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.
● CO-Sen, CO-01: In a major surprise, former state House Speaker Crisanta Duran has decided to challenge Rep. Diana DeGette in next year's Democratic primary rather than run for Senate.
Duran had previously said she was considering a bid against Sen. Cory Gardner, who is likely the most vulnerable Republican senator up for re-election in 2020. She'd have been by far the most prominent woman of color in the race, and she'd have had the chance to make history both as the first woman to represent Colorado in the Senate and the first Latina. However, two prominent contenders recently joined the race—Andrew Romanoff (another former state House speaker) and ex-state Sen. Mike Johnston—and more may yet do so.
Instead, Duran's set her sights on DeGette, a fellow Democrat and consistent liberal who doesn't seem to have raised many hackles during her long career in Congress. Even Duran herself doesn't seem to have any specific grievances against DeGette, saying only that it was time for "a new generation of leadership," and adding, "I applaud the work that she has done … in the past on behalf of the district." But in a hint of the argument she might use going forward, Duran also noted that Colorado's 1st "has changed a lot since 1997," when DeGette, who is white, first joined the House.
That's true, but perhaps not in the way you might expect. This district, which is located in Denver and is safely blue, has actually become whiter during the last two decades: In the 2000 census, the overall population was 50 percent non-Hispanic white, but now that demographic makes up 58 percent of the district (Latinos are 28 percent). That's largely due to the vagaries of redistricting (which has taken place twice since DeGette first won office), but the city of Denver has also, perhaps surprisingly, gotten slightly whiter over the same timeframe, edging up from 52 percent white to 54 percent.
Unadorned statistics like these can be misleading, though. On the one hand, the voting-eligible population of the 1st District is considerably whiter than its total population: By the former, the seat is 69 percent white and just 18 percent Latino. But voting isn't necessarily polarized along racial lines in an area like this one, which is very highly educated and where whites, at least, are particularly affluent.
In that regard, the demographics might favor Duran, if younger, college-educated white voters here are anything like those we saw last year in Massachusetts' 7th District and New York's 14th—two districts where that group likely favored women of color over longtime white incumbents.
But while everyone wants to be the next AOC, few will be. Last cycle, attorney Saira Rao also challenged DeGette in the primary but lost by a wide 68-32 margin. And while Duran's district in the state House, where she served for eight years, is located entirely within the 1st Congressional District, she only represented about one-tenth of the latter. Duran's stature is much greater than Rao's, and she'll certainly have access to far more money, but every campaign like this is a difficult one.
Meanwhile, though former Gov. John Hickenlooper hadn't ruled out a bid of his own against Gardner, he offered some very negative remarks on the idea on Saturday, saying, "I'm not cut out to be a senator." Notably, Hickenlooper was in Iowa when he said this, busy campaigning while he considers a presidential run.
● AZ-Sen: Over the weekend, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick endorsed former astronaut Mark Kelly's bid for Senate, making her the second Democrat in Arizona's congressional delegation to do so after Rep. Tom O'Halleran. Kirkpatrick served in the House alongside Kelly's wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, from 2009 to 2011.
● IA-Sen: After a spokesperson for former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack recently said Vilsack wouldn't challenge Republican Sen. Joni Ernst in 2020, Iowa Starting Line reports that the DSCC has been reaching out to Rep. Cindy Axne as their close second choice. Axne is only in her first term, but she ran a strong race against GOP incumbent David Young in the swingy 3rd District last year and could be a top contender in a state where Democrats don't have an obvious bench of seasoned officeholders who appear likely to run.
Starting Line also reports that the DSCC met with state Sen. Liz Mathis, who has been talked up for higher office ever since winning a key 2011 special election that kept Team Blue in the majority at the time. Mathis may start with higher name recognition than other state senators thanks to her time working as a TV news anchor in eastern Iowa, but so far there's no indication of how interested she is.
● MS-Gov: Over the weekend, Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith jumped into the Democratic primary for governor, just ahead of Friday's filing deadline. Smith's entry into the race may set up a potentially nasty contest against frontrunner Jim Hood, who as state attorney general has tried to criminally prosecute Smith three times.
However, in September, a jury found Smith not guilty of robbery and couldn't reach a verdict on aggravated stalking charges; two earlier trials for conspiracy to hinder prosecution met with a hung jury and a subsequent acquittal. Smith is still under indictment for two counts of domestic violence, which Hood's prosecutors could still pursue, and the attorney general's office hasn't said whether they will retry Smith on the stalking charge.
It's unclear just how serious of a campaign Smith plans to run or if he's campaigning solely to undermine Hood out of personal animosity over what his attorney has called a "witch hunt against him"; Smith himself has called Hood's prosecutions "a modern-day lynching." However, this sort of challenge could force Hood to divert precious resources in the primary ahead of what would be a tough general election in this conservative state.
Furthermore, an acrimonious primary could damage the eventual nominee if battle lines break down down along racial lines (Smith is African-American and Hood is white). This is particularly an issue in Mississippi, where Democrats can only prevail statewide by winning overwhelmingly among black voters while limiting their losses with conservative white voters.
● WA-Gov: Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is widely expected to run for president yet hasn't ruled out seeking an uncommon third term, but the governor said on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday that a presidential campaign announcement could come as soon as this week. If Inslee does forego re-election to seek higher office as expected, plenty of Democrats are likely to look at the race to succeed him. Indeed, King County Executive Dow Constantine recently confirmed his interest in considering a bid for governor if Inslee doesn't seek another term.
