Scandals Ensnare New York and Virginia House Republicans

Two scandals involving different members of the House Republican caucus erupted in the span of 12 hours.

While most political observers were waiting for results to come in from Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio last night, Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) announced that he was severing ties with a campaign consultant less than three months before Election Day. This decision came amid allegations that Taylor’s campaign staff had collected petitions with forged signatures to get former Democratic candidate Shaun Brown on the November general election ballot, with the intention of having Brown siphon votes in the general election from Taylor’s Democratic challenger Elaine Luria.  The Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney asked Circuit Judge Glenn Croshaw to appoint a special prosecutor. Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell was picked for the job.

Reaction from the Democratic Party of Virginia:

“Democrats and Republicans agree that the integrity of our election process is paramount. VA-02 voters deserve to know if Congressman Taylor’s paid staff violated the law and if all candidates received the required number of signatures to make the ballot this November. We look forward to seeing the results of Commonwealth’s Attorney Caldwell’s investigation into this matter.”

Reaction from the Luria campaign (Caveat: this statement is dated August 1, before Caldwell’s appointment was announced):

“Dirty and deceptive politics like this are exactly why Washington is broken and people are losing faith in their government. Clearly, Scott Taylor is terrified and willing to do anything to avoid going head to head with Commander Luria,” said Kathryn Sorenson, Elaine Luria’s Campaign Manager.

This morning, the Department of Justice announced an indictment against Rep. Charles Collins (R-N.Y.), his son, and his son’s fiancee’s father on allegations of insider trading.  (You can read the document here, or watch the press conference here) Speaker Paul Ryan announced he was stripping Collins of his membership on the House Energy and Commerce Committee until the allegations were resolved.  Collins has said he will fight the charges and continue his reelection campaign in November.

Both districts are usually reliably Republican, but both incumbents are now under a legal cloud that may or may not dissipate before the election. What political effect, if any, these legal developments will have on Taylor and Collins is not known. The Collins indictment virtually assures that ethics will become a major issue in this cycle, though most of the ethics scandals of the past two years have involved Trump cabinet officials like Scott Pruitt, Tom Price and Ryan Zinke, not to mention the President himself. Democrats used the “culture of corruption” message to devastating effect in flipping the House of Representatives in 2006, so it’s likely they will use an updated version of that playbook for the next three months.

Three Virginia Republican Leaders Resign, As Party Remains Divided Over Its Senate Nominee

Tucked in this Washington Post story is an ominous detail that does not bode well for the Virginia Republicans: State party chairman John Whitbeck and Kevin Gentry, a member of the executive committee resigned from their posts, as did Davis Rennolds, chairman of the Richmond Republican Party.  Most of the other Republicans quoted in the article threw Corey Stewart under the bus.

This is not a good sign four months before Election Day, especially from a party that has not won a statewide race since 2009.

Terry McAuliffe Headlining Kansas Democratic Party Convention

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) will be the keynote speaker at the Kansas Democratic Party’s bi-annual Demofest convention, scheduled to take place in Wichita during the weekend of August 24-26. It has been widely speculated that McAuliffe, a former chairman of the National Governors Association and of the Democratic National Committee, is considering a presidential run in 2020.

Governors Oppose Trump Administration’s Family Separation Policy

In the past few days, governors from both parties have stated their opposition to President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance policy” which has resulted in the separation of thousands of migrant children from their families at the border. Some governors issued statements, while others like Larry Hogan, Charlie Baker and Roy Cooper took action by recalling their National Guard troops that had been deployed to protect the border.

Here is the list, in alphabetical order by state, as of the night of June 19:

For political context, Hickenlooper (D) and Malloy (D) are term-limited. Baker (R), Hogan (R), Raimondo (D), Scott (R), Sununu (R), and Wolf (D) are running for reelection.  Carney (D), Cooper (D), and Northam (D) are in the middle of their current terms.

 

Do Virginia Republicans Have a Corey Stewart Problem?

Conservative firebrand Corey Stewart won the Republican nomination to take on incumbent Democratic Senator Tim Kaine this fall. He almost won the party’s nomination a little more than a year ago, in a narrow loss to establishment-favored Ed Gillespie in the primary for governor. (Gillespie wound up losing the general election by almost nine points) Stewart, who was the Virginia co-chairman of the Trump presidential campaign two years ago, was immediately endorsed by President Trump after securing the nomination.

Why are some Republicans worried about him being their top statewide candidate in the Commonwealth of Virginia this fall?

Stewart emerged as a fierce defender of the Confederate monuments scattered throughout the commonwealth last year in the wake of the white supremacist Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville.  Stewart has also associated himself with rally organizer Jason Kessler. Stewart also spoke highly of far-right figure Paul Nehlen, who has expressed anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic views and is currently running for the Republican nomination to fill the Wisconsin congressional seat being vacated by outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. According to the New York Times, Stewart has since distanced himself from both Kessler and Nehlen.

Stewart shares President Trump’s hardline views on immigration. As chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, he pushed a proposal that would have allowed police to check the immigration status of anyone they arrested. He also pushed the birther conspiracy theory in a tweet last year about the Alabama Senate race. Steve Bannon once called him the “titular head of the Trump movement” in Virginia.

One concern is that Virginia – which has slowly but steadily become a more Democratic state at local, state, congressional and presidential levels – will again reject the Stewart-Trump brand of culture warrior politics.

