Fears of a Gonzalez departure ramped up after Rep. Filemon Vela, who represents a neighboring district that also went south for Democrats last year, announced his own retirement in March. And in the first quarter of the year, Gonzalez repaid himself $250,000 for loans he’d extended to his campaign back in 2016, a possible sign he was preparing to wind down his political career. But he insists he’s running full-bore, telling Politico, “We’ve hired people. We’ve got more of a robust fundraising operation going on. We’ve been up and down throughout the region.”
Gonzalez already faces a rematch from Republican Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, a little-known insurance agent whose near-upset came despite the fact that she was outspent two-to-one; two years earlier, Gonzalez easily won re-election 60-39. That shift in fortunes was mirrored at the top of the ticket: Joe Biden carried the heavily Latino 15th District just 50-49, a steep drop from Hillary Clinton’s 57-40 win four years earlier, so a key question will be whether this traditionally Democratic area returns to form or whether 2020 was the first stop on a new trajectory.
● OH-Sen: Venture capitalist J.D. Vance, who has been eyeing a Senate bid for some time, will reportedly enter the Republican primary on Thursday, according to Axios. Vance was in attendance at a Donald Trump rally outside of Cleveland over the weekend, as were all of the notable GOP candidates already in the race.
● AZ-Gov: Businessman Steve Gaynor announced on Friday that he was joining Arizona’s Republican primary for governor, potentially setting up a rematch from 2018. That year, Gaynor challenged scandal-plagued incumbent Michele Reagan for the GOP nomination for secretary of state, crushing her by a two-to-one margin, in part by pledging to place ever more restrictions on voting. In the general election, however, Gaynor lost just 50.4-49.6 to Democrat Katie Hobbs, who herself kicked off a gubernatorial bid earlier this month.
Gaynor joins a field that includes a number of prominent Republicans, including state Treasurer Kimberly Yee, former Rep. Matt Salmon, and Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson.
● CT-Gov: Former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, who publicly began exploring a bid for governor last month, has now set up what looks like a campaign website (“themis2022.com”), but she still hasn’t committed to seeking the GOP nomination, nor has she offered a timetable for making a decision. So far, Republicans have yet to recruit a prominent challenger to run against Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont next year, though 2018 nominee Bob Stefanowski hasn’t ruled out running.
● OH-11: Politico reports that former state Sen. Nina Turner has spent more than $1 million on TV, radio, and online ads ahead of the Aug. 3 Democratic primary for the special election in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, putting her far ahead of the pack. Her chief rival, Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown, has spent $355,000. Early voting starts next week, on July 7.
● OH-15: Coal company lobbyist Mike Carey has released a survey from Fabrizio, Lee & Associates showing him with a 20-9 lead on state Rep. Jeff LaRe in the Republican primary for the special election in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, but that gap skyrockets to 52-7 when respondents are told that Donald Trump has endorsed Carey. That’s a similar phenomenon—albeit an unsurprising one—to what another GOP pollster found vis-a-vis Trump favorite Ted Budd in the North Carolina Senate race (there, the endorsement news turned a 26-point deficit into a 19-point advantage).
The question for Carey, though, is whether he’ll have the resources to actually inform voters that he’s received Trump’s blessing. According to Politico, most of the $479,000 spent on paid media in the race so far has been on behalf of LaRe, who, rather unusually, has benefitted from former Rep. Steve Stivers emptying his old campaign account to run pro-LaRe ads. The first and only pre-election FEC reports, however, are not due until July 22, so we won’t have a complete financial picture of the race until then.
● WI-03: Retired Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden, who’s seeking a rematch against Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, spent $4,000 in campaign funds on a trip to D.C. for the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that turned into an assault on the Capitol, according to the Daily Beast’s Roger Sollenberger. Van Orden has also claimed he “did not step foot on the Capitol grounds,” but Sollenberger says a photo captured that day pictures Van Orden “inside a restricted area,” adding that a recreation of the scene shows that he “would have had to cross police barricades to reach that area.”
As Sollenberger also notes, Van Orden lost his first challenge to Kind in November (by a 51-49 margin), but he didn’t kick off his second bid until April, raising the obvious question of how his D.C. trip could qualify as a “campaign expense” if he wasn’t actually running a campaign. Said a spokesperson for the group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, “Attempting to overthrow an election you just lost is not a proper campaign activity.”
● Special elections: There’s one special election in California on tap for Tuesday:
CA-AD-18: This Democratic district that covers the city of Oakland and surrounding East Bay communities became vacant when Rob Bonta became California’s attorney general earlier this year.
