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.
● NC Redistricting, NC-02, NC-06: In a setback in the fight against Republican gerrymandering, a state court panel of 2-1 Democratic judges has unanimously refused to block the congressional map that Republicans passed last month after the same court panel had blocked their previous gerrymander from being used for 2020.
Ruling that there was insufficient time remaining to adjudicate the facts of the plaintiffs' challenge to the new map, the court did not issue a finding of whether it was constitutional or not, but the judges allowed the GOP's new map to enter into effect for the March 2020 primary. The plaintiffs subsequently announced late Monday that they wouldn't appeal to the 6-1 Democratic state Supreme Court, meaning the new map is finalized.
Daily Kos Elections has calculated the 2004-2018 statewide election results and a handful of demographic statistics for the GOP's new districts, and they indicate that the new map is likely to elect an 8-5 Republican majority barring a Democratic wave even larger than 2018. While that's a much fairer split than the previous map's 10-3 Republican advantage, it likely precludes Democrats from winning a majority of seats even in years when they're winning more votes like 2018.
Nevertheless, Democrats will be practically guaranteed to flip GOP Rep. George Holding's 2nd District in Raleigh and GOP Rep. Mark Walker's 6th District in the Piedmont Triad, since both seats backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than 20 points.
Both the 2nd and 6th Districts saw notable Democrats take steps toward running on Monday: Kathy Manning, who announced she would run in the 6th, and Deborah Ross, who filed to run in the 2nd but has yet to confirm she's in.
Manning is a philanthropist and former lawyer who was the 2018 Democratic nominee in the previous 13th District, which she lost 52-46. With the heavily Democratic city of Greensboro no longer cracked between the red-leaning 6th and 13th Districts, the new 6th is far bluer than the district Manning lost last year, and her only major competition is likely to be in the primary.
Meanwhile, Ross is a former state representative who was Team Blue's 2016 Senate nominee against Republican incumbent Richard Burr, a heavily contested race she lost by 51-45, but she carried the redrawn 2nd by a wide 57-40 in that contest. Both seats could end up seeing crowded primaries, but the filing deadline is just weeks away on Dec. 20.
● AL-Sen: Over the holiday weekend, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill dropped his bid for Senate, acknowledging that "the dynamics of this election" had "changed dramatically" with former Sen. Jeff Sessions' entry into the GOP primary last month.
According to an unnamed "D.C. source" who spoke with the Alabama Political Reporter, "Senate leadership" had "encouraged" Merrill to step aside to avoid a divided Republican field that would help Democratic Sen. Doug Jones win next year, presumably by nominating alleged sexual predator Roy Moore once again. (Merrill himself also alluded to this worry in a statement.) That would be an interesting development if true, because Mitch McConnell reportedly was quite cool to the idea of a Sessions comeback bid.
Perhaps, though, the fear of a Moore redux has since grown. Merrill's departure, however, doesn't really lessen the problem, as the number of Republicans running is still quite large. Aside from Sessions and Moore, the list of notable contenders also features Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, all of whom Merrill trailed in the polls. Those same surveys, however, have shown Moore well short of making a runoff, with Sessions and Tuberville the most likely to do so.
● CO-Sen: State Sen. Angela Williams, who'd been both the most prominent woman and person of color seeking the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, ended her campaign just before Thanksgiving.
While several other notable Democrats had endorsed former Gov. John Hickenlooper as they were dropping out of the race, Williams declined to do so. Instead, she took a veiled shot at the DSCC, which formally backed Hickenlooper shortly after he entered the contest in August.
"Unfortunately, even now, as female candidates enjoy a historic level of support from voters, there are still elements of the Democratic Party seeking to promote male candidates at the expense of talented and smart progressive women," Williams said in a statement. "Fighting to give women, people of color, and the underserved a voice isn't always easy, especially when faced with strong headwinds from Washington D.C."
Williams' departure leaves former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff as Hickenlooper's only well-known rival, though limited polling has shown Hickenlooper walking away with the nomination.
● GA-Sen-B: Republican Gov. Brian Kemp will tap wealthy financial services executive Kelly Loeffler for resigning Sen. Johnny Isakson's seat "early" this week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, a move that will likely infuriate Donald Trump and many conservative leaders.
Trump has been publicly pressing Kemp to select Rep. Doug Collins, who's vocally defended Trump during impeachment proceedings, while his far-right allies have attacked Loeffler for supporting Mitt Romney (who was, you know, the GOP presidential nominee in 2012) and occasionally donating to Democrats.
