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.
● AK State House: In a remarkable turn of events, a Democratic-led coalition in Alaska's 40-member state House elected a new speaker on Thursday, despite the fact that Republicans won a nominal 23-seat majority in November's elections. At the time, those results had appeared to spell the end of a similar bipartisan alliance that had governed the House—and give the GOP its lone pickup of a legislative chamber last year. But that outcome has now been reversed, leaving Democrats largely in control.
The three months since election night had been marked by non-stop turmoil in the House: Despite holding the most seats, Republicans simply could not find a candidate for speaker who could command a majority. In part, that was because two Republicans who'd been part of the previous coalition, Gabrielle LeDoux and Louise Stutes, resolutely voted against Dave Talerico, whom the GOP put forward four separate times.
In addition, a third Republican, Gary Knopp, also resisted Talerico, saying he felt that a 21-person caucus—where any member could effectively exercise a veto—was a recipe for failure. As a result, Talerico could only garner 20 votes each time he was nominated for speaker, one shy of the number necessary to win.
The logjam finally broke last week, though, after Democrat Bryce Edgmon, who'd been speaker for the last two years, dropped his party affiliation and formally became an independent, making it easier for him to win GOP support. A likely additional catalyst was a new budget unveiled Wednesday by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, which featured breathtaking cuts across the board, including a 25 percent reduction in funding for health care and social services and a similar cut to education. Even Republicans in the legislature reacted with hostility.
In the end, a full third of the way through the legislature's 90-day session, Edgmon was elected speaker by a 21-18 vote on Thursday. Two additional Republicans, Chuck Kopp and Jennifer Johnston, gave their support to Edgmon, along with LeDoux and Stutes and the chamber's other independent, Dan Ortiz. Two more Republicans who didn't vote for Edgmon, Steve Thompson and Tammie Wilson, subsequently joined the coalition, with Thompson becoming majority leader. Knopp was absent from the vote, but he said he hopes to join the coalition, too.
That would make for a majority of 15 Democrats, two independents, and seven Republicans, an alliance that, as the Anchorage Daily News put it, is "much more likely to be an impediment" to Dunleavy's budget than a GOP-run House would have been. It's also a bitter denouement for national Republicans, who had crowed about flipping the chamber and gaining a coveted governing "trifecta" the day after the midterms. Instead, that dreamed-of trifecta is now just a memory, and progressives will retain a voice in how Alaska is run for at least the next two years.
● AZ-Sen: OH Predictive Insights (R): Martha McSally (R-inc): 46, Mark Kelly (D): 44; McSally (R-inc): 49, Ruben Gallego (D) 41.
● KS-Sen: While there's been some talk of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai seeking the GOP nod for this open seat, he declared Thursday that he's "said repeatedly that I'm going to be the FCC chairman for the next two years, and I have no plans to do anything else during that time."
On the Democratic side, former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom expressed interest in challenging GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, but hasn't said much publicly since Roberts decided to retire last month. However, the Kansas City Star reported on Thursday that Grissom recently met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about this race, so he still seems to be considering.
● KY-Sen: Matt Jones, the host of the popular Kentucky Sports Radio, has been mulling seeking the Democratic nomination to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a while, and he recently reiterated that he'd decide sometime in the summer. National Democrats are reportedly trying to recruit retired Marine combat pilot Amy McGrath, who was Team Blue's nominee against Rep. Andy Barr last year. Jones said in Wednesday that he was "50/50" about running himself and that he was waiting to see what McGrath does.
However, it very much doesn't sound like Jones is considering deferring to McGrath. In a subsequent interview that McConnell's team gleefully tweeted out, Jones said that, while he though McGrath's 2018 campaign was "impressive," he added that "she didn't win. And if you're going to win as a Democrat in Kentucky you've got to win Louisville and you've got to win [the 6th Congressional District], and she didn't."
Jones went on to complain about national Democrats picking candidates, declaring that they "have this system," where candidates have to interview with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Jones, who said earlier in the week that he hadn't spoken with national Democrats, asked how Schumer could know who's going to win, adding, "He lives in New York!"
However, Jones wasn't always so hostile to national Democrats. The DCCC tried to recruit Jones to take on Barr back in 2015, and Jones said on his show back then that he was going to take a few days to consider their pitch. Jones ended up passing and McGrath ran for that seat the following cycle.
While McGrath is now being eagerly sought after by D.C. Democrats, that very much wasn't the case in 2017. National Democrats continued to recruit Lexington Mayor Jim Gray even after McGrath jumped in and raised a serious amount of cash, and she was reportedly so frustrated that she considered running as an independent. However, McGrath stuck with Team Blue and defeated Gray in the primary, and she subsequently had plenty of national support for her unsuccessful campaign against Barr.
