The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● FL-15: While GOP Rep.-elect Ross Spano has been in hot water ever since admitting that he may have violated campaign finance laws by taking $180,000 in loans from two individuals, it looks unlikely that the scandal will stop the House from seating him. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi hinted last week that the chamber could vote against allowing Spano to serve, but Politico notes that a landmark 1969 Supreme Court decision would probably prevent the House from refusing to seat a duly elected member. Indeed, Spano may owe whatever career he has in Congress to the decision that aided Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a New York Democrat who was, during his time, one of the most prominent African-Americans in Congress.
In 1966, Powell won a 12th term representing the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. However, a special House committee ruled that Powell had falsified travel expenses and paid his wife a congressional staff salary even though she hadn't done the work to earn it. In January, on the first day of the new Congress, the Democratic-led House voted to delay seating Powell for five weeks to give the Judiciary Committee more time to investigate him. In March, the committee recommended that the House censure the New York congressman but still allow him to take office. However, the House instead voted 307 to 116 to prevent Powell from taking his seat in Congress.
Powell, who had no interest in acquiescing, ran in and easily won the special election to succeed himself. However, this time, the congressman, who by then was residing in the Bahamas, decided not to try and take his seat. Instead, he and several of his constituents sued House Speaker John McCormack and other House officials. Powell argued that the courts should rule that the House's vote not to seat him was unconstitutional, and that he was also entitled to the back pay he would have received as a member.
Powell's term ended before the Supreme Court issued a ruling, though he was re-elected in 1968 and allowed to take his seat the following January. McCormack then argued that it was now too late for the court to review his exclusion from the previous Congress. However, the Supreme Court disagreed.
In June, the justices ruled that, while the Constitution gave the House the right to expel members, the chamber could not vote to exclude someone who was duly elected from serving, as they'd done with Powell. The court held that because Powell met all of the qualifications for serving specified in the Constitution—age, citizenship, and residence—Congress couldn't simply establish new criteria to justify refusing to seat would-be members. The justices also determined that Powell was entitled to his back pay.
However, Powell's own victory was short-lived: He narrowly lost the 1970 Democratic primary to Assemblyman Charlie Rangel, who served until 2017; Powell himself died less than two years later. However, the precedent set by Powell v. McCormack lives on, and it's important for Spano's case.
While House leaders are talking about excluding Republican Mark Harris from serving because of reports of electoral fraud in North Carolina's 9th District, that election presents a different set of facts because there are serious questions whether Harris was duly elected, and the results of his race haven't been certified by state election officials. The Constitution gives each chamber of Congress the final authority to decide a disputed election, and the race for North Carolina's 9th certainly fits the bill. However, no one is questioning whether Spano received more votes than any of his opponents.
It's theoretically possible that Spano could take his seat and then get expelled, but that's very unlikely to happen since two-thirds of the House―including plenty of Spano's fellow Republicans―would need to vote for expulsion. If Spano's self-inflicted predicament grows worse, he could end up resigning or deciding not to take his seat to begin with, but if he sticks it out, he could of course lose re-election in 2020. However, it just doesn't look like the House can bar him from taking office in the first place against his will.
● OR-Sen: While Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley had reportedly been trying to convince Oregon state legislators to change the law to allow him to run for both president and senator at the same time, he seems to have decided that it's not going to happen.
The Willamette Week recently asked a number of prominent Beaver State politicians about Merkley's proposal, but most declined to give a firm answer. On Friday, the senator tweeted a link to the article and added, "It doesn't appear that there is a consensus to make this move at this time and I'm completely fine with that. Our leaders in Salem have plenty of important issues to build consensus around." A source close to Merkley told the WW that this setback still wouldn't impact whether or not he seeks the White House in 2020.
● MS-Gov: GOP state Rep. Robert Foster says he'll announce on Tuesday whether he'll enter next year's race for governor of Mississippi. Foster shared a story on Facebook that said he was "expected" to run, so it would be a surprise if he didn't get in.
