The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● VA-Gov: On Tuesday, the Virginia Republican Central Committee held another contentious meeting during which its members voted to nominate their 2021 candidates for statewide office at a May 8 convention in the parking lot of Liberty University … but they seem to have failed to tell their would-be hosts. The evangelical school put out a statement the following day saying it had yet to agree to hold the event at all and that GOP leaders had not even informed it about the date of the gathering.
The institution instead said that it had notified GOP leaders that it would "consider" hosting the event, "provided that full rental cost for the use was paid." That could be a real concern, since the state party had all of $1,514 in the bank at the end of 2020. (Democrats, who will pick their nominees in a traditional June primary―an event that will be paid for by the state and open to any eligible voter―were flush.) It's too late for Republicans to reverse themselves, though, because Tuesday was the deadline for parties to notify Virginia election authorities that they'd like to hold a primary.
Old Dominion Republicans were already dealing with serious agita even before Liberty raised a stink on Wednesday, since many prominent officials were very unhappy that a small group of delegates would choose the party's nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.
Earlier this week, in fact, the GOP's last three governors―Bob McDonnell, Jim Gilmore, and George Allen―unsuccessfully tried to persuade party leaders to instead hold a "firehouse primary." Under such an arrangement, the party would have set up a single polling place in each county—vastly fewer than the number of voting locations in a regular primary, but more than the single statewide site that the GOP settled on. A firehouse primary also would have allowed all voters to participate.
Instead, officials announced that party-approved delegates would gather on May 8 in the parking lot of Liberty University, the school that was led by Jerry Falwell Jr. until he resigned in disgrace in August. Because of the pandemic, the delegates will fill out a ranked-choice ballot from their cars―if Liberty actually lets them camp out there, that is.
Even before Liberty's statement, GOP leaders admitted that they hadn't figured out all the logistics for this year's convention yet, with the Virginia Mercury's Ned Oliver writing, "There were also questions about whether spreading convention delegates out through multiple parking garages and surface lots across a college campus would meet the party's definition of an assembled convention."
Other Republicans also worried that the event will exclude anyone who can't make it to Lynchburg, a city that has lovely views of the Blue Ridge Mountains but is far from most of Virginia's major population centers. Another Mercury reporter, Graham Moomaw, tweeted that one official asked if delegates from Tangier Island, a small and heavily Republican community in the Chesapeake Bay that isn't connected to the rest of the state by land, were "supposed to float to Lynchburg for this big convention."
Roanoke Times reporter Amy Friedenberger responded, "The James River will get them there. Might have to leave a week or so early." However, if party leaders can't reach a deal with Liberty, they may not need to put on their swim trunks after all.
● AL-Sen: Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell told The 19th News this week that she'd decide "very soon" whether she would run for Alabama's open U.S. Senate seat.
● IA-Sen: Apparently, Chuck Grassley is just going to mess with us for as long as he feels like. The seven-term Republican said on Wednesday that he'd make a decision about whether to seek re-election "sometime in September, October or November," even though earlier this month he said an announcement was "several weeks off," which followed a January statement that he'd make up his mind in "several months," which in turn superseded remarks from last year in which a reporter said he'd decide "eight months to a year before the 2022 election."
● GA-Sen: With David Perdue now safely out of the way, a variety of Republicans are popping their heads up to express interest in challenging Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock next year. In addition to the two big names already on the list, former Sen. Kelly Loeffler and former Rep. Doug Collins, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Greg Bluestein catalogs a whole host of alternatives:
- Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan: A close Loeffler ally and former minor-league pitcher for the Florida Marlins, Duncan said he might run for Senate, seek re-election to his current job, or simply retire from politics altogether
- Attorney General Chris Carr: Bluestein calls him a "mainstream conservative" and says he "hasn't ruled it out"
- Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black: No word on his interest, but he's a longtime Collins supporter so likely wouldn't run if Collins does
- Attorney Randy Evans: A former ambassador to Luxembourg under Trump who is reportedly considering
- Businessman Kelvin King: Hasn't commented but is "one of Trump's most prominent Black supporters in Georgia"
- Justice Harold Melton: Stepping down as chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court on July 1, but Bluestein says "he's not likely to run" and a backer says "he's had no serious conversations" about the race
- Former NFL star Herschel Walker: A favorite of pundits, there's no indication that the one-time University of Georgia standout has any desire to run for office—and he lives in Texas
● PA-Sen: A spokesperson for former Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands confirmed to The Hill this week that Sands is indeed considering seeking the Republican nomination for this open Senate seat. Sands, whom Politico described as "a former socialite, B-list movie star and chiropractor," was a major Trump donor who managed to draw the wrong type of attention both during and after her time as ambassador.