Kemp, however, has reportedly "bristle[d] at the outside pressure" and the AJC says he's intent on naming Loeffler to the post in an attempt to win back women voters. But if Kemp proceeds with his preferred pick, Georgia Republicans could wind up with an ugly mess because Collins has said he'd "strongly" consider running anyway.
Should such a faceoff come to pass, Collins would make it almost impossible for the GOP to win the special election for Isakson's seat outright in November. That's because the race will feature all candidates from all parties running on a single ballot, with the top two vote-getters (regardless of party) advancing to a runoff in January of 2021 if no one takes a majority.
With two prominent Republicans in the contest, there'd essentially be no chance that the GOP could clear 50% in the first round. Democrats, however, would still have the chance to coalesce around a single candidate and potentially win a Senate race in Georgia for the first time since 2000.
● KY-Sen, KY-05: Democratic Gov.-elect Andy Beshear has announced that state House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins will leave the legislature to join his administration as a senior advisor, meaning that Adkins won't run for Congress next year.
Adkins, who lost this year's Democratic primary for governor to Beshear 38-32, had previously declined to rule out bids against either Sen. Mitch McConnell or Rep. Hal Rogers. Currently, the only Democrat challenging McConnell is former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, though state Rep. Charles Booker formed an exploratory committee last month. Rogers, meanwhile, represents one of the reddest districts in the country and won re-election last year by almost 60 points.
● MT-Sen: Gov. Steve Bullock ended his longshot bid for the Democratic presidential nod on Monday, and according to an aide, he won't challenge Republican Sen. Steve Daines next year either.
Back in March, Bullock explicitly ruled out a congressional bid, saying he "just wouldn't enjoy" serving in the Senate. Since then, a trio of notable Democrats have joined the race: nonprofit founder Cora Neumann, Navy veteran John Mues, and Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins. Mues and Collins, however, have raised very little money, while Daines continues to be a prolific fundraiser and has a $4.2 million war-chest (Neumann has not yet filed any campaign finance reports).
● NC-Sen: In a major surprise at the start of candidate filing in North Carolina, wealthy businessman Garland Tucker announced on Monday that he was ending his intra-party challenge to Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, despite spending $1.5 million of his own money on his bid.
Tucker said he'd need another $2.5 million between now and the March primary but said donations had not been forthcoming and claimed he could not "continue to fund the campaign personally at the level of the past 7 months." In the same parting statement, Tucker declined to endorse Tillis but instead complained about Donald Trump's intervention on the incumbent's behalf.
As it has in many other races, it's possible that the White House's endorsement in fact played a major role. Tillis infuriated the GOP base when he spoke out against Trump's bogus declaration of a national emergency in an attempt to find funds for his infamous border wall early this year, so much so that he quickly backtracked and voted in favor of it.
That episode was a key inspiration for Tucker's campaign, and it looked for a while as though it had badly damaged Tillis, as an August survey from Democratic pollster PPP showed him with just a 38-31 lead on his opponent. However, a Fox News poll last month found Tillis with a wide 54-11 advantage, and no numbers ever emerged to contradict that take.
There's little time for anyone else to join, as the filing deadline is Dec. 20, though Tillis still faces farmer Sandy Smith in the primary. However, Smith has only raised modest sums and had just $66,000 to spend at the end of September while Tillis had amassed a $5 million war-chest. But while Democrats would have been grateful if Tillis had been forced to spend some of that cash fending off Tucker, he's still likely to get a stiff challenge in the November general election.
● AL-05: Farm PAC, which is the campaign arm of the Alabama Farmers Federation, recently endorsed every Alabama House incumbent for re-election except for one: 5th District GOP Rep. Mo Brooks. Despite backing Brooks just last cycle, the farmers' group endorsed his primary challenger, retired Navy Cmdr. Chris Lewis.
Lewis has been running here for months but only raised a mere $15,000 in the third quarter and held that same amount on-hand at the start of October; Brooks himself only hauled in a paltry $18,000. However, Brooks had a big head start with $860,000 in his war chest, and it remains to be seen just how big a threat he faces from Lewis.
● CA-25: Gov. Gavin Newsom is the latest notable Democrat to endorse Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith ahead of the upcoming special election for this seat.
● CA-50: Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, who was indicted last year on charges that he'd filed false FEC reports to disguise spending $250,000 in campaign donations on personal expenses, said in an interview Monday that he would plead guilty to one count of misusing campaign funds when he appears in federal court on Tuesday.
