressing disapproval for Pelosi’s “breach of decorum.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried his hand at a viral video ripping up the impeachment articles and saying “acquitted for life.” 

But Mike Pence had the creepiest take, telling Fox News that “I just have a strong feeling that she's going to be the last Speaker of the House to sit in that chair for a long time.” Which could just mean he understands that Democrats are going to keep the House and Pelosi will remain speaker, but it sounds more like he’s joining Trump in having some extremely unconstitutional things in mind.

Pence aside, you wonder if these Republicans realize how much they’re playing into Pelosi’s hands. She surely did not rip up that paper live on national television without knowing exactly the response it would draw—which means she was inviting their ethics complaints and resolutions of disapproval, shifting attention from Trump to her reaction to Trump. So Gaetz and Granger and all their buddies should feel free to bring it. It couldn’t be clearer that Pelosi welcomes their outrage.

Trump defender Matt Gaetz publicly sulking after he didn’t get picked for Dear Leader’s B-team

One of the problems with being a professional political suck-up is that there is always someone willing to be more of a suck-up than you. Grovel all you like: Lindsey Graham will have you beat. Praise Dear Leader day and night: Nikki Haley will write a whole book about Dear Leader's hidden genius, even as Dear Leader kicks mud on her shoes. Rep. Matt Gaetz is not exactly in the upper tiers of the Republican brain trust, but he has devoted himself to sucking-up like a Hoover.

So right now he's really, really steamed that he wasn't picked to be on Donald Trump's impeachment "defense" team. Not the elite team, the one sitting on the Senate floor doing its best impression of mob lawyers who have made the big time, but the B-team, with Rep. Jim Jordan and other House shouters who have been selected as Trump's semi-official Fox News defenders. According to Gaetz, the White House did it to punish him.

Specifically, Gaetz is publicly blaming White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland for the betrayal, and is slamming him for it. Gaetz says Ueland is retaliating after Gaetz voted with Democrats to rein in Trump's war powers following Trump's assassination of a top Iranian military official. And he is steamed. Politico reports that Gaetz said, "He knows it’s House Democrats, not Iran, who are impeaching the president, right?" and added, “I thought ‘legislative affairs’ folks were supposed to help the president add friends, not extend silly fights with the president’s best friends."

BEST. FRIENDS. He is Dear Leader's BEST FRIEND, you White House lowlife. How dare you get between a man and his dog?

To emphasize: This is a very stupid fight. This is why Rep. Matt Gaetz is the best person to pursue it. Gaetz and the White House both know that Gaetz will still appear in front of any available camera to praise and defend Trump, regardless of whether he is allowed into the Dear Leader Fan Clubhouse or not. It is true that he wanted to be an executive talking point delivery boy, but he is still a regular talking point delivery boy. It's just a meaningless title that just helps insecure people feel better about themselves.