In 2019, Sands banned a NATO expert named Stanley Sloan from an event celebrating the alliance's 70th anniversary for what Sloan characterized as his "critical evaluation of Trump's impact on transatlantic relations." This month, the Office of Special Counsel also concluded that Sands had broken federal law for using her official Twitter account to solicit donations for Trump's 2020 campaign, spread racist conspiracy theories about Kamala Harris' eligibility to serve as vice president, and attack Joe Biden.
● FL-Gov: The Orlando Sentinel reports that state Sen. Randolph Bracy is considering seeking the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022. Bracy, who would be the Sunshine State's first Black governor, has used his time in the legislature to champion criminal justice reforms that have mostly failed to advance in the GOP-dominated body. Bracy was also in the news in early 2017 when he expressed interest in a primary challenge against then-Sen. Bill Nelson, though he didn't end up going for it.
● MA-Gov: Democrats have speculated for years that Attorney General Maura Healey could run for governor in 2022 whether or not Republican Gov. Charlie Baker seeks re-election, and the talk only intensified this week after Healey made a pair of high-profile visits to vaccination sites. Healey, unsurprisingly, has denied that these stops were, in the words of the conservative Boston Herald, a "precursor to a potential gubernatorial bid," but she doesn't appear to have publicly addressed if she's thinking about running for the state's top job.
Healey, like Baker, is eligible to seek a third term next year, and there's little question she'd win re-election. If she instead ran for governor, though, Healey would almost certainly start the primary as the most-high profile contender in the race: Healey won re-election in 2018 by a 70-30 margin, and she has nearly $3 million on-hand in her state account. Healey would be both the first woman elected to lead Massachusetts (Republican Jane Swift ascended to this office in 2001 but never sought election in her own right), as well as the Bay State's first LGBTQ governor.
● MD-Gov: Nonprofit head Wes Moore, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, told Maryland Matters this week that he was considering seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed termed-out Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Moore, who would be the state's first Black governor, did not give a timeline for when he'd decide, though Maryland Matters' Josh Kurtz writes that he's told it would likely be in "mid-to late spring."
Moore is also a nonfiction author whose work includes Five Days, a well-received 2020 book about the 2015 "uprising that overtook Baltimore after the police killing of Freddie Gray." Moore himself has not run for office before, though Kurtz notes that his wife served as a top aide to then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
A number of other Democrats are considering entering the race including Brown, who lost the 2014 contest to Hogan but was elected to the U.S. House two years later. For now, though, the only two announced candidates are Comptroller Peter Franchot, who recently received an endorsement from the Laborers' International Union of North America, and former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain.
● NY-Gov: This week, Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin confirmed that he was considering a bid for governor.
● CT-02: Republican state Rep. Mike France announced Tuesday that he would take on Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney. France is Courtney's most prominent opponent since 2006, when the Democrat first won his seat by ousting Republican Rep. Rob Simmons by 83 votes, but he'll still have a very tough time prevailing in an area that almost always favors Democrats: While this eastern Connecticut seat backed Hillary Clinton only 49-46, it returned to form last year and supported Joe Biden 54-44.
France, whom the CT Post's Emilie Munson notes was one of only eight lawmakers to vote no on a 2017 law to ban gay conversion "therapy," also doesn't seem at all interested in moderating himself. He opposed a 2019 bill that would have removed the state's religious exemption to mandatory immunizations for public school students―legislation that, unfortunately and ironically, failed to advance after the coronavirus pandemic overshadowed everything else.
France used the crisis to try to further undermine public health by challenging Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont's emergency powers in court, arguing the state wasn't facing a "major disaster." A judge dismissed France's lawsuit a few months later.