● NM-Sen: Just after Election Day, local political reporter Joe Monahan interviewed Democrat Sen. Tom Udall and declared that the senator had "stamped out" rumors he might not seek re-election "once and for all." But in his terse writeup, Monahan didn't provide a direct quote from Udall, and it turns out that all that talk might not have been completely put to bed after all: Just a few weeks later, the 70-year-old Udall told the AP it was a "pretty good guess" that he'd run for a third term—a stance that's well short of definitive. We'll therefore be keeping an eye on New Mexico's senior senator until we have completely clarity on his plans.
● MO-Gov: The Missouri Scout's Dave Drebes writes that there's some buzz that Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft could try and challenge Gov. Mike Parson in the GOP primary, though Ashcroft has yet to say anything publicly. Drebes concludes that Ashcroft, a son of former Sen. and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, "probably won't primary Parson, but it's something to keep an eye on."
Drebes points to how Ashcroft has been working with Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway to investigate whether GOP Sen. Josh Hawley used state resources for political purposes while he was state attorney general. Drebes writes that one interpretation of Ashcroft's actions is that this is a "warning shot: Ashcroft will do what's best for his political career."
Drebes also says that the secretary of state feels like he's been repeatedly snubbed by the GOP powers-that-be. One unnamed lobbyist relays that Ashcroft was "dissed in the U.S. Senate jockeying," adding, "Despite near-universal name ID, the national party swooped in and almost immediately anointed" Hawley. When it was time to appoint a new attorney general to replace Hawley, Parson opted for state Treasurer Eric Schmitt over Ashcroft. Drebes also says that there's a "growing sense" that Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe is positioning himself to be next-in-line for the governorship when Parson leaves, so [i]f Ashcroft wants a political future, he'll have to make it himself."
● AZ-06: This suburban Phoenix seat has been shifting to the left over recent cycles, and one familiar Democrat is expressing interest in taking on GOP Rep. David Schweikert next year. Physician Hiral Tipirneni, who was Team Blue's nominee for the neighboring 8th District last year in both the special election and regular contest, told the Arizona Republic she's "seriously considering" campaigning against Schweikert. Tipirneni adds that she lives close to the 6th District already.
Last year, Tipirneni ran in the April special election to succeed scandal-tarred Republican Trent Franks. The 8th District had backed Romney 62-37 and Trump 58-37, so this was hardly friendly territory for Democrats. However, Tipirneni ended up holding Republican Debbie Lesko to a 52-48 win in a race that attracted little outside spending. The two faced off again in November, but Tipirneni lost by a wider 55-45. Still, this was hardly a bad result for this historically red seat. According to analyst Drew Savicki, Republican Martha McSally carried the 8th District 55-43 in last year's Senate race.
Tipirneni may have some primary competition, however. Businesswoman Anita Malik lost to Schweikert 55-45 in a contest that didn't get much attention, and she also says she's "most likely in," adding, "We're going through the check-boxes, but we're pretty close." Malik adds that Tipirneni told her weeks ago that she was running here, a move Malik said was "very disappointing" because she wasn't from the district.
The 6th District also has been safely red for most of the decade, but that may be changing. This seat, which includes a portion of Phoenix and most of Scottsdale, moved from 60-39 Romney to just 52-42 Trump. According to Savicki, McSally also carried it by an even-smaller 51-47 margin.
Schweikert also has been dealing with some other issues. Back in December, the House Ethics Committee voted unanimously to expand the scope of their inquiry into his activities. Roll Call wrote at the time that was committee was looking into allegations that Schweikert used official congressional office resources to benefit his campaigns.
That's not all. The committee has also been investigating whether the congressman pressured his congressional staff to do political activities for him and whether he "authorized compensation to an employee who did not perform duties commensurate with his House employment," which Roll Call called code for "off-the-books settlements" paid out to a staffer.
Oh, and the committee is also looking into whether a congressional employee gave Schweikert or his campaign loans or gifts. There have been no major public developments for this investigation since December, but this very much remains a potentially big liability for Schweikert.
● CA-21: Roll Call writes that some Republicans are encouraging former Rep. David Valadao to seek a rematch with Democratic Rep. TJ Cox in this Central Valley seat. There's no word from Valadao if he's interested in another battle with Cox, who beat him 50.4-49.6 in a big upset last year.
Of course, if we're waiting for a public statement from the former Republican congressman, we may be waiting a very very very long time. Last year, Valadao declared victory on election night and then said nothing publicly as his lead slowly dwindled as more ballots were counted. It was only in early December, about a month after Election Day, that Valadao spoke, and he used that occasion to concede defeat to Cox. This seat backed Clinton 55-40.
