Pennsylvania state capitol building
• PA Supreme Court: In what was by far the most important victory of the night, Democrats swept three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, giving them a five to two majority; previously, Republicans had controlled the bench three to two, with two vacancies. This victory isn't simply about ensuring a more just court, though undoubtedly the cause of fairness will benefit greatly. It will also have an enormous impact on the next round of legislative redistricting.
That's because the Supreme Court selects the tie-breaking vote for the commission that draws up the maps for Pennsylvania's state House and Senate. In the prior two rounds of redistricting, the Republican-dominated court chose the tiebreaker, but now Democrats will have that power come 2021 (justices are elected to 10-year terms). As a result, Democrats will have the chance to undo the Republican gerrymanders that have given the GOP a lock on both houses of the legislature. It'll give Team Blue an excellent shot at retaking both chambers, which means real progressive change will be able to move forward. And if Democrats can win the legislature, it also means that future congressional redistricting will be in their hands, too—though we'd likely have to wait until 2031 for that!
• IN-Gov: We haven't seen any polling here in months, but Ball State University comes to our rescue. They give Republican Gov. Mike Pence a 42-37 lead against Democrat John Gregg. Pence's approval rating stands at 47-35, which is far from disastrous for a Republican running in a red state.
• KY-Gov: From Daniel Donner:
(click to enlarge)
: Last week, Republican David Vitter launched an ad accusing Democratic foe John Bel Edwards
of wanting to release thousands of dangerous "thugs" into neighborhoods. Edwards' new ad
features four Louisiana sheriffs, who call the attacks on Edwards "false," and "irresponsible," and say the charges undermine public safety through a campaign of "fear and deception." All four sheriffs hail from parishes that Obama lost.
The RGA is again dipping into the playbook that served them so well in Kentucky by linking Edwards to Obama. Their newest ad accuses Edwards of wanting to make it easier for undocumented immigrants to get instate tuition while still voting to cut education, a policy they say is just like Obama's. Vitter actually goes positive in his new ad, where he promises to "make sure politicians use zero funds for perks." If the message wasn't obvious enough, there's a CGI 0 that flies across the screen, and it even chases down two golf carts full of politicians. One Republican state senator has actually gone on the record to complain about the ad.
• FL-11: GOP state Sen. Wilton Simpson was mentioned as a possible candidate for this open seat, but he quickly took himself out of the running. When asked if he was interested, Simpson rhetorically asked, "What's the likelihood of them moving Washington, D.C., to Central Florida? Same likelihood. Not going to run." Note to other politicians: When we complain that you're not really ruling out running for an office, this is exactly the kind of ironclad no we're looking for.
• IL-08: While businessman Raja Krishnamoorthi has absolutely swamped the Democratic primary field for Tammy Duckworth's seat in fundraising, state Sen. Mike Noland is evidently quite popular with his colleagues. Ordinarily we wouldn't write about state legislators endorsing a colleague running for higher office—there are, after all, over 7,000 state lawmakers in America—but it's notable that 75 local officials all decided to back Nolan at once, including state Senate President John Cullerton.
Money certainly isn't everything in politics: Sometimes deep ties to the establishment can overcome a rival's stronger finances. But that's only possible if that same establishment puts its muscle behind the guy it's supporting—press releases are not enough. And one way to gauge whether this sort of support means anything is through the fundraising help it provides, so it often does all come back to money in the end. Noland currently has just $72,000 in the bank while Raja has a monster $946,000, so Noland's next quarterly report will bear scrutinizing.
• MT-AL: Democrats have landed a good House recruit in a difficult seat: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, who'd been considering a run against freshman GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, announced on Wednesday that she would in fact make a go of it. Zinke handily won Montana's lone House seat last year when Rep. Steve Daines successfully ran for Senate, but Democrats hope that presidential turnout would give Juneau, who is term-limited in her current job, a shot. It's not out of the question: While Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama 55-42 here, John McCain only won by a shockingly small 49-47 margin four years earlier. If Hillary Clinton can turn in a performance more like 2008 than 2012, then Zinke could face a tough race. A lot would have to go right for Juneau, though.
• PA-08: State Rep. Steve Santarsiero has trailed in fundraising, but he's released a new poll showing him leading the primary horserace for this competitive GOP-held open seat. The survey, from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, finds Santarsiero beating his rival for the Democratic nomination, businesswoman Shaughnessy Naughton, by a 36-21 margin. That's a lot of undecideds, though, and Naughton has a $441,000 to $331,000 cash-on-hand lead. More problematic for Santarsiero is that Naughton's fundraising picked up in the most recent quarter, when she outraised him $282,000 to $160,000. If Naughton can keep it up, she can definitely catch Santarsiero.
