The Week in Politics: Presidential Politics Hits Statehouses, a Race to Replace a Convict and More

The most important election news and political dynamics at the state and local levels.
by | June 24, 2016

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Presidential Politics Hits Statehouses

There’s no avoiding the presidential race any longer, even for governors and gubernatorial candidates.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump recently met with six GOP governors to shore up support in states where Republican U.S. senators have criticized him. The closed-door meetings included the governors of Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee. They were organized by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who will lead Trump's transition team if he wins.

Hillary Clinton also has to worry about Republican governors, especially as she mulls a vice presidential candidate.

Her camp disclosed that the Clinton team was currently scrutinizing three potential running mates: Julian Castro, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former San Antonio mayor; U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a former Virginia governor; and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

If Clinton were to pick Warren (or another Democratic senator in a state with a Republican governor), she would have to allow for the possibility of losing a seat in the upper chamber of Congress. In Warren’s case, that means Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker would pick a replacement until a special election could be held.

Certainly, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, who leads the Democrats’ Senate caucus, is already thinking of those scenarios.

“If we have a Republican governor in any of those states, the answer is not only no but hell no,” said Reid last month. “I would yell and scream to stop that.”

Meanwhile, disclosures by the Trump campaign of its meager fundraising and paltry staff could have a limited effect on statewide races. An undermanned Trump campaign would most likely move the needle for gubernatorial contests only in states that have both tight governor’s races this year and are traditionally presidential swing states.

Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, said that essentially narrows it down to two states: North Carolina and New Hampshire.

Comics Aren't Always Funny

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert seems to be in a good position going into next week’s Republican primary. He leads his challenger in fundraising and in the polls, and he just picked up a major endorsement from former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon who salvaged the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

But that doesn’t mean Herbert's third campaign for the post has been easy. Fundraising has been a source of controversy for both candidates.

In an audio recording of Herbert talking to potential campaign donors, the governor said he was “Available Jones” for any donor who wanted to talk with him. Available Jones was a character from the Li'l Abner comic strip, known as an entrepreneur who was always available for a price.

After the Salt Lake Tribune published the recording, the governor told The Associated Press he was “disappointed” in how he handled the situation.

That being said,” the governor added, “when you’re an average guy like me that has average means, you have to go out and ask people for money.”

Herbert's opponent, Overstock chairman Jonathan Johnson, took this as an opportunity to question the governor's ethics.

“It is clear Available Jones has been making himself available -- for a price -- for quite some time and at an alarming rate. What results has he promised to each of these donors?” said Johnson’s campaign manager.

The governor, meanwhile, criticized Johnson for taking $850,000 from a single donor, Overstock president CEO Patrick Byrne, whom Herbert has called a “sugar daddy rich guy.”

Herbert has raised $4.4 million for his campaign and his PAC since the beginning of his term in 2013, while Johnson brought in $1.5 million since 2015. Johnson has less than $93,000 left in his accounts, compared to $600,000 for Herbert, according to the Tribune.

At least two independent polls show Herbert leading Johnson by 45 points, but the Johnson campaign claims that according to their polling, the election is much closer.

Odds and Ends

Race to Replace a Convict: Now that former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard is leaving office, a special election to replace him will be held later this year. Hubbard was convicted of a dozen criminal counts of ethics violations earlier this month. The primary is Sept. 23, and the general election is scheduled for Nov. 29. Whoever wins will take his seat in the state House of Representatives, but his replacement for speaker will still be up in the air. Victor Gaston, a Mobile-area Republican, took Hubbard’s place as speaker on a temporary basis and has reportedly said he may run to keep the position when the House reconvenes next year.

Is It 2014 Again?: Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican in a stalemate with the Democrats who control the legislature, let it slip that he plans to run for a second term in 2018. That’s bad news for Democrats. Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist, not only bankrolled his own election but is also providing a major funding boost for GOP legislative candidates. Former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who lost to Rauner in 2014, is rumored to be interested in another run. Chris Kennedy, a son of the late U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, is also pondering a 2018 bid for the Democratic nomination.

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