● GA-07: Democratic state Reps. Pete Marin and Brenda Lopez have confirmed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they're each considering running for this competitive open seat, and that they'll decide after the legislative session ends on April 2. Another Democratic state representative, Sam Park, also said earlier this month that he was also waiting until the session ends before making up his mind.
● MI-06: Roll Call writes that unnamed Democrats are encouraging 2018 nominee Matt Longjohn to seek a rematch with GOP Rep. Fred Upton, but there's no word how interested he is. Last year Longjohn held Upton to a 50-46 win, which was by far the closest race in Upton's 32-year congressional career. The incumbent hasn't ruled out retiring, saying in December that he was "happy with what I'm doing" but would decide on his future plans in 2019.
This Kalamazoo-area went from 50-49 Romney to a wider 51-43 Trump. According to Bloomberg's Greg Giroux, the 6th District also backed 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette by a very slim 48.4-48.2 margin, and GOP Senate nominee John James won it 50-47.
● New York: The New York Times' Shane Goldmacher writes that a number of New York Democrats are eyeing primary challenges to sitting House members. Below is a look at each seat:
● NY-03: DNC member Robert Zimmerman reportedly has been encouraged to take on Rep. Tom Suozzi in this central Long Island seat, and he's very much not ruling it out. Indeed, Zimmerman declared that Suozzi was a "Trump sympathizer" who was "not stand[ing] up for mainstream Democratic principles."
Suozzi has a long electoral history in this area, and he won this seat in a crowded and expensive 2016 primary almost seven years after he lost re-election as Nassau County executive. However, he pissed off some progressives last year when he defended ICE and called for "some physical structures on the border," a statement he made during an interview with "Fox and Friends" no less. Suozzi told the Times this month that he was only for these barriers as part of a larger immigration deal. This seat moved from 51-48 Obama to 52-46 Clinton.
● NY-04: Rep. Kathleen Rice is another Long Island Democrat who has made some enemies on her left. Last month, Rice was part of the disorganized attempt to prevent Nancy Pelosi from taking back the speaker's gavel, which proved spectacularly unsuccessful. Nassau County Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams told the Times he was considering taking on Rice, but said he was currently focused on winning re-election this year.
Abrahams and Rice both ran in 2014 for what was an open seat. Abrahams had trouble raising money, and Rice, who was Nassau County district attorney at the time, beat him 57-43. Another Nassau County legislator, Siela Bynoe, didn't rule out a primary bid against the incumbent early last month, though she doesn't seem to have said anything since then. This seat backed Clinton 53-44.
● NY-09: Community organizer Adem Bunkeddeko held Rep. Yvette Clarke to a surprisingly close 53-47 win in last year's primary for this safely blue Brooklyn seat, and the Times writes that he's "signaled he plans to run again." Bunkeddeko didn't commit to anything but he sounds likely to jump in, saying of Clarke, "Maybe someone's seventh term is the charm?" but "most of us aren't holding our breath."
Last time, Bunkeddeko emphasized the need for affordable housing, a very potent issue in this area, and he argued that Clarke had no major accomplishments in Congress. Clarke even admitted she didn't take her challenger seriously: After Bunkeddeko declared at a debate that he "understand[s] that Ms. Clarke is upset by the fact that she has a competitive primary," she interrupted, "Upset? I'm laughing!" However, Clarke sounded a whole lot less complacent when asked about a rematch. She told the paper she "definitely will not be caught by surprise," and she said she'd reorganized her district office since her 2018 race.
● NY-10: Longtime Rep. Jerry Nadler, who now serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has always decisively won re-election in this safely blue seat, which includes Lower Manhattan and the Upper West Side as well as Brooklyn's Borough Park, and there's little inclination that he's inflamed primary voters at home.
Still, Lindsey Boylan, who served as an economic advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, says she's considering taking him on. Boylan cited the number of women who ran for Congress in 2018, and she said she "can't justify having my daughter watch me sit on the sidelines."
● NY-12: Attorney and hotel executive Suraj Patel challenged Rep. Carolyn Maloney in last year's primary for a safely blue seat that's centered around Manhattan's affluent Upper East Side, and despite his 60-40 loss, he also tells the Times he's considering another try. Patel outspent Maloney by quite a bit, though he attracted some unflattering headlines during the race. (Tinder-banking? No thanks.)
● NY-15: Rep. Jose Serrano is another longtime incumbent who hasn't faced any serious intra-party opposition in decades (now-Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez initially filed to challenge him in 2018, but she decided to take on Rep. Joe Crowley a few days later). New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres tells the paper he's considering taking on Serrano, though it's not clear what argument he'd use against him. Serrano, who has represented this safely blue south Bronx seat since 1990, will be 77 on Election Day, and Goldmacher says some are watching to see if he'll retire.