• ME Ballot: Voters in Maine approved an expansion of the state's Clean Election Act by a 55-45 margin. The new rules will increase the amount of public funding available to candidates; require greater disclosure of donors; and heighten the penalties for violators.
• MS Ballot: Initiative 42, a Democratic-backed plan to amend the state constitution to require public schools to be fully funded, failed on Tuesday. Republican opponents took advantage of the state's law to introduce some confusing hurdles in Initiative 42's way.
The GOP legislature placed Initiative 42A, which preserved the status quo, on the ballot. Voters were required to answer both parts of a two part question: They needed to first say that they supported "either measure," which says they want one of the initiatives to pass; a no vote meant they didn't want either Initiative 42 or Initiative 42A to succeed. Then, voters needed to pick between 42 and 42A—there's no "yes" or "no" vote on this part; they would just select the initiative they preferred. You can view this absolutely absurd ballot here. In the end, the vote for "either measure" failed 52-48. Initiative 42 beat Initiative 42A 59-41, but it didn't matter since "either measure" failed.
• OH Ballot: As expected, Ohio Issue 1, which alters the way Ohio draws up its state legislative districts starting in 2021, easily passed. However, as Stephen Wolf has explained, Issue 1 doesn't help Democrats or reformers nearly as much as they wish it did.
Now that Issue 1 has passed, a commission consisting of the governor, the secretary of state, the state auditor, two Democratic legislators, and two GOP legislators will draw Ohio's legislative districts. It takes two votes from the minority party to pass a map for a decade, but there's nothing stopping the majority from just passing a map for four years. At the end of those four years, it only takes a simple majority to pass another map. In other words, anyone who wants to gerrymander the state legislature just needs to pass two maps over the decade instead of one. Ohio's GOP-dominated state legislature will still draw the congressional map.
We also saw Issue 3, which would have legalized medical and recreational marijuana, fail 64-36. The vote wasn't a straight up rejection of pot though. Issue 3 would have allowed just 10 farms to grow pot as a means of carefully regulating the plant's production, a system proponents call a "structured oligopoly." This didn't go over well with many people who might have otherwise voted yes. It didn't help that Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted inserted the word "monopoly" into the text of Issue 3.
• Houston, TX Ballot: The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was defeated by a 61-39 margin. The measure, which was passed by the city council in 2013, was designed to protect Houston's citizens from discrimination, especially in housing or employment. However, after conservatives tried to undermine the law, the state Supreme Court eventually ruled that voters would need to approve it for it to go into effect.
Religious conservatives and their wealthy allies argued that HERO would make it easier for rapists to pose as transgendered women and prey on female victims in bathrooms. HERO's supporters never found a good way to respond. Proponents of future non-discrimination initiatives will need to learn from this debacle. Once conservatives successfully convince voters that they should be just a little concerned that women will get raped in restrooms, they've won.
• Seattle, WA Ballot: In a novel move, Seattleites voted by a wide margin to implement a new campaign finance system that would give each voter four $25 "democracy vouchers" every two years that they could then give as donations to candidates for local races like mayor and city council. In turn, candidates who accept these vouchers will have to abide by additional caps on donations and spending, and will also have to participate in at least three debates. It's the first regime of its kind anywhere in the nation, and it could pave the way for interesting reforms along these lines elsewhere.
• MI State House: It seems that the long, strange saga of ex-state Reps. Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser is finally over. Both disgraced politicians ran in the GOP primaries to regain their old seats, and both were crushed. Gamrat took a very distant third place with 9 percent of the vote, while Courser took sixth place with just 4 percent.
The two tea partiers made national news in August. Gamrat and Courser, who are both married to other people, had an affair, and Courser concocted a lunatic scheme for the ages to cover it up. Courser ordered an aide to spread a fake rumor saying that Courser had been caught in a nightclub paying for sex with another man. (The aide refused and was subsequently fired.) Courser hoped that once people found out his gay sex scandal wasn't real, they wouldn't believe his actual straight sex scandal. It didn't work: The state House expelled Gamrat, and Courser resigned right before they were about to boot him, too. Both politicians said they were running because voters deserved to have a say, and they certainly did on Tuesday.
• NJ State Assembly: Remember when Chris Christie was going to upend Garden State politics on his way to running a powerhouse campaign for president? Well, Democrats picked up at least three seats in the New Jersey Assembly on Tuesday night, giving them their biggest majority in 36 years, and we all know how Christie's White House aspirations are faring.
