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.
● NJ-02: Multiple media outlets reported on Saturday that New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew would leave the Democratic Party and join the Republicans, a move that would flip his 51-46 Trump 2nd Congressional District back to Team Red about a year after he first won it.
Van Drew, who was facing the prospect of a serious primary challenge after he loudly opposed the drive to impeach Donald Trump, had not announced a switch as of Monday, but prominent Democrats are already treating his defection as a done deal. Gov. Phil Murphy called the South Jersey congressman’s decision “ridiculous and pathetic,” while DCCC chair Cheri Bustos retweeted a story about most of Van Drew’s staff resigning over the weekend and praised them for “quit[ting] their jobs to stand up for their Democratic values.”
A public declaration will likely come in the next few days, though. The New York Times writes that Van Drew has spoken to Trump officials about making his announcement at the White House, either right before or just after the House votes on articles of impeachment on Wednesday.
Several Democrats had talked about challenging Van Drew before the news of his planned switch broke, and both Montclair State University professor Brigid Callahan Harrison and West Cape May Commissioner John Francis announced on Monday that they’d run.
Harrison ran for office once before back in 1993, when she waged what the New Jersey Globe’s David Wildstein described as a “strong race for Atlantic County Freeholder” that she narrowly lost to a GOP incumbent. Wildstein also says that Harrison, who has written a number of widely used political science textbooks, “has deep roots in Atlantic County,” which is a large source of Democratic votes in the 2nd District.
Francis, meanwhile, serves a town of just 1,000 people, but he’s earned some attention outside the political world. Francis has spoken and written widely, including in a 2008 TED Talk, about his experience “traveling the globe by foot and sail with a silent message of environmental respect” and the 17 years he went without speaking. (Francis broke his voluntarily vow of silence in 1990 one day after Earth Day.)
But with Van Drew headed toward the other side of the aisle, several other Democrats are now eyeing this seat as well. Mental health advocate Amy Kennedy, the wife of former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, said Monday that she was forming an exploratory committee, while Wildstein writes that Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett is also “likely” to get in. Cumberland County Freeholder Jack Surrency was also reportedly considering running against Van Drew last month. New Jersey’s filing deadline isn’t until late March, so it may take a while for the contest to take shape.
Van Drew reportedly decided to switch parties after seeing poll numbers showing him in dire shape with Democratic primary voters after opposing impeachment, but he’s still likely to face serious opposition in the June GOP primary. Wealthy businessman David Richter has spent months challenging the incumbent, and he said over the weekend that he wasn’t going anywhere. Richter, who has already self-funded $300,000, said this week, “If I have to put $1 million of my own money into this race, to win, I’m prepared to do it.”
However, Van Drew may have a powerful ally in next year’s primary. Richter says local party leaders told him they expect Trump to endorse Van Drew, and Trump himself reportedly encouraged Van Drew to defect after a “lengthy” in-person meeting on Friday. After reports broke, Trump heaped praise on the congressman on Twitter, though he has not yet given him his formal backing.
By contrast, local GOP leaders in the eight-county 2nd District, who still play an important role in primaries, aren’t clamoring to support Van Drew, though they didn’t rule out the idea. Atlantic County GOP chair Keith Davis responded to the news by telling Politico, “We have a process, and we’ll see how it goes.” However, Davis admitted in a separate interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We are the party that supports President Trump. ... If the president were to [endorse], it would certainly give Congressman Van Drew a benefit in the primary next year.”
Gloucester County GOP Jacci Vigilante seemed a bit more skeptical of Van Drew than Davis, saying, “He will have to prove he is with us on more than just the issue of impeachment,” adding that a “100% rating from Planned Parenthood and voting with Nancy Pelosi over 90% of the time is a lot to overcome.” She continued, “My point is Mr. Van Drew has some obstacles in front of him if he wants to be a Republican. We’ll accept him, but I am curious to see how he fixes these and other issues the rank-and-file are going to have with him.”
Van Drew spent 17 years in the state legislature as a Democrat, albeit a conservative one, before he was elected to Congress last year, but he may still have a lot to learn about politics as he prepares to run for office as a Republican for the first time. Two sources tell the Inquirer that the congressman tried to convince DCCC staffers who were assigned to help him to stay with him after he became a Republican. To the surprise of probably no one but perhaps Van Drew, those Democratic staffers had absolutely no interest in helping the turncoat incumbent.
● TX-Sen: On Monday, the DSCC endorsed Air Force veteran and 2018 House nominee MJ Hegar in the March primary to take on GOP Sen. John Cornyn. Hegar had the most money at the end of September in this crowded contest.
● FL-07: Florida Politics reports that healthcare and technology consultant Chelle DiAngelus is considering seeking the GOP nod to take on Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy. DiAngelus is a former executive at the faith-based healthcare company AdventHealth, which is sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
● FL-19: Real estate broker Trae Zipperer announced this week that he was forming an exploratory committee for a possible bid for the GOP nod in this safely red open seat.