● IL-16: Former Trump administration official Catalina Lauf announced Tuesday that she would challenge Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who infuriated conservatives nationwide by voting to impeach Donald Trump, for the Republican nomination. This seat, which is based in north-central Illinois, supported Trump 57-41 last year, but no one knows what this turf will look like after redistricting.
Lauf campaigned against Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood last year in the neighboring 14th District, but Lauf's bid came to an end after she took a close third place in the crowded primary. The self-proclaimed "anti-AOC" remained popular with national Republicans, though, and Lauf appeared in a convention video months later with her sister and proclaimed, "We come from Spanish descent and we're millennial women and that's not what the media wants."
● TX-06: Republican activist Susan Wright announced Wednesday that she would compete in the May 1 all-party primary to succeed her late husband, Rep. Ron Wright. Susan Wright served as a district director for two state representatives, and she also holds a post on the State Republican Executive Committee.
Wright is the first notable Republican to enter the race ahead of the March 3 filing deadline, but she's likely to have company. State Rep. Jake Ellzey, who lost the 2018 open seat runoff to Ron Wright, filed paperwork with the FEC this week.
Katrina Pierson, who was a prominent spokesperson for Trump in 2016 and 2020 and has spent the last few months spreading conspiracy theories about Joe Biden's win, also said over the weekend that she was thinking about running. Before she entered Trump's orbit, Pierson ran in the 2014 primary against incumbent Pete Sessions in the 32nd District, another seat in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and lost 64-36. (Sessions now represents a third seat, the 17th District.)
The Dallas Morning News' Gromer Jeffers also mentions state Rep. Tony Tinderholt as a possible Republican candidate as well as Dan Rodimer, who was Team Red's 2020 nominee for Nevada's 3rd District. This is the very first we've heard of Rodimer, whose active Twitter account continues to list his location as Las Vegas, campaigning in another state.
On the Democratic side, 2020 nominee Stephen Daniel said Tuesday that he would not run. Jeffers, meanwhile, mentions former Homeland Security official Patrick Moses, who works as a minister, as a potential candidate.
● WA-03: Three Republicans recently announced campaigns against Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who is one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump in January, though it remains to be seen if any of them are capable of running a serious campaign. The field consists of Navy veteran Wadi Yakhour, who worked on the Trump campaign; evangelical author Heidi St. John; and Army veteran Joe Kent.
● Special Elections: Here's a recap of Tuesday's special runoff election in Texas.
TX-HD-68: Republican David Spiller defeated fellow party member Craig Carter 63-37 to win this North Texas seat. Spiller's victory puts this chamber at full strength for the current legislative session, with Republicans in control 83-67.
● SD-AG: A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the South Dakota legislature have advanced articles of impeachment against Republican Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg after he was charged with three misdemeanors following a deadly car crash in which he struck and killed a man walking on the side of a highway last September.
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has also called on Ravnsborg to resign and amped up the pressure on Tuesday by releasing two videos of interviews law enforcement officials conducted with him. In one, an investigator questioned Ravnsborg's claim that he was unaware he'd hit a person—he said he thought he'd run into a deer—by noting that the state Highway Patrol had found the victim's glasses inside Ravnsborg's vehicle. "His face was in your windshield, Jason. Think about that," said one detective.
A spokesperson for Ravnsborg has said the attorney general will not resign. A simple majority in the state House would be necessary to impeach him, and two-thirds of the state Senate would have to vote to convict him in order to remove him from office. In the event of a vacancy, Noem would name a replacement.
● Where Are They Now?: On Tuesday, federal Judge Marcia Cooke ordered former Rep. David Rivera, a Florida Republican who has been accused of being part of a mind-boggling number of scandals, to pay a $456,000 fine to the FEC for illegally funneling $76,000 to prop up a straw candidate named Justin Lamar Sternad in the 2012 Democratic primary. Sternad and Rivera consultant Ana Alliegro were previously convicted for their role in the scheme, but the Miami Herald notes that this is the first time the ex-congressman has been penalized for this matter.
Cooke wrote, "Perhaps by virtue of the Court barring Rivera from engaging in similar unlawful conduct in the future, 'that will do the trick' in convincing Rivera — a former U.S. Congressman — to stop violating the law." Rivera is currently under FBI investigation as part of an unrelated scandal involving Venezuela's socialist government.