● VA-Gov: On Friday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2021. Herring is hoping to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam, who was elected just last year but is prohibited from seeking a second consecutive term under state law.
While it may seem odd that Herring is kicking off his campaign with two-and-a-half years to go before the primary, it's not uncommon in the Old Dominion for candidates to jump in early to try and consolidate support and scare off potential opponents. Indeed, then-Lt. Gov. Northam announced in February of 2015 that he was running for governor when the race was still more than two years off. The primary rival Northam likely had in mind at the time was Herring, whom politicos expected to run as well.
However, Herring announced in September of that year that he would seek re-election instead. The state party establishment consolidated behind Northam, and while former Rep. Tom Perriello launched a surprise bid of his own in early 2017, Northam won the nomination by a convincing 56-44 margin.
While Herring is the first major Democrat to announce a 2021 bid, he may not be the last. The Washington Post writes that Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is "considered a likely contender." Fairfax has been publicly coy, but his 2017 campaign chair says he'll announce his plans "in due course." If Fairfax were to win, he'd be Virginia's second ever-black governor, following Gov. Douglas Wilder, who served in the early 1990s. Herring and Fairfax faced off back in 2013 when they were both running for attorney general, a race Herring won by a narrow 52-48 margin.
Other Democrats may also be eyeing this race. The Post writes that Perriello and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney have also been mentioned as possible candidates, but we don't have any word from either of them about their interests. Republicans are also going to want to make a play for Virginia, where they haven't won a statewide election since the GOP's 2009 sweep, but it remains to be seen who is interested in stepping up.
● NC-09: Almost without fail, Republicans start trashing their own candidates before every notable special election, in a half-hearted effort to lower expectations, divert blame, or both. But this is just too good: We don't even have a special election yet in North Carolina's 9th District, but GOP operatives have already begun poor-mouthing Mark Harris, whom they could be stuck with if there's a do-over.
In fact, according to Politico, both local and national Republicans think Harris would be a "toxic" candidate, and it's easy to understand why, since he appears to have benefitted from a scheme organized by one of his consultants to defraud voters by illegally collecting—and perhaps altering or discarding—an untold number of absentee ballots. No matter how fervently Harris insists he was unaware of this conspiracy, it'll be impossible to wash the taint off.
However, as we've noted, Republicans might be able to kick Harris to the curb, depending on how things unfold. If the state Board of Elections orders a new election, that would only apply to the general election, meaning both parties would once again put forward the same nominees: Harris for the GOP, and Dan McCready for the Democrats, unless one or both moved out of the state.
But if instead the House of Representatives declares a vacancy, then the state would have to conduct a full-blown special election, complete with new primaries. In that scenario, any number of Republicans might run, perhaps including Rep. Robert Pittenger, whom Harris narrowly ousted in May's primary.
For now, though, we await the conclusion of the various investigations taking place, including one by the Board of Elections, one by local prosecutors, and one by federal agents. The board's own determination, though, will have the most immediate impact on how election officials choose to proceed.
● NM-02: Outgoing Rep. Steve Pearce won Saturday's race to chair the New Mexico Republican Party, but he's still not ruling out a 2020 bid to reclaim his old House seat against Democratic Rep.-elect Xochitl Torres Small. Pearce, who gave up this seat to unsuccessfully run for governor, said just after he was elected party chair that it was "way too early" to talk about if he'd wage another House bid, which isn't a no.
Back in 2008, Pearce decided to run for the Senate rather than seek another term in the House. Then as now, Pearce badly lost in his attempt to earn a promotion, and a Democrat flipped the 2nd Congressional District. Two years later, Pearce ended up unseating freshman Democratic Rep. Harry Teague 55-45 in the 2010 GOP landslide, and he'd held his southern New Mexico seat with ease until he caught the statewide bug again this year.
However, there are some reasons to think that a second Peace comeback bid is a lot more unlikely this time around. To begin with, local political writer Joe Monahan relays that Pearce's wife isn't keen on going back to D.C. Monahan also points out that if Pearce did run for Congress again, he'd have to focus on his own race rather than rebuilding the state party after its awful 2018 cycle. No matter what Pearce decides to do, though, the GOP is likely to make retaking this 50-40 Trump seat a top priority.