● FL-26: Republican Omar Blanco entered the race in the summer to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell as the president of the prominent Miami-Dade County firefighters union, but he badly lost re-election to that post last week. Blanco wasn't looking like an especially strong candidate before this, though, since he only had $91,000 in the bank in September compared to the $342,000 that restaurateur and pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Irina Vilariño had to spend. Mucarsel-Powell, by contrast, had $1.27 million on-hand.
National Republicans reportedly are trying to recruit Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to take on Mucarsel-Powell. Gimenez expressed interest in running for higher office at the end of September and said he'd decide later in the fall, but we've heard nothing from him since then.
● GA-14: On Sunday, freshman state Rep. Colton Moore became the latest Republican to express interest in seeking this safely red open seat. Moore ran for office last year at the age of 24, and he won his primary by unseating the incumbent 54-46.
● MN-07: While Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson has not announced if he'll seek re-election in his 62-31 Trump seat, he said Monday, "I'm staying in the party, in spite of some of the stuff that's going on that I don't agree with, I am not going [to] switch parties at this stage of my career."
Peterson made his comments days after reports broke that New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who was the only other House Democrat to vote against the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, would join the GOP. The Minnesota congressman said, "There have been overtures by the highest levels of the Republican Party in the last couple weeks to ask if I would consider it and I told them no."
● NC-06: Democrat Rhonda Foxx, who is a former chief of staff to Rep. Alma Adams, announced Monday that she would run for the newly drawn and safely blue 6th District in the Greensboro area.
Foxx, who was one of the few black women serving as a senior congressional aide, co-founded the Black Women's Congressional Alliance last year to promote and mentor other women of color on Capitol Hill. This appears to be Foxx's first run for office, and she'll face 2018 House nominee Kathy Manning and state Rep. Derwin Montgomery in the March primary.
● NC-13, NC-Sen, NC-LG: Republican Rep. Mark Walker, whose old 6th District was scrambled by redistricting, announced Monday evening that he would not run for anything in 2020. We’ll have more in our next Digest.
● TX-12: Businessman Chris Putnam has launched what his campaign says is a "districtwide television campaign" ahead of his March GOP primary with Rep. Kay Granger, though there's no word on the size of the buy. Putnam's ad argues that Granger votes like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and declares that the 12-term incumbent has "just been there too long."
● UT-04: State Sen. Dan Hemmert, who was by far the best-funded Republican in the race to take on Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams, announced Monday that he was dropping out of the race. Hemmert, who is now seeking re-election to his current post, said that he was leaving the congressional contest for reasons related to his business.
Hemmert began his campaign back in August by describing how the Trump administration's tariffs had hurt his chain of dry cleaners, which was certainly a weird way to enter a race for the GOP nomination. However, Hemmert quickly stood out in the crowded field, and he was the one contender listed on the NRCC's Young Guns page by the time he dropped out. (The NRCC even took a while to remove his name on Monday.)
The only GOP candidate besides Hemmert who had six figures to spend at the end of September was former state GOP communications director Kathleen Anderson, who had $100,000 in the bank thanks mostly to self-funding. However, the GOP has a large bench in the Salt Lake City suburbs, and other local politicians may take a new look at this race now that Hemmert is out.
● WA-10: No notable Democrats have entered the race to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Denny Heck yet in this 51-40 Clinton seat, but it looks like that's about to change. Kristine Reeves announced Monday that she was resigning her seat in the state House saying, "While we have accomplished much in Washington state, critical progressive priorities and investments in our future too often fall victim to special interests in Washington, D.C." Reeves didn't launch a congressional bid, but she added, "I'm asking you to join me in the next phase of this fight."
Reeves was elected to the legislature in 2016 by narrowly unseating a Republican incumbent, a victory that made her the first black woman to win a seat in the chamber in 18 years. However, almost none of Reeves' 30th Legislative District is located in Heck's seat, so she wouldn't be starting a congressional race with much of a geographic base of support.
A few other Democrats are also showing some interest in running for this seat, and state Rep. Christine Kilduff told Crosscut last week that she was considering. Washington's filing deadline isn't until mid-May, so it could take a while for the field to form for the August top-two primary.
● Houston, TX Mayor: Houston held its nonpartisan mayoral runoff on Saturday, and Democratic incumbent Sylvester Turner won a second four-year term by defeating conservative independent Tony Buzbee 57-43. Turner previously took 47% of the vote in the Nov. 5 nonpartisan primary, which was a few points short of the majority he needed to win outright, while Buzbee was a distant second with 28%.
The runoff was a quiet affair for weeks, but Buzbee launched a transphobic mailer in the final days attacking the incumbent for supporting the 2015 Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which was designed to extend local protections to gay and transgender residents. This measure was overturned at the ballot box four years ago, but Buzbee's last-minute hit didn't save him from a double-digit defeat on Saturday.
Donald Trump also got involved on Election Day when he sent out a text imploring voters to support Buzbee and "drain the swamp at Houston City Hall." Buzbee has refused to identify with either party and has done fundraisers for both Democrats and Republicans, but he also donated $500,000 to Trump's inaugural committee. Unsurprisingly, though, Trump and Buzbee's mutual support for one another was a liability in this blue city: Turner ran several ads in the primary tying Buzbee to Trump, though the mayor largely ignored his opponent altogether during the runoff.