The exact nature of this apparent plea deal, however, is not clear, including the specific charge Hunter might admit to, whether prosecutors will recommend a prison sentence, or whether the agreement will require Hunter to resign from Congress.
However, it sounds like Hunter is prepared to lose both his seat and his freedom. In an interview with local TV station KUSI, Hunter said, "Whatever my time in custody will be, I will take that hit," adding, "I'm confident that the transition will be a good one. My office is going to remain open. We're going to pass it off to whoever takes this seat next."
Hunter, who'd been scheduled to go on trial in January, had channeled Trump in calling his indictment a "witch-hunt" that was "politically motivated," though of course, what those supposed motivations might have been were never made clear. At one point, he'd even filed an appeal claiming that, as a member of Congress, he could not be prosecuted for campaign finance violations under the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause.
His calculus appeared to change, though, when his wife, Margaret, who had also been charged in the couple's 60-count indictment, pleaded guilty earlier this year. As part of that deal, she agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and was reportedly set to testify at her husband's trial.
When prosecutors first indicted the Hunters, they alleged the couple had spent campaign money on tuition to their children's private school, oral surgery, and vacations in Italy and Hawaii, as well as $600 to fly a pet rabbit on a plane. In a later filing, however, they also said the congressman had used campaign cash to "pursue a series of intimate personal relationships" with at least five different women, including lobbyists and congressional aides.
If Hunter does step down from office, a special election will likely be held next year. Two prominent Republicans had already launched campaigns challenging the incumbent, former Rep. Darrell Issa and former San Diego City Councilor Carl DeMaio, though it's hard to say who might have the edge in a race without Hunter. Issa recently released a poll from Public Opinion Strategies showing him with a slim 21-19 lead on DeMaio in the March top-two primary, with Hunter taking just 9 and last year's Democratic nominee, Ammar Campa-Najjar, in first with 31%.
In 2018, thanks to his legal troubles, Hunter eked out a narrow 52-48 victory despite the 50th District's sharp conservative lean: Donald Trump carried the district 55-40, while Republican John Cox won it by an even larger 59-41 spread in last year's race for governor despite getting blown out statewide. If the badly damaged congressman doesn't run again, however, the 50th (located in inland San Diego County) is likely to return to form.
● FL-19: Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson is the latest Republican to join the race for this safely red open seat. Henderson will face Florida state House Majority Leader Dane Eagle and former Minnesota state House Minority Whip Dan Severson in the primary, and the field could still grow larger.
● IN-05: Former Marion County prosecutor Andy Jacobs has joined the Democratic primary for this red-leaning open seat, setting him up for a fight against former state Rep. Christina Hale for the Democratic nomination. Jacobs is the son of the late Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr., who represented the Indianapolis area in the House almost continuously from 1965 until 1997, and his grandfather was Rep. Andrew Jacobs Sr., who also represented the area for a single House term following the 1948 Democratic wave.
● MA-04: Former state Comptroller Tom Shack has formed an exploratory committee as he considers whether to join the Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Joe Kennedy. Shack had previously been appointed by GOP Gov. Charlie Baker to serve as comptroller from 2015 until his term ended earlier this year.
● NJ-02: Cumberland County Freeholder Jack Surrency and West Cape May Commissioner John Francis are reportedly interested in primarying Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew over the congressman's opposition to the impeachment inquiry, according to "a source close to" the progressive group Indivisible, although there is no confirmation from either Democrat. Meanwhile, Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro has refused to rule out a primary against Van Drew, only stating that he has no interest in running "[a]s of right now."
Lastly, former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, was reportedly floated as a possible challenger, since he's now a South Jersey resident. However, he took his name out of contention despite criticizing Van Drew's position on impeachment.
● PA-16: Teacher Kristy Gnibus formally kicked off a bid against GOP Rep. Mike Kelly late last month, making her the third Democrat to join the race. Already running are auto salesman Edward DeSantis and customer service supervisor Daniel Smith, who lost a bid for a dark-red state House seat to an incumbent Republican by a 58-42 margin last year. Smith is also the only challenger to file a fundraising report so far, but he's brought in just $24,000 so far, while Kelly has almost $800,000 on hand.
Last year, Kelly survived re-election against Democrat Ron DiNicola by a tight 52-47 margin even though Donald Trump carried Pennsylvania's 16th District 59-39, but DiNicola hasn't expressed any interest in a rematch. Despite the seemingly daunting Trump numbers, this district, located in the Erie area in the state's northwest corner, nevertheless holds some promise for Democrats: Mitt Romney won it just 52-47, and in 2018, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf eked out a narrow 49.5 to 48.8 win, according to analyst Greg Giroux.