• Specials: In his post, Johnny Longtorso briefs us on the results of the 15 state legislative specials that featured at least one Democrat and one Republican.
The most notable was in Washington, where the GOP appears to have unseated appointed state Rep. Carol Gregory. Republican Teri Hickel leads 54-46; while there are still votes to count and Gregory hasn't conceded, it's hard to see her coming back from this. A GOP pickup means that Team Blue has just as 50-48 majority in the state House. The good news for Democrats is that they should have a good chance to make up ground during next year's presidential cycle.
A few other seats changed hands on Tuesday. In Maine, the GOP flipped two Democratic-held state House seats, but Democrats still have a small 76-69 majority. This is another chamber where presidential turnout should help Democrats regain some seats they lost in 2014's GOP wave.
The GOP flipped a vacant Pennsylvania Senate seat after the Democratic incumbent resigned to take a new job. Romney won the Western Pennsylvania SD-37 56-43 so the result wasn't a surprise, but the GOP's 31-19 majority is going to be hard to overcome before the 2022 round of redistricting. The Democrats did capture a competitive seat in the Missouri House, though the GOP's massive majority isn't in any danger.
Finally, the GOP easily held SD-52 in upstate New York. Democrats did have a notable candidate in Barbara Fiala, a former Broome County executive and head of the state DMV. However, GOP Broome County Undersheriff Fred Akshar badly outspent her, and he won by an insane 79-21.
• Bridgeport, CT Mayor: Ex-Mayor Joe Ganim spent seven years in prison after he was convicted in 2003 of shaking down city contractors in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of perks, including expensive wine. But why should that stop him from returning to office? Ganim took advantage of voters' fond memories of his tenure to win the September Democratic primary, and he decisively beat Mary-Jane Foster, a Democrat running as an independent, on Tuesday.
• Charleston, SC Mayor: The crowded race to succeed Democratic Mayor Joseph Riley, who is retiring after an extraordinary 40 years in office, got a lot smaller on Tuesday. Businessman John Tecklenburg and state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, who both identify as Democrats, took the two runoff spots with 36 and 35 percent respectively. The runoff is Nov. 17.
• Charlotte, NC Mayor: Democrat Jennifer Roberts squeaked out a 52-48 win over Republican Edwin Peacock to win the mayoralty in Charlotte, North Carolina's largest city. The only independent poll we'd seen gave Roberts a 54-39 lead, so this was surprisingly narrow. Peacock, who came even closer to winning on Tuesday than he did in 2013, could have been a strong statewide candidate had he won: In fact, Charlotte's last Republican mayor, Pat McCrory, is now governor. Instead, Roberts will have the opportunity to showcase her abilities, and if she governs well she, rather than Peacock, will have a chance at upward advancement somewhere down the line.
• Columbus, OH Mayor: Despite months of bad headlines, City Council President Andrew Ginther defeated Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott, a fellow Democrat, 59-41.
Ginther had the backing of the Columbus political establishment, including outgoing Mayor Michael Coleman, and he had far more money than Scott. Things got interesting when Karen Finley, a former chief executive for a red-light camera company called Redflex, pleaded guilty to using the state Democratic Party as a pass-through vehicle for bribing several local officials—and then fingered Ginther as one of her targets. Ginther was never charged, and the story wasn't nearly enough to deny him a win in Ohio's largest city.
• Houston, TX Mayor: To no one's surprise, Democratic state Rep. Sylvester Turner easily took the first spot in the Dec. 12 runoff with 32 percent of the vote. Former Kemah Mayor Bill King, a conservative businessman, decisively beat ex-Sheriff Adrian Garcia 25-17 for the other runoff slot.
When Garcia, a Democrat, entered the race, he looked like he had a great shot to at least face Turner in December. However, many Democrats never forgave Garcia for resigning his post. Under Texas law Garcia needed to resign to run for mayor, and there was never any doubt that a Republican would be appointed in his place. Garcia also took some hits after his rivals started questioning his performance in office; it didn't help that Hispanic turnout wasn't what Garcia needed it to be.
Houston leans Democratic, and Turner should be favored in the runoff. However, low off-year turnout could give King a shot here. Turner and other African American candidates have also had a hard time making inroads with other racial groups, though they were usually running against other Democrats. Until voters changed the law on Tuesday, Houston's mayors were restricted to three two-year terms. However, the new mayor's term will last until 2019, and he'll be eligible to seek one more four-year term.
