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.
● State Supreme Courts: In a new story, Daily Kos Elections' Stephen Wolf looks state-by-state at the supreme court elections in 2021-2022 where progressives or conservatives could gain majorities or make major inroads. The federal judiciary grew ever more hostile to voting rights during the Trump era, and the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to curtail partisan gerrymanders designed to entrench one-party rule. But at the same time, state courts such as Pennsylvania's have started striking down these gerrymanders and issuing their own decisions defending voting access.
Crucially, these decisions have relied on protections found in state constitutions, meaning that they're insulated from U.S. Supreme Court review (at least for the time being). Almost every state constitution, in fact, offers similar protections—the issue is who's interpreting them. Unlike federal judges, most state supreme court justices are elected to their posts, and while the almost uniquely American practice of electing judges creates serious problems for judicial impartiality, it nevertheless presents progressives with the opportunity to replace conservative ideologues with more independent-minded jurists.
With 10 major states up for grabs over the next two years, progressives have the chance to flip Ohio's Supreme Court, gain a more solid majority in Montana, and make gains that could set them up to flip conservative-heavy courts in Georgia, Texas, and Virginia later this decade. Meanwhile, Republicans could take control of Democratic-leaning courts in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and North Carolina. Elections in these states could have major implications for efforts to constrain gerrymandering and protect the right to vote over the next decade.
● AL-Sen, AL-Gov: Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, whose name had come up as a possible candidate for Alabama's open Senate seat, announced on Friday that he would not join the GOP primary. However, while Ainsworth did not mention next year's race for governor, he did say in a statement that he believes "that God's plan currently calls for me to continue leading on the state, not federal, level of government"—a hint that he could instead run for that post. The current incumbent, Republican Kay Ivey, could seek another term but hasn't yet announced her plans and may, at age 76, opt to retire.
● OH-Sen, OH-Gov: Republican Rep. Warren Davidson said over the weekend that he's considering a bid for Ohio's open Senate race and also suggested he could primary Gov. Mike DeWine. In an interview with Fox at CPAC, Davidson criticized DeWine for his "overbearing" approach to fighting the pandemic and said he should have behaved more like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Of course, it's one thing to take jabs at an incumbent unpopular with conservatives when in the most friendly possible environment; it's quite a lot further to challenge him in an actual campaign.
● MA-Gov: Democrat Joe Curtatone announced on Monday that he would not seek a sixth term this fall as mayor of Somerville, a city of 81,000 located just north of Boston, and he once again did not rule out a bid for governor in 2022. Curtatone said his decision was not a "political calculus to a calendar or timeline," adding, "I'm not even thinking about what I may or may want to do."
Back in December, the conservative Boston Herald reported that Curtatone was mulling over a bid against Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who has not yet revealed his own plans. While Curtatone still hasn't publicly expressed interest, though, one of his longtime advisors did say the mayor was thinking about it. Consultant Mark Horan, who acknowledged that it would have been "extremely difficult" for Curtatone to seek a promotion while also running for re-election, said of a potential gubernatorial run, "It certainly makes sense that he is considering it."
● NY-Gov: Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo will face an independent investigation into charges that he sexually harassed female members of his staff after a second aide, former health policy staffer Charlotte Bennett, accused him of repeatedly asking her invasive and unwanted questions about her sex life. Following Bennet’s allegations, a third woman, Anna Ruch, said on Monday that Cuomo made an unsought advance on her at a wedding, grabbing her face and asking if he could kiss her before she was able to pull away.
Bennett, who is 25, revealed to the New York Times's Jesse McKinley that the 63-year-old Cuomo, whom she served as an executive assistant, did not touch her but asked her questions like whether "she was romantically involved," "was monogamous in her relationships," "believed if age made a difference in relationships" and "had ever been with an older man." According to Bennett, Cuomo told her "he's fine with anyone above the age of 22." She told McKinley, "I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared."
