Super Challenges

Exit Polling Problems, SOTU Fallout, NY School Aid Strife

Good morning from Albany where One House Budget proposals are expected from both the Assembly and Senate today. 

Last week’s Super Tuesday Primary contests finalized what we predicted in our January MMM: the 2024 presidential contest is officially a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley officially suspended her campaign after winning a mere 51 of the delegates on Super Tuesday, compared to Trump’s 793 delegates. 

Haley stopped short of endorsing Trump, instead calling on him to make a more concerted effort to win her supporters declaring, “It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it who did not support him, and I hope he does that. At its best, politics is about bringing people into your cause, not turning them away. And our conservative cause badly needs more people. This is now his time for choosing.” 

Exit polling shows many Haley voters are not locks to support Trump in November, for instance, in North Carolina 78% of Haley supporters said they would not commit to voting for Trump. The Biden campaign is trying to exploit that opening, saying in a statement, “Donald Trump made it clear he doesn’t want Nikki Haley’s supporters. I want to be clear: There is a place for them in my campaign. I know there is a lot we won’t agree on. But on the fundamental issues of preserving American democracy, on standing up for the rule of law, on treating each other with decency and dignity and respect, on preserving NATO and standing up to America’s adversaries, I hope and believe we can find common ground.”

There were also important primaries for other races. 

In California, out of the crowded field to replace the late Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat and current Representative Adam Schiff defeated two of his Democratic House colleagues, Rep. Katie Porter and Rep. Barbara Lee, to advance to the General Election in November.

Our Jack O’Donnell joins Kelsey Anderson and Dave Greber from News 4 Buffalo with a Super Tuesday debrief.

In California’s “jungle” primary system, the top two vote-getters move on to the general, regardless of party. Because of that, groups aligned with Schiff spent heavily to promote Republican candidate and former baseball star Steve Garvey, knowing Garvey would be easier to beat in deep-blue California than either Porter or Lee. Porter took to Twitter to offer, “Thank you to everyone who supported our campaign and voted to shake up the status quo in Washington. Because of you, we had the establishment running scared — withstanding 3 to 1 in TV spending and an onslaught of billionaires spending millions to rig this election.” 

In North Carolina, Republican Lt. Governor Mark Robinson and Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein both won their respective primary contests last week and will run against each other in the general to replace term-limited current Governor Roy Cooper.

Despite a GOP-controlled state legislature, Democrats have won all but one gubernatorial contest in the state since 1992. Stein is hoping that trend continues whereas Robinson is relying on his association with Trump to drive Republican turnout in November.  This will be one of the most competitive statewide races in 2024.

Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, known for her willingness to ignore the wishes of party leadership at times, announced she will not be seeking reelection. Sinema originally had planned to run as an Independent once Rep. Reuben Gallego announced a primary. Sinema joins the ranks of Republican Senator Mitt Romney and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who are also forgoing reelection bids.  Those retirements, along with the slew of retirements in the House, further highlight the challenges facing centrist lawmakers and candidates in our increasingly partisan political environment. Make no mistake, the absence of these members makes any deal making harder and portends more trouble in Washington.

President Biden delivered his State of the Union speech, addressing Congress for 68 minutes and proclaiming his Administration’s accomplishments and contrasting his approach and accomplishments with that of former President Trump. While not mentioning Trump by name, Biden repeatedly went after his “predecessor” for killing the bipartisan immigration bill in the Senate, kowtowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and for his continued lies about the 2020 election and January 6th. Biden also used his platform to address his main political vulnerability—his age—offering, “the issue facing our nation isn’t how old we are, it’s how old our ideas are” before pivoting to Trump’s efforts to roll back reproductive rights. 

Most commentators, including this one, thought Biden’s performance was his best of recent memory. Biden was energetic and attentive and successfully went off script to respond to Republican jeers. It was a good night for his reelection campaign. So successful that the campaign raised $10 million in the 24 hours after the speech

The Biden campaign also launched an ad in battleground states addressing that same vulnerability. Biden, to camera, says, "Look, I'm not a young guy. That's no secret. But, here's the deal. I understand how to get things done for the American people." We will see in coming weeks if these help revive his falling approval and reelection numbers.

The official response to the SOTU, usually given by an up and coming member of the opposition, was significantly less successful. Republican Katie Britt, a first-term Senator from Alabama, appeared awkward and uncomfortable sitting in her kitchen, as she provided a rebuttal to Biden in a wavering voice. Even fellow Republicans questioned the tone and substance of Britt’s response, with one unnamed Trump advisor adding, “What the hell am I watching?” 

