Frustrated Democrats spent the last year talking about waging a primary challenge to the senator in this swing state, and Rep. Ruben Gallego very much had not ruled out the idea. Sinema said Friday that “criticism from outside entities doesn’t really matter to me,” though several polls also showed her with terrible ratings with Democrats, Republicans, and independents in Arizona.
Sinema’s move comes days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock won his runoff in Georgia, an outcome she says “delighted her.” Assuming Sinema keeps her word then Democrats will still hold a 51-49 majority in the new Senate, though the Arizonan told Politico that, when it comes to determining how many seats each party holds, “I would just suggest that these are not the questions that I’m interested in.”
Sinema is also the first sitting senator to drop their party affiliation since 2009, when Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter left the GOP to become a Democrat. (Specter went on to lose his new party’s primary the next year.) The Arizona Republic says that the last time a member of the state’s delegation switched parties was when Democratic Rep. Bob Stump decided to run for a fourth term as a Republican in 1982; Stump, unlike Specter, was accepted by his new faction and retired in 2002 after two decades in the GOP caucus.
● IN-Sen, IN-Gov: Howey Politics writes that former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is indeed serious about waging a potential bid to succeed Sen. Mike Braun, a fellow Republican who is leaving D.C. to run for Daniels' old job as chief executive. Brian Howey relays that Daniels will "gather his braintrust in Florida" soon after he finishes his stint as president of Purdue University at the end of this year. Several other prominent Republicans are also eyeing Braun's seat, though, and a Daniels ally acknowledges, "He's got to make a decision quickly."
At least one would-be rival may be running before then, as Rep. Jim Banks tells Politico he'll spend "the next few weeks" deciding on a Senate bid and would have an announcement in early 2023. Daniels himself about a decade ago described Banks, who was a state senator at the time, as the future of the GOP.
A Daniels Senate bid would be a surprise because Politico's Adam Wren relayed back in June that, while both Daniels and his wife were open to the idea of him running for governor again, neither of them wanted to go to D.C.
There's no word about any change of heart from Cheri Daniels about them relocating to Washington, but the Purdue president no longer seems at all open to returning to the governor's office. This week his old boss, George W. Bush, joked about the idea while at an event on campus: Daniels, writes Howey, in response "shook his head no and formed an 'X' with his index fingers to an applauding crowd."
Daniels will be 75 on Election Day, which would make him one of the oldest people to be elected to their first term in the Senate. However, one of his backers told Howey, "He's too valuable to just be serving on corporate boards." Daniels himself has bragged about his workout regime, telling Wren over the summer that he'd done 101 pushups that morning.
Daniels has been largely insulated from Trump-era GOP politics during his 10 years leading Purdue, which he likened to a "vow of political celibacy," and a comeback would test whether he still has any staying power with hardline primary voters. Daniels himself, though, already seemed to be moving in a different direction than his party even before he left elected office.
In 2010 Daniels, who was considering a White House bid at the time, famously said the next GOP president "would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues" so they could concentrate on solving fiscal issues like the deficit, a pitch that did not go over well with prominent politicians like then-Rep. Mike Pence.
The governor, who signed a bill the next year banning state contracts from going to groups like Planned Parenthood that provided abortion services, was hardly a moderate himself, but he continued to insist that some sort of change was needed. Daniels used his 2011 speech to CPAC to tell the crowd, "The public is increasingly disgusted with a steady diet of defamation." He also tried to make his truce comments more palatable by declaring,
"Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers. King Pyrrhus is remembered, but his nation disappeared. Winston Churchill set aside his lifetime loathing of Communism in order to fight World War II. Challenged as a hypocrite, he said that when the safety of Britain was at stake, his 'conscience became a good girl.' We are at such a moment. I for one have no interest in standing in the wreckage of our Republic saying 'I told you so' or 'You should've done it my way.'"
Daniels ended up sitting out the 2012 White House contest and became president of Purdue right after leaving office early the next year. The GOP a few years later would nominate Trump, who very much enjoyed feeding America a "steady diet of defamation" and very much didn't agree with Daniels that the deficit was "the new red scare" that needed to be immediately addressed.
The Purdue president in August merely said of MAGA's master, "I don't talk about him. Haven't up to this point. It's not the day to do that." Daniels, though, didn't seem particularly happy with the direction of the GOP, telling WTHR, "I think both parties have come to be dominated by their fringe. Extreme left. Extreme right."
Daniels in a separate interview with Wren that month also described the Jan. 6 attack as, "[a]wful and inexcusable," though he continued to argue that leftists also have "behaved in a way that's inimical to free institutions." Wren used that interview to ask, "Can your brand of conservatism still win in the current environment?" to which Daniels responded, "I don't know. I've been in isolation and quarantine for 10 years. In one way I think about it, maybe I haven't been infected by the viruses that are running around on both sides."
The same cannot be said about his potential intra-party rival Banks. The congressman voted to overturn Joe Biden's win hours after the Jan. 6 attack, and while he initially called for a bipartisan commission to investigate the riot, he quickly reversed himself and told colleagues to oppose the plan. A few months later House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy picked Banks and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan as two of his nominees for the Jan. 6 committee; Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected them both, saying their "statements and actions" disqualified them.
● PA-Sen: The Associated Press' Marc Levy writes that some Republicans have talked about the idea of state Treasurer Stacy Garrity running against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, though there's no word if she's interested in the idea. Garrity was elected statewide in 2020 when she unseated Democratic incumbent Joseph Torsella 49-48 even as Joe Biden was pulling off his own close win.
For now, though, almost all the attention has surrounded self-funder Dave McCormick, who is reportedly considering another try months after losing the primary for the other Senate seat to Mehmet Oz. Levy says that some Republicans believe "the Senate field will be frozen until McCormick makes up his mind," though not everyone is convinced he'd be a sure bet to capture the nomination this time around.