Bennett contemporaneously documented her encounters in text messages with friends and family members. She also reported them to Cuomo's chief of staff in June and was soon transferred to a new position advising on health policy, explaining that she chose not to press for an investigation because she was happy with her new post and "wanted to move on." However, Bennett left her job in November, saying, of Cuomo, "His presence was suffocating. I was thinking that I could recover and have distance but that is so naïve."
Following the Times report on Friday, which came just two days after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, accused Cuomo of fostering a hostile workplace and kissing her on the mouth without her consent, top Democrats across the state immediately demanded an inquiry. Cuomo sought to head off these demands on Saturday by trying to hand-pick his own investigator, former federal Judge Barbara Jones—a move that was met with instant derision given Jones' close ties to a former top Cuomo aide, Steven Cohen.
In a rare climb-down reflecting his precarious position, Cuomo quickly reversed course on Sunday and asked state Attorney General Tish James and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to jointly name an independent attorney to investigate the allegations. James, however, instantly shot down that proposal as well, saying that her office alone has the legal authority to handle the matter. (And though James didn't mention it, DiFiore was appointed to her position leading New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, by Cuomo.)
Remarkably, Cuomo backed down a second time later that same day and said he would refer the matter outright to James, which he did the following day. James promised to hire an outside law firm to lead the probe and pledged she would "oversee a rigorous and independent investigation."
Cuomo's response to the substance of Bennett's charges has also differed markedly from how he reacted to Boylan's accusations, which he simply denied entirely. On Sunday, in a statement that referenced Bennett but not Boylan, Cuomo said, "I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended," and added a no-pology: "To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that."
Bennett rejected Cuomo's remarks as insufficient on Monday, saying in a statement that the governor "has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior." She also offered encouragement to other women who might come forward.
Whether or not in response to Bennett’s entreaty, Ruch did just that. On Monday, she told the New York Times that, after she thanked the governor for making a toast on behalf of her newly married friends, Cuomo swiftly placed his hand on her bare lower back. A friend photographed the ensuing moments, in which Cuomo placed both hands on Ruch’s cheeks and, says Ruch, asked, “Can I kiss you?” Ruch’s friend says Cuomo kissed Ruch on the cheek as she removed herself from his grasp. A Cuomo spokesperson “did not directly address Ms. Ruch’s account,” says the Times, only directing reporters back to the Sunday statement described above.
While a number of prominent Democrats have said Cuomo should resign if James' investigation inculpates him, a growing chorus has called for him to leave office immediately. A telling example came from Rep. Kathleen Rice, who tweeted, “The Governor must resign” shortly after the Times published Ruch’s story. In 2010, Rice was Cuomo’s preferred candidate to succeed him as attorney general, though she lost the Democratic primary to Eric Schneiderman.
If Cuomo were to leave office early, he would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a former congresswoman who is serving her second term as Cuomo’s number two.
● NC-11: In a new report from BuzzFeed, two more women, Caitlin Coulter and Leah Petree, have publicly accused freshman Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn of sexually harassing them while they attended Patrick Henry College in 2016 and 2017. Previously, three women (including two by name) came forward in the summer of 2020 to charge Cawthorn with similar acts both before and during his time at Patrick Henry.
Several other students also told BuzzFeed that Cawthorn had developed a reputation for predatory behavior despite his brief enrollment at the school (he was there for just over a semester), and two dorm leaders also confirmed that they'd warned women about him.
● NJ-02: Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo has announced he'll run for a competitive state Senate seat that's open this fall due to a Republican retirement, which probably takes him out of the running for a challenge to Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew. Win or lose in November, it'd be unlikely that Mazzeo would want to immediately turn around and run another tough race.