● NY-16: Veteran Rep. Eliot Engel, who now serves as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, turned back a primary challenge last year from a self-funding businessman by a 74-16 margin. However, educator Andom Ghebreghiorgis expressed interest in taking him on, saying that Ocasio-Cortez's surprise win last year "showed there's a hunger, especially here in New York, for representatives who reflect the changing progressive politics of their communities."
It's possible that demographic changes could make Engel, who has served since 1989, vulnerable in this safely blue seat, which includes the northern Bronx and Yonkers in Westchester County. This district has a voting age population that's only 39 percent white, while African-Americans and Latinos make up another 32 and 23 percent of the district, respectively. The Times notes that there are only about a half-dozen white men who represent a seat more diverse than this one.
● TX-24: Accountant Jan McDowell, who held Republican Rep. Kenny Marchant to a shockingly close 51-48 win last year despite raising just $100,000 all cycle, said late last year in a Facebook comment that she "intend[s]" to try again. Given the Marchant's now-evident weakness, though, it's likely that other, more established Democrats will also want to at least test the waters here.
In addition, Texas' 24th District, which is located in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs, is trending in directions Republicans can't possibly like, just like many other districts elsewhere in the state. After voting for Mitt Romney by a 60-38 margin in 2012, it went for Trump by a much narrower 51-45 in 2016, and last year, according to analyst Miles Coleman, Beto O'Rourke actually edged Ted Cruz here 51-48.
It's also well-educated, affluent, and increasingly diverse, with a population that's now made up of a majority of people of color—in other words, exactly the kind of place that's been slipping away from the GOP lately.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Chicago's Feb. 26 nonpartisan mayoral primary is coming up very quickly, and it's anyone's guess which two candidates will advance to the April 2 general election. Mason-Dixon is out with a new poll on behalf of Telemundo Chicago and NBC 5, and like every other pollster, they find an incredibly tight race for both general election spots in this all-Democratic field:
- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle: 14
- Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley: 13
- State Comptroller Susana Mendoza: 12
- Former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot: 10
- Former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico: 9
- Attorney Amara Enyia: 7
- Attorney Jerry Joyce: 4
- Businessman Willie Wilson: 4
- Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy: 3
- Former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas: 2
This is the best result we've seen for Lightfoot, who would be the city's first gay mayor. Lightfoot picked up an endorsement from the Chicago Sun-Times days before this poll went into the field, and it's possible that that's giving her a boost. Of course, as we always caution, this is just one poll, and it's very tough to draw many conclusions in a race where the top candidate is taking just 14 percent of the vote.
Preckwinkle's campaign soon responded with a poll from Tulchin Research that showed her firmly in first place:
- Preckwinkle: 21
- Wilson: 11
- Daley: 10
- Mendoza: 10
- Lightfoot: 9
- Enyia: 8
- Vallas: 7
- Chico: 5
- McCarthy: 5
One other big difference between the two polls is that Tulchin finds Wilson in contention for a runoff spot, while Mason-Dixon finds him struggling in the low single digits. Several polls from January also showed Wilson within striking distance of advancing to the general election despite his rather … eccentric political history.
Wilson also made headlines on Valentine's Day when he announced that he would write checks totaling between $30,000 to $50,000 to about 115 homeowners, many of whom lined up outside the county treasurer's office, which he said he was doing to help struggling Chicagoans cover their property taxes. Wilson said the money came entirely from his foundation, which the Illinois State Board of Elections previously ruled was legal. That ruling came last year because of a similar action by Wilson.
Preckwinkle's poll also tested her in a few hypothetical general election matches. Tulchin finds Preckwinkle beating Daley 50-38 and leading Mendoza 46-36.
Meanwhile, a group called Fight Back Fund, which is connected to the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, has launched a $714,000 ad buy against Daley. Politico writes that the group doesn't appear to be supporting any particular candidate, they just oppose Daley.
The ad goes after Daley for his former career as a banker, with the narrator accusing him of having taken "a million-dollar bonus and then laid off 5,000 workers." The spot continues, "Then as the chairman of a Wall Street bank, Daley took more than $15 million—the same year his bank admitted to illegally overcharging thousands of active duty troops and driving military families into foreclosure, forcing them out of their homes."
Daley certainly has the resources to fight back, though. The former Obama White House chief of staff was already the contest's top fundraiser before Wednesday, when the media reported that Daley had received a $1 million donation from hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin. Griffin is a major conservative donor who threw $36 million down the toilet to aid GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner's unsuccessful re-election bid, and Daley's foes wasted little time attacking their opponent over the contribution. However, Daley is making the most of his money, and Politico reports he's launching a $1 million ad buy for the final full week of the primary campaign.