● NY-11: On election night, former GOP Rep. Mike Grimm expressed interest in running against Democratic Rep.-elect Max Rose as results were still coming in, and he recently told the Staten Island Advance that he's still very open to the idea. Grimm offered himself an out: Claiming he'd stood up to his party's leaders while he was in Congress, Grimm said that if Rose "does some of the things like that I've done, then I wouldn't run against him." However, Grimm added that if Rose "ends up being the empty suit that just tells you all the platitudes and the things that you want to hear, which is what I think he's been doing, then … I won't just run, I'll beat him."
Rose, for his part, will very much want to avoid doing many of the things that Grimm has done. The former Republican congressman resigned in disgrace in 2015 to serve a prison sentence on tax evasion charges. Republican Dan Donovan won this seat in a special election later that year, and after a brief sojourn in the wilderness, Grimm decided to challenge his successor in the 2018 GOP primary.
However, while Grimm had spent his career building up a Trump-like cult of personality by portraying the Obama Justice Department as out to get him, the White House backed the incumbent. Trump even told his Twitter followers that Donovan "will win for the Republicans in November ... and his opponent will not," and even invoked Roy Moore's disastrous 2017 Senate campaign by saying, "Remember Alabama." Donovan did indeed win that primary 66-34, but, contrary to Trump's bold prognostications, he lost for the Republicans in November when Rose beat him 53-47.
This seat went from 52-47 Obama to 54-44 Trump, and the GOP is going to want to target Rose before he can become entrenched. No notable Republicans other than Grimm have publicly expressed interest in running in 2020 yet, but the Advance writes that two local Staten Island elected officials, New York City Councilor Joe Borelli and state Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, have been mentioned as potential candidates. Borelli has also been cited for months as a possible candidate in next year's special election for New York City public advocate.
We don't know how interested either Borelli or Malliotakis are in a bid against Rose, though we know that Malliotakis badly wanted to run for this seat in the 2015 special election. However, she reportedly had a bad relationship with the Staten Island GOP leadership, and that pretty much doomed her chances to win the Republican nod. That's because in New York special elections, county parties pick their nominees rather than primary voters. The Brooklyn GOP was likely to back Malliotakis, but since Staten Island makes up most of this district, their party leaders were essentially able to nominate whomever they wanted, no matter what their Brooklyn counterparts preferred.
Donovan, who was Staten Island's district attorney at the time, won his home county's party endorsement, and Malliotakis decided not to enter a race that was impossible for her to win. Two years later, Malliotakis decided to enter a race that was merely improbable for her to win, in the form of a challenge to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. No one gave Malliotakis much of a chance, and while she carried her native Staten Island, where de Blasio has never been popular, with over 70 percent of the vote, she lost citywide 66-28.
● Special Elections: After years of providing faithful updates—and earning our undying gratitude—Johnny Longtorso is handing off the legislative special elections beat to Daily Kos' Matt Booker. And while the 2018 elections may have taken place just a month ago, we're already getting started on the next cycle!
Texas SD-06: This is a Democratic seat in Eastern Harris County, including the East End of Houston and Baytown. This vacancy was created by Sylvia Garcia's election to the U.S. House in Texas' 29th Congressional District. State Reps. Ana Hernandez and Carol Alvarado, along with executive recruiter Mia Mundy, are the Democrats on the ballot, while Martha Fierro, a Harris County Republican Party precinct chair, is the lone GOP candidate.
In the likely event no candidate takes a majority, the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff election on a date that has yet to be determined. Local observers expect Hernandez and Alvarado to move on to the second round. This is a strongly Democratic seat that backed Hillary Clinton 71-25 over Donald Trump in 2016 and Barack Obama 66-32 over Mitt Romney in 2012.