● OH-16: With the support of his old boss, former Donald Trump aide Max Miller has entered the GOP primary against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who was one of 10 House Republican who voted to impeach Trump in January. Miller, a Marine Corps reservist, hails from a family of prominent Jewish philanthropists in the Cleveland neighborhood of Shaker Heights but only recently moved into Gonzalez's 16th District, which lies to the west, south, and east of the area where Miller grew up (yes, it's that hideously gerrymandered).
The announcement makes Miller the first notable Republican to join the race, but former state Rep. Christina Hagan has also hinted at her interest. However, she's said she might instead choose to seek Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan's 13th District, depending on how redistricting turns out.
● TX-06: Republican Brian Harrison, who served as chief of staff to former Trump Health and Human Services chief Alex Azar during his disastrous handling of the COVID pandemic, announced Monday that he could compete in the May 1 special election to succeed the late GOP Rep. Ron Wright. Politico wrote last month of the now-candidate, "In the West Wing, a handful of his detractors derisively referred to Harrison as 'the dog breeder'—a reference to the labradoodle-breeding family business that he helped run prior to joining the Trump administration." More on that here.
Meanwhile, The Hill reports that former Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson also plans to run. The filing deadline is Wednesday, so we'll have a full-line up for the all-party primary very soon.
● WY-AL: State Rep. Chuck Gray just filed paperwork with the FEC ahead of a possible primary challenge to Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, though he has yet to speak publicly about his interest. Gray's name surfaced last month when a poll for Donald Trump's super PAC included him. His Twitter bio only describes him as a member of the legislature, not a congressional candidate, though his feed is mostly filled with attacks on Cheney. Another GOP lawmaker, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, is already running.
● Special Elections: Tuesday brings the busiest special election night of the year so far, with three races on deck in Alabama, California, and Connecticut.
AL-SD-26: This Democratic Montgomery-based seat became vacant when former Sen. David Burkette resigned last year. Burkette did not cite a reason for his resignation at the time, but was arrested and sentenced to a year of probation just a few weeks later because of a campaign finance violation.
Democratic state Rep. Kirk Hatcher will take on Republican William Green, a minister. Alabama is a difficult state to wrangle data from, so we don't have presidential results for this district. Based on prior results for races here, though, this is a strongly Democratic district. Burkette twice defeated Republican DJ Johnson here in 2018; once in a special election by an 89-10 spread and again later in the year in the regular election 80-20.
Republicans have a 26-7 edge in this chamber with this and one other seat vacant.
CA-SD-10: This South Los Angeles-area seat became vacant when former Democratic Sen. Holly Mitchell was elected to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors last year. Three Democrats and two Republicans (plus two non-major party candidates) are vying to replace Mitchell in this strongly Democratic seat that backed Joe Biden 84-12 in 2020, according to data from Los Angeles County.
The Democrats are Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, Culver City Council Member Daniel Lee, and Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles President Cheryl Turner, while businessman Joe Lisuzzo and business consultant Tiffani Jones are the Republicans. Community organizer Ernesto Huerta is representing the Peace and Freedom Party and Army veteran Renita Duncan is running without a party affiliation as an independent candidate.
Unlike other California elections, where the top two candidates advance to the next round even if one candidate wins a majority, special elections can be won in the first round if the leading candidate takes more than 50%. If no candidate does, though, a runoff will be held on May 4.
Democrats currently hold a 30-9 supermajority in this chamber, with just this seat vacant.
CT-SD-27: This seat located in Stamford became vacant when former Democratic Sen. Carlo Leon resigned to join the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont. The candidates for this race were selected by their parties, and Democrats nominated state Rep. Patricia Miller while Republicans tapped attorney Joshua Esses.
This is a safely blue district that Hillary Clinton won 66-30 in 2016. Democrats control this chamber 23-12, with just this seat vacant.
● Boston, MA Mayor: Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation on Friday that would avert a special election in the event that Mayor Marty Walsh resigns before March 5 to become U.S. secretary of labor. The regularly scheduled nonpartisan primary for a four-year term will still take place in September, and the two candidates with the most votes will compete in the November general election.