Any wait could last a while: McCormick is set to publish a book in March, and many politicians-turned-authors promote their tomes in order to get some attention before a campaign launch.
● IN-Gov: Howey Politics writes that Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch "is expected" to announce sometime next week that she'll seek the Republican nomination to replace termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb.
● LA-Gov: State Secretary of Transportation Shawn Wilson said Wednesday that he'd formed an exploratory committee for a potential bid to succeed his boss and fellow Democrat, termed-out Gov. John Bel Edwards. Wilson, who would be the first African American elected statewide since Reconstruction, added that he plans to decide by early next year if he'll run.
● CA-22: Democrat Rudy Salas on Wednesday filed paperwork with the FEC for a potential 2024 rematch against Republican incumbent David Valadao, though an unnamed source tells the Fresno Bee that the former assemblyman is doing this to keep his options open. Valadao won 52-48, but stronger presidential-year turnout could give Democrats a bigger opening in a Central Valley seat that Biden took 55-42.
● NY-14: The House Ethics Committee said Wednesday that it was investigating Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, though it did not reveal any details about what it was looking into. The congresswoman's spokesperson put out a statement in response saying, "The congresswoman has always taken ethics incredibly seriously, refusing any donations from lobbyists, corporations, or other special interests. We are confident that this matter will be dismissed."
● VA-04: Petersburg City Councilor Treska Wilson-Smith, who is retiring from her current post, says she's interested in competing in the upcoming special election to succeed her fellow Democrat, the late Rep. Donald McEachin.
● PA State House: Democratic state Rep. Joanna McClinton was sworn in as majority leader of the Pennsylvania state House on Wednesday and immediately scheduled special elections in three vacant seats held by her party, but Republicans called the moves "illegal" and one unnamed "top GOP source" suggested to Spotlight PA's Stephen Caruso that the dispute might end up in court.
At issue is uncertainty over which side can—for the moment—claim the majority. Democrats won 102 seats in November compared to 101 for the GOP, but the Democrats' total included state Rep. Tony DeLuca, who died a month before the election yet still won in a landslide. On Wednesday, two more House Democrats also vacated their positions because they both won higher office last month: Summer Lee will soon represent Pennsylvania's 12th District in Congress while Austin Davis will become lieutenant governor.
That leaves Republicans with a nominal 101-99 advantage, though DeLuca, Lee, and Davis are all likely to be succeeded by fellow Democrats, since all three represented neighboring districts in the Pittsburgh area that respectively would have voted for Joe Biden by 26, 62, and 17 points. The question is when the necessary special elections will take place, and who's in charge until then.
Outgoing Republican Speaker Bryan Cutler sought to set the special for DeLuca's seat on Nov. 30—the last day of the 2022 legislative session—for Feb. 7, but Democrats said that he lacked the authority to order an election that wouldn't take place until the next session. The Department of State (which is run by an appointee of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf) agreed and rejected the writ, saying Cutler had acted prematurely since DeLuca's seat did not actually become vacant until Dec. 1.
In turn, McClinton, who is set to replace Cutler as speaker next year, issued her own order scheduling the specials for all three seats, though she also chose that same date of Feb. 7. (Lee and Davis resigned after Cutler announced his intentions for the DeLuca race.) So far, however, Republicans don't appear to have filed a lawsuit.
● WI State Senate: Democrats got their first candidate for the April 4 special election to succeed former Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling this week when environmental attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin announced she was in. Meanwhile, Thiensville Village President Van Mobley said that he would compete in the GOP primary that will take place on Feb. 21.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Austin, TX Mayor: The 2022 elections aren't quite over: Voters go to the polls Saturday for several contests in Louisiana, which we wrote about here, while Austin will hold its runoff Tuesday to succeed termed-out Mayor Steve Adler. The officially nonpartisan contest to lead Texas' famously blue capitol city pits state Rep. Celia Israel, who would be both the city's first gay and Latina mayor, against former state Sen. Kirk Watson, a fellow Democrat who previously served as mayor from 1997 to 2001.
Israel overcame Watson's four-to-one financial edge on Nov. 8 to lead him 41-35, with the more conservative Jennifer Virden taking third with 18%. Israel did well in South and East Austin, areas that have large populations of younger and more diverse voters. Watson, by contrast, performed strongly in Northwest Austin, a more affluent and white area that's home to more longtime residents who were around when he was last mayor.
Watson's base may also be more likely to show up for the second round where turnout will unquestionably be lower than it was last month. Complicating things further is that the many students from the University of Texas, which is part of Israel's base, will be gone when Election Day comes around. The winner will serve an abbreviated two-year term because voters last year approved a ballot measure to move mayoral elections to presidential cycles starting in 2024.
The city's high housing costs have been one of the main issues in this contest. Watson is arguing that each of the 10 City Council districts should adopt their own plans, an approach Israel compared to the old racist practice of "redlining." Watson has defended his plan, though, saying that there would still be citywide standards each district would need to meet and that individual communities are "going to be able to tell us where greater density can be used." Israel, for her part, has argued that the problem is the result of the decisions made by decades of city leaders, a not subtle shot at Watson, and that major citywide changes are needed.
No matter what, though, Governing's Jared Brey points out that the winner will need substantial support from the City Council because the mayor has so little power on their own: The city's chief executive is a member of the City Council, but their vote is no more powerful than the other 10 members unless a tiebreaker is needed.
"I live in a city where most of the people hold me accountable for things that I'm not responsible for, because it's not a common understanding of what that means," Adler told Brey, adding, "And quite frankly, no one in the public likes hearing your mayor say, 'I know you want me to take care of this but the charter doesn't give me the power to do that.'"