● SC-01: Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing became the first Republican to launch a TV ad in this race, airing a spot during Saturday's South Carolina v. Clemson college football game.
Landing's commercial proceeds at a rushed pace to focus on impeachment and claim that Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham—not Trump—is somehow the truly corrupt one by supposedly being bought by campaign contributions (only $4,000 this cycle) from House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff in exchange for his vote for the impeachment inquiry. Landing further engages in projection by claiming it's Nancy Pelosi who is focused on "conspiracies, gridlock, and impeachment," when in reality it's been Republicans' Senate majority that's blocked far more House bills than vice versa, not to mention Trump's relentless trafficking of conspiracy theories.
● VA-07: GOP Del. Nick Freitas, who has long been reported to be interested in a run for Congress, announced on Monday that he would challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger next year.
Freitas is likely the most prominent Republican to enter the race so far, though most of the headlines he earned over the past year came because he botched his paperwork for his re-election campaign and had to wage a write-in bid. (Thanks to his district's dark red lean, he prevailed last month by a 56-42 margin.)
Freitas did, however, immediately pick up an endorsement from the deep-pocketed Club for Growth, which had long expressed an interest in him and has a track record of spending heavily on its preferred candidates.
However, he'll still face several notable opponents for the nomination, including fellow Del. John McGuire (who did not have to run a write-in campaign in November); former Trump Defense official Andrew Knaggs; and nonprofit director Tina Ramirez. Like many in this military-heavy district, McGuire (a Navy SEAL), as well as Knaggs and Freitas (both Army Green Berets), are all veterans.
● FL Ballot: A proposed constitutional amendment to implement a top-two primary system for state offices has attained enough valid signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot, setting up a battle over an electoral system that could wreak havoc for fair elections. This top-two system would see all candidates run on a single primary ballot regardless of party, and the top-two finishers would advance to the November general election, a system that is already used in California and Washington.
As we've previously documented, this electoral system is in some ways even worse than our current system for failing to produce outcomes that accurately reflect the desires of the electorate. One chief reason why this method is so awful is that a party can win a majority of votes cast in the primary, yet get shut out of the general election simply because it fielded too many candidates while the minority party only puts forth a few or even just two. Furthermore, primary electorates often feature vastly different demographic compositions than higher-turnout general elections, producing greater partisan dissonance between the two rounds.
These distortions have seen one party or the other get shut out of general elections in recent years in California and Washington, including in contests they likely would have won if the parties had gotten to nominate a single candidate each. Proponents argue that top-two would allow unaffiliated voters to have more influence and also that it gives minority-party voters more sway to elect centrist candidates in same-party general elections in districts that heavily favor the majority party.
But instead, this system creates perverse incentives where party organizations have to coordinate to advance particular candidates before primary voters even get a chance to weigh in, lest their party get shut out of a general election, which effectively shifts much of the nominating process to party insiders instead of empowering voters. And same-party contests have done little to promote moderation in either California and Washington, instead leading to a spike in voters skipping same-party contests on their ballots when their favored party gets shut out.
However, this amendment is far from guaranteed to pass, particularly since Florida requires a 60% supermajority threshold for ballot initiatives. Furthermore, since Florida initiatives may only address a single subject, this proposal doesn't affect federal offices, and a concurrent effort to put a second initiative on the ballot for congressional elections has relatively few signatures so far.
● WA Ballot: A state court judge has blocked Initiative 976, a measure Washington voters passed last month that would have capped annual vehicle registration fees at $30, from going into effect, saying he had "substantial concerns" that the initiative's ballot description was misleading and concluding that plaintiffs were likely to win their challenge seeking to strike it down.
Despite the ruling, however, the measure has already caused major problems. The initiative would deprive the state of $4 billion in revenue over the next six years, and because its ultimate fate remains uncertain, the Washington Department of Transportation has said it will postpone more than 90 projects across the state. In addition, state lawmakers say that because the suit likely won't be resolved before the coming legislative session is set to end on March 20, they'll be forced to plan the state's next transportation budget without being able to rely on the revenues I-976 would cut.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat whose office by law must defend the initiative, said on Wednesday that his team would work over the Thanksgiving holiday to file an emergency appeal with the state Supreme Court before the measure's effective date of Dec. 5. However, even if the court upholds the injunction, the dispute will still await resolution on the merits at a later date.