Virginia Democrats have more or less cracked the code to consistently win statewide races in the commonwealth over the past fifteen years or so, through a combination of candidate recruitment and favorable demographic trends. They have done this so well that they managed to exceed their own expectations during last November’s statewide elections.  Not only did they manage to hold all of the statewide offices, but they came within one seat of getting a 50-50 tie in the House of Delegates, erasing what had been a 66-seat Republican supermajority.

Beyond that, Stewart’s popularity as the highest-ranking Republican on the statewide ballot this year – or the lack thereof – could have a trickle-down effect on other Republicans in down-ticket races. Just as national Republicans are often asked to comment on President Trump’s controversies, Virginia Republicans could be put in a similar bind. According to University of Virginia political guru Larry Sabato:

On the day after Stewart’s primary victory, Republican former lieutenant governor Bill Bolling tweeted:

Initial signs from national Republican organizations are not looking good for Stewart. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told CNN the organization has no plans to get involved in the Virginia Senate race. The Republican National Committee has not commented on whether or not it will support Stewart, despite him having secured President Trump’s endorsement.

Stewart could wind up suppressing Republican voter turnout – meaning that voters who might otherwise vote for other Republican candidates could opt to stay home or vote for third party or write-in candidates. If Republican voters don’t turn out in November because they don’t like Stewart, it could have a net negative effect on endangered House Republicans like Barbara Comstock and Dave Brat, or the race to hold the open seat being vacated by Thomas Garrett. The good news for Republicans is that because elections for the state legislature aren’t until 2019, there are only a few down-ballot races this year – a handful of school board and municipal elections throughout the state. Essentially, any negative down-ballot fallout would likely be limited to congressional races.

Larry Sabato and the Cook Political Report both currently project the Virginia Senate race as safely Democratic.

June 12 Primary Results

There were primaries for state and federal races across the country earlier this week.  Here are some of the highlights:

MAINE:

  • This will be the first election using the new ranked-choice voting system, which was approved by state voters in 2016. How this system works is explained here by the New York Times. Voters across the state opted to retain this system 54-46.
  • Businessman Shawn Moody won the Republican nomination to succeed term-limited incumbent governor Paul LePage. He will run against the likely Democratic nominee, state attorney general Janet Mills. Votes from the Democratic primary are still being counted because of the ranked-choice system.
  • State representative Jared Golden is holding a lead for his party’s nomination to compete against incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the state’s second congressional district. However, conservationist and businessman Lucas St. Clair has yet to concede the race because he is waiting for the final results to come in through the ranked-choice voting system.

NEVADA:

  • Clark County Commission chairman Steve Sisolak will face off against Attorney General Adam Laxalt in the governor’s race. Sisolak had backing from the Harry Reid machine, which remains a formidable force in state Democratic politics.
  • Democrat Jacky Rosen (who represents Nevada’s third congressional district) will square off against incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller. Heller is considered one of the most endangered Republican incumbents in an electoral map that is heavily favored for the Senate GOP this year.
  • Democratic state Senator Aaron Ford will run against Republican former state assembly member and assistant attorney general Wes Duncan in the race for state attorney general to succeed Adam Laxalt.
  • Democratic philanthropist and education advocate Susie Lee will run against perennial Republican candidate Danny Tarkanian for the congressional seat being vacated by Jacky Rosen. Tarkanian had originally planned to mount a primary challenge against Dean Heller but was convinced to sit out the race and run for this seat instead.

NORTH DAKOTA:

SOUTH CAROLINA:

VIRGINIA:

  • Former Trump Virginia campaign chairman Corey Stewart won the Republican nomination for the Senate race this fall.  Stewart narrowly lost the Republican nomination for governor in 2017. He will square off against incumbent Democrat Tim Kaine, who ran for his party’s nomination unopposed.
  • Incumbent Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock defeated a primary challenger 60-39.  Democratic state senator Jennifer Wexton emerged from a field of six candidates to win her party’s nomination to take on Comstock, who is considered one of the most endangered Republican House incumbents this cycle. She represents a district in a state that has been trending Democratic during local, state, federal and presidential elections over the course of the last fifteen years.

McAuliffe Vetoes Voter ID Bill

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) announced he would be vetoing House Bill 1428, a bill which would require Virginia voters requesting absentee ballots to submit a copy of an acceptable form of ID as defined by state law. The bill – introduced by Del. Hyland F. Fowler Jr. (R-Hanover) would exempt military personnel, overseas voters, and people with disabilities from the requirement.

From McAuliffe’s statement announcing the veto:

This bill remains substantively unchanged from a bill that I vetoed in 2015. The bill imposes barriers on an eligible voter’s ability to obtain and cast an absentee ballot. The requirement would not in any way deter fraudulent voting since it provides no means of verifying the identity of the individual depicted in the submitted photograph.

The right to vote is a fundamental tenet of our democracy, and we should be doing all we can to facilitate eligible citizens’ access to the ballot. This bill would undoubtedly result in the disenfranchisement of qualified eligible Virginian voters and increase the potential for costly and time-consuming litigation.

The context for this bill is the upcoming Virginia statewide elections scheduled for November. (According to Blue Virginia, Del. Fowler is currently running for reelection unopposed.) The exemptions offered by the Fowler bill would be significant, because many military and government personnel are based in Virginia (the Washington DC suburbs, or one of the many military bases in the region) or assigned overseas.  The bill passed on largely party-line votes in House and Senate. Unless Republicans in both chambers of the legislature can come up with two-thirds supermajorities, McAuliffe’s veto will stand.