• Indianapolis, IN Mayor: Democrats got their expected pickup on Tuesday, as former U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett defeated Republican businessman Chuck Brewer 63-37. Hogsett, an ally of ex-Sen. Evan Bayh, had far more money than Brewer, and he had the luxury of running in what's usually a Democratic-leaning city. Brewer relied on popular outgoing Mayor Greg Ballard, but it wasn't enough. Team Blue also won a 15 to 14 majority on the City-County Council even though the GOP redrew the lines to try and lock the Democrats out.
• Manchester, NH Mayor: Republican Mayor Ted Gatsas appears to have held his seat by all of 75 votes. Democrat Joyce Craig has not conceded yet, and she says she's considering asking for a recount. As the head of New Hampshire's largest city, Gatsas used to get mentioned quite a bit as a potential Senate or gubernatorial candidate, but he never took the plunge and after this, he probably won't.
• Salt Lake City, UT Mayor: Democrat Jackie Biskupski unseated two-term Mayor Rich Becker (a fellow Democrat) by a 52-48 margin, making her the first openly gay mayor in Utah history. Becker ran into problems with his now-former police chief, Chris Burbank, who was forced to resign in June after three police officers sued the city over sexual harassment allegations. Biskupski outpaced Becker 46-31 during August's primary, so it seems that the passage of time helped Becker recover from this story, just not quite enough.
• Toledo, OH Mayor: The chaotic special election to fill the final two years of the late Mayor Mike Collins' term is over. Interim Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, a Democrat, outpaced conservative ex-Mayor Michael Bell 35-17; another former mayor, Democrat Carty Finkbeiner, took 16. There is no runoff here.
• Worcester, MA Mayor: Conservatives have been making gains in Worcester County, and they hoped that Councilor Michael Gaffney, a tea partying independent, could score a huge win in New England's second-largest city. However, Democratic Mayor Joseph Petty pulled off a 52-40 win instead.
• MS-AG: State Attorney General Jim Hood, the last Democrat holding statewide office in the Deep South, won his toughest election to date to win a fourth term by a 56-44 spread against Republican Mike Hurst. The GOP hoped this would be the year that they finally finished off Hood, though the Mississippi GOP never really focused on unseating him. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and state House Speaker Philip Gunn directed most of their attention towards legislative races and to successfully defeating Initiative 42 (see MS Ballot), while Gov. Phil Bryant didn't do much to help Hurst either. Hood briefly flirted with running for governor this year and he might be interested in 2019, when Bryant will be termed-out.
Democrats also scored a second win in the Magnolia State, the kind that really flies under the radar: They took two of three seats on Mississippi's Public Service Commission, a little-known but important board that regulates utility companies. It's no small matter, since, among other things, the Mississippi Power Company is trying to pass off massive cost over-runs for a new $6.4 billion power plant to customers. Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley is one of the state Democratic Party's few rising stars, and we also might be hearing from him in four years.
• Jefferson County, CO Recall: Conservatives on the school board in Jefferson County (located in the Denver suburbs) brought extraordinary shame upon themselves when they tried to rewrite the AP U.S. history curriculum to "present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage" and "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system." Now they're not on the board anymore: Three ringleaders were recalled by an almost 2 to 1 margin, despite a big cash infusion from the Koch brothers. An entirely new board will assume office in what is Colorado's second-largest school district.
• Staten Island, NY District Attorney: Ever since he was tossed after one term in 2010, ex-Democratic Rep. Michael McMahon has been eyeing a return to elected office. He got his wish on Tuesday, when he beat Republican Joan Illuzzi 55-45 to succeed now-Rep. Dan Donovan.
• Deaths: On Tuesday, ex-GOP Rep. Howard Coble died at the age of 84. Coble represented a Greensboro-area seat for 30 years, and he only left the House at the beginning of this year. Coble, who was the longest serving congressman in North Carolina history, was a generally conservative member, but he notably voted against tea party orthodoxy in 2013 when he supported the deal that prevented the country from going over the fiscal cliff.
• WATN?: Tuesday was a mixed night for ex-congressmen trying to return to office. While Democrat Michael McMahon won in Staten Island, Democrat Chris Bell took only fifth place with 7 percent in Houston's mayoral election. But Rob Simmons, a Connecticut Republican, unseated an incumbent to become a First Selectman in Stonington (population 19,000). Simmons narrowly lost his House seat during the 2006 Democratic wave, and he badly lost the 2010 Senate primary to Linda McMahon.
California Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod also won another office on Tuesday. Negrete McLeod, who served one term in the House before unsuccessfully running for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in 2014, was elected to the Chaffey Community College Board. Negrete McLeod served there before she won her Assembly seat way back in 2000.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir and Jeff Singer, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and Stephen Wolf.