There are six Democrats officially vying for this seat that backed Hillary Clinton 86-8: San Leandro Unified School District board member James Aguilar, San Leandro Vice Mayor Victor Aguilar, Alameda Unified School District board member Mia Bonta, who is the attorney general’s wife, public health consultant Eugene Canson, attorney Janani Ramachandran, and Alameda Vice Mayor Malia Vella. Organizer Nelsy Batista is a Democrat but is waging her bid as a write-in candidate. Stephen Slauson is the only Republican running, and Joel Britton is running for the Socialist Workers Party.
If no candidate takes a majority of the vote, a runoff will be held on Aug. 31.
● Buffalo, NY Mayor: Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who lost last week’s Democratic primary to self-identified socialist India Walton in a massive upset, says that he’s considering a write-in bid in the general election.
Among those eager to back Brown are the local police union and wealthy Republican businessman Carl Paladino, who said, “I’ll do everything I can to destroy her.” Paladino would at least know a thing or two about getting destroyed: As the GOP’s nominee for the open-seat governor’s race in 2010, he lost to Democrat Andrew Cuomo by a giant 62-33 margin, despite that year’s red wave.
Brown issued a statement saying he’d refuse support from Paladino, a notorious racist and hardcore Trump supporter, but you’d be hard-pressed to see a lot of daylight between the two: In comments on Monday, Brown said supporters have told him that “they don’t want a radical socialist occupying the mayor’s office in Buffalo City Hall.”
● Mike Gravel, former Alaska Senator: Gravel, who represented Alaska during the late 1960s and 1970s, has died at the age of 91. During his career, he was best known for reading the Pentagon Papers aloud into the congressional record in 1971, after newspapers were barred by court order from sharing the secret report, which revealed that the Johnson administration had lied to the American public about the course of the Vietnam War.
Gravel first won a seat in the Alaska state House in 1962; then in 1966 while serving as state House speaker he challenged Rep. Ralph Rivers in the primary for the state’s lone U.S. House seat. At the time, the state used something called a “single ballot open primary,” which listed all candidates from both parties on a single ballot. (Confusingly, voters had to check a box indicating which party they were voting for, and any ballots with votes for more than one party were invalidated.) Among Democrats, Rivers beat Gravel by about 1,600 votes, but the divisive race helped Republican Howard Pollock unseat Rivers 52-48 that fall.
Two years later, Gravel once again ran against a Democratic incumbent in the primary, which at this point had been restored to the “blanket primary” system Alaska had used since statehood. (Under this approach, all candidates appeared on one ballot, with the top vote-getter from each party advancing to the general election—a format that’s since been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.)
This time, he challenged 81-year-old Sen. Ernest Gruening, flooding the cheap airwaves with “the slickest political commercials the fledgling state had ever seen.” Gravel disingenuously ran to Gruening’s right on Vietnam—the senator had been one of just two to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the war—many years afterward admitting that “in point of fact I was to the left of him.”
Gravel beat Gruening by 2,000 votes, but this time, the intra-party split didn’t cost Democrats in the general election, despite the fact that Gruening ran again as a write-in: Gravel defeated Republican Elmer Rasmuson 45-37, with Gruening taking 17%. Gravel easily won re-election in 1974, but in 1980, it was his turn to get primaried … by none other than state Rep. Clark Gruening, the grandson of the man Gravel had first beaten to win federal office.
As he’d later acknowledge, Gravel had managed to alienate “almost every constituency in Alaska,” particularly after he sank a bill that would have returned some federal lands to Alaskan control, which had been crafted by fellow Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican. (In a subsequent effort to save the bill, Stevens was in a plane crash that killed his wife. He reportedly blamed Gravel for her death, saying that had the bill passed as intended, the flight never would have been needed.) Gravel’s knack for alienation sparkled just before the primary, when he called out-of-state Jewish donors who’d contributed to Gruening a “special interest group.”
Gruening defeated Gravel by more than 8,200 votes in the blanket primary, possibly benefitting from crossover votes by Republicans who thought he’d be easier to beat in November. Whether that was the case or not, Gruening did indeed lose to Republican Frank Murkowski by a 54-46 margin, a loss that made Gravel the last Democrat to represent Alaska in Congress until Mark Begich defeated Stevens in 2008. (Stevens himself would die in a plane crash in 2010.)
Gravel left politics after his defeat but eventually returned a decade later, pursuing quixotic causes like a constitutional amendment to allow federal ballot initiatives. In 2008, he ran a gadfly campaign for president, earning his greatest share of attention when he released a bizarre web video that featuring him staring wordlessly into the camera for a full minute, then throwing a rock into a lake. (He later called it a “metaphor.” For what, we can’t say.)
In 2019, at the age of 88, a pair of teens pushed Gravel to run for president again, this time a wholly performative campaign to push progressive ideas that one reporter said was redolent of “potential elder abuse.” Gravel failed to qualify for any debates and dropped out after a few months, endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders and then-Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.