● Dallas, TX Mayor: On Friday, prominent philanthropist Lynn McBee joined what's shaping up to be a crowded 2019 race for mayor of Dallas. McBee, who has run or served on the boards of a number of local organizations, only moved to the city from the suburb of Highland Park in August, but she relocated in time to meet the residency requirements necessary to run for mayor. This contest is officially nonpartisan, and it's not clear what party McBee identifies with.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: David Briley took over as mayor of Nashville in March after fellow Democrat Megan Barry resigned in March following a personal scandal, and Briley won the May special election for the final year-and-a-half of her term by a 54-23 margin. Briley will be up for a full four-year term in August, and despite his clear win this spring, he could be in for a tougher time next year.
The Tennessean's Joey Garrison writes that Briley has had his share both of high-profile successes and setbacks over the last few months. The mayor did convince the Metro Council (Nashville's city council) to approve $275 million for a new Major League Soccer stadium, and Amazon also recently announced that it would set up an operations center in the city. However, Briley has alienated some local unions by refusing to raise property taxes, which has indefinitely delayed a promised cost-of-living pay adjustment for city employees.
The mayor has also found himself on the opposite side of voters on a few key issues. In May, Briley backed an unsuccessful referendum that would have raised four taxes to fund a $5.4 billion transit plan, though Briley won his own election a few weeks later anyway. Garrison also writes that voters later passed a community oversight board over police despite Briley's strong objections.
Nashville has never ousted a sitting mayor since the city consolidated with the rest of Davidson County's government in 1962, and we can't yet say whether Briley is in any danger of achieving this undesired milestone. However, several local politicians are talking about challenging him next year. The filing deadline is May 16, and all the candidates will face off on one nonpartisan ballot on Aug. 1. If no one takes a majority, there would be a runoff at a later point, though a date does not appear to have been scheduled yet.
While the filing deadline isn't for several months, a few local Democrats say they'll decide very soon. State Rep. John Ray Clemmons said he was "listening to those who have serious concerns" about Briley's administration and opined that a candidate would likely need to decide before the end of the year, but he stopped short of announcing. Real estate executive Bill Freeman, a prominent fundraiser for the state Democratic Party, also said he'd likely decide over the next month or so about whether to get in. Freeman ran in 2015 and spent $4 million of his own money on his bid, but he finished in third after spending much of the race as the front-runner.
At-large Councilwoman Erica Gilmore, who took just 6 percent of the vote against Briley in this year's special, also says she'll decide on another try over the next two weeks, though she'd need to give up her seat to run. Fellow at-large Councilman John Cooper, the younger brother of Nashville Rep. Jim Cooper, has been coy about his own interest, but Garrison says there's been plenty of buzz about his plans. He adds that Cooper has attracted a following for his willingness to challenge the local political status quo, which has unsurprisingly ticked off much of the local establishment. However, Cooper would likely have access to plenty of cash if he ran.
Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, who is perennially mentioned as a potential mayoral candidate, says he's once again been asked to run and isn't ruling anything out. However, Hall said he has "a decent relationship with the mayor's office, and that's important," and went on to compare Briley to a backup quarterback, saying, "[S]ome backups turn out to be hall of fame players. That's where I think the city is, deciding whether this person who was thrust into the position, is best for the long haul."
Finally, one well-known figure who hasn't yet run for office may be considering. Back in April, James Shaw Jr. made national news for disarming the gunman who had already fatally shot four people at a local Waffle House. Shaw, dubbed the "Waffle House hero," has been a Nashville celebrity since then, and he recently took over as marshal of the local Christmas parade after conservative singer Kid Rock was fired for misogynist comments.
Last month Shaw got plenty of attention after he tweeted, "A better people, a better culture, a better Nashville.......#August2019" and told a local fifth-grade class that he was interested in running. In a weird coincidence, Kid Rock flirted with his own campaign for a Michigan U.S. Senate seat last year, but Shaw sounds a whole lot more serious about seeking office than the guy he ended up replacing in the holiday festivities. Shaw has said that, while he hadn't decided on a platform, gun safety would likely be on his agenda. However, Shaw doesn't seem to have talked much about his plans over the last month, and neither he nor his publicist responded to Garrison's request for a comment.