On Friday, the Senate approved a $460 billion spending package ahead of the first of two funding deadlines. The bill, which passed the House earlier, provides funding for:  

  • The Commerce and Justice Departments

  • The Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration

  • Science, Energy and Water Development

  • The Interior Department

  • Military Construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs

  • The Transportation Department and Housing and Urban Development

Speaking from the Senate Floor, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “Because both sides cooperated today, we’ve taken a major step towards our goal of fully funding the government. Today’s bipartisan agreement gives us momentum and space to finish the remaining appropriations bills by March 22. Of course, it’s going to take both sides working together to keep that momentum alive.”

Senators debated individual amendments for hours, including a proposal to prevent undocumented immigrants from being counted towards population when calculating a state’s allotted congressional seats. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, took issue with a provision that would make it harder to deny gun ownership to certain veterans with mental health concerns. Murphy wrote, “This provision — which could result in 20,000 new seriously mentally ill individuals being able to buy guns each year — will be a death sentence for many.” Some fiscal conservatives, including Senator Rick Scott of Florida, took issue with the over $900 million in earmarks, or funding for projects requested by individual lawmakers. Still, the package passed the Senate by a vote of 75-22 and was signed by Biden on Saturday. 

“Because both sides cooperated today, we’ve taken a major step towards our goal of fully funding the government. Today’s bipartisan agreement gives us momentum and space to finish the remaining appropriations bills by March 22. Of course, it’s going to take both sides working together to keep that momentum alive.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

Lawmakers now have until March 22nd to pass the remaining six appropriations bills to keep the rest of the government funded, which will include more controversial areas like defense spending. 

Which issues will dominate the 2024 Legislative Sessions from D.C. to Albany?

Jack lays it out in our annual Legislative Preview.

Read it here.

The race to succeed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has started to take shape, with Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and John Thune (R-S.D.) emerging as the two main candidates. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) decided to forgo a leadership campaign, instead choosing to run to be the Republican Whip. Of course he did since the number one qualification to be Senate GOP Whip is being named Jon or John. 

  • Jon Kyl: 2008-2013

  • John Cornyn: 2013-2019

  • John Thune: 2019-2024

  • John Barrasso: 2025-??

The last non-John?  Trent who left in 2007.

In New York, we are eagerly awaiting One House Budget proposals.  They are expected to be introduced today and voted on this week but . . . anything can happen here. A possible breakthrough on school aid, one of the more intractable conflicts between the Executive and the Legislature, was seemingly at reach as tax revenue came in $1.3 billion higher than expected.  In fact, Budget Director Blake Washington hinted that the excess revenue could be used to avoid a fight over Governor Hochul’s proposal to end the “hold harmless” policy on school aid. Speaking to reporters on the potential for a compromise on school aid, Washington said, “We’ll be looking forward to working with the Legislature to do just that” before adding, “Modifying [the proposal] is probably fair game.” 

Hochul, however, has appeared to double down on her comments, saying through a spokesperson, “We look forward to continuing conversations with the Legislature and the public about why the school aid formula must be modernized so it serves the needs of the next generation of students.” Lawmakers in the Legislature, as well as teachers unions and other outside education advocacy groups have promised to fight the changes, insisting that school aid is not an area the State should be cutting. 

“I also think some of them frankly, just weren't having fun anymore,” says our Jack O’Donnell.” Activists on both sides are louder and more willing to target members. I think getting things done has gotten harder.”

Jack talks to City & State NY about the wave of retirements in the NYS Legislature here.

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Employee Spotlight

Background: A graduate of the University at Buffalo, Da’Von L. McCune has a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and a master’s degree in Urban Planning with a specialization in Community and Neighborhood Development. He also serves as the Grant Street Neighborhood Center Program Manager for PUSH Buffalo.

Specialty: Da’Von understands the importance of connecting people with policymaking and politics to affect real change while bringing extensive experience in the nonprofit sector, as well as a successful history of delivering results for grassroots organizations to the OD&A team.

Successes: As an Associate in OD&A's Buffalo office, Da'Von plays a crucial role in empowering our esteemed clients to uncover and embrace optimal solutions that lead to extraordinary outcomes. With his expertise and unwavering dedication, Da'Von consistently drives remarkable results, leaving a lasting impact on our clients.

Extras: Da’Von is a founding board member of The Galactic Tribe and The Wakanda Alliance Program where works of art inspired by the many cultures within the African diaspora spur insightful conversations between audiences about the impact we can create by combing space-time, culture, and imagination to build our communities. Additionally, Da'Von serves as a Co-Vice Chair on the Board of the King Urban Life Center and a board trustee of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, further demonstrating his leadership and dedication to community development.

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