● NC-03: Republican state Rep. Greg Murphy, a surgeon who represents a seat in in the Greenville area, has jumped into the special election contest to fill the late Rep. Walter Jones' seat, as did Carteret County businessman Jeff Moore. They join a GOP primary that includes state Reps. Michael Speciale and Phil Shepherd, along with former Marine and 2018 primary candidate Phil Law.
● NC-09, NC-Gov: Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory reiterated on Monday that he won't run for the special election in North Carolina's 9th District, saying he's happy right now just to be hosting his radio show and teaching a political science seminar at the University of North Carolina. However, McCrory said he's keeping his options open to run for governor next year and seek a rematch against Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper or to run for Senate in 2022, when GOP Sen. Richard Burr has previously said he'll retire. Copy editors can breathe a sigh of relief that there will be no McCrory-McCready special election against Democrat Dan McCready.
Meanwhile, a few more names have surfaced of who actually could run on the GOP side. WSOC TV's Joe Bruno mentions former Charlotte City Councilor Kenny Smith, who was the GOP nominee for Charlotte mayor in 2017, and Union County GOP chair Dan Barry, although neither man has said anything publicly about whether he is interested or not. The Cook Political Report also mentioned state Sen. Dan Bishop and former state Reps. Bill Brawley and Scott Stone, none of whom appears to have publicly commented.
● Special elections: Here's a recap of Saturday's two competitive races in Louisiana, both of which are headed to runoffs on March 30. You can find the results of the other five races, all of which only featured members of a single party, at Ballotpedia. All seven were in the state House, which Republicans control by a wide margin.
LA-HD-18: The race to replace former Democratic state Rep. Major Thibaut is heading to a runoff. Democrat Jeremy LaCombe and Republican Tammi Fabre will advance to the second round of voting.
LaCombe led the way taking 43 percent. The GOP narrowly avoided getting locked out of the next round after Fabre edged Democrat NaTashia Benoit for second place just 23-22. The other Democrats, Gary Spillman and Bill Spencer, took 9 and 1 percent, respectively, while the other Republican candidate, Jason Fowler Jr., managed 2 percent. Overall, Democrats accounted for 75 percent to Republicans' 25, an astounding margin in a district Donald Trump and Mitt Romney both carried by double digits.
Turnout in this race was also unusually high for a special election. According to the Louisiana Secretary of State's unofficial results, 28 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in this election. The next highest turnout figure from Saturday's seven races was 17 percent.
LA-HD-62: A runoff is also in the cards in the race to replace former GOP state Rep. Kenny Havard. Republican Dennis Aucoin and Roy Daryl Adams, an independent who ran on reversing budget cuts and improving infrastructure, will face off in a second round of voting. Democrats were locked out of the next round after Aucoin took 45 percent and Adams won 31 percent. The three Democrats, Tarries Greenup, Jonathan Loveall, and Jerel Giarrusso, won the remainder of the vote, taking 12, 7, and 5 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, Tuesday brings us five special elections in Connecticut: three in the state Senate and two in the state House. All of these vacancies were created when the Democratic legislators representing these districts joined Gov. Ned Lamont's administration. There are no primaries for special elections in Connecticut—candidates for each party are instead selected via party conventions. Following the 2018 elections, Democrats comfortably control both chambers, with a 20-13 advantage in the Senate and a 90-59 margin in the House, not including vacancies.
Most of the races are in solidly blue areas, and one of those, the 3rd Senate District, could see South Windsor Mayor Saud Anwar, the first Muslim mayor in Connecticut, become a state legislator. However, two of the races have the potential to be competitive. We preview that pair below:
CT-HD-39: This is a district located in New London. The former representative was Chris Soto, who is now legislative affairs director for Lamont. There are four candidates in this race. New London City Councilor Anthony Nolan is the Democrat who was selected by the party, but Jason Catala is another Democrat running as an independent candidate. The Republican is Kat Goulart, and former president of the New London Board of Education Mirna Martinez is the Green Party candidate.
This district is solidly blue, having gone for Hillary Clinton 75-20 and Barack Obama 82-17, but this race could be interesting. The presence of two de facto Democrats on the ballot could create an opening for Martinez to give the Green Party a seat in the legislature. According to one local reporter, the Green Party has some clout in New London and is arguably more relevant in city politics than the GOP.
CT-HD-99: This is a district located in East Haven. The former representative was James Albis, who is now a senior adviser to the commissioner of energy and environmental protection in the Lamont administration. Navy veteran Josh Balter is the Democratic candidate and attorney Joseph Zullo is the Republican.
In 2012, Obama carried this district 58-41, and Balter had generally had no trouble winning re-election to this seat in his previous runs. In 2016, however, Donald Trump won here 54-43 and Albis held on by the slimmest of margins, 50.1-49.9, although he won by a more comfortable 58-42 in 2018.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Polling on behalf of 270 Strategies, which isn't supporting any particular candidate, Change Research's survey of Tuesday's nonpartisan Chicago mayoral election finds a jump ball for the two spots in a likely runoff election, with a three-way tie for first place:
- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle: 14
- Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley: 14
- Former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot: 14
- State Comptroller Susana Mendoza: 10
- Former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico: 9
- Businessman Willie Wilson: 9
- Attorney Jerry Joyce: 8
- Former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas: 6
- Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy: 5
- Attorney Amara Enyia: 4