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.
● RI-Gov: On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to serve as secretary of commerce. Raimondo resigned and was succeeded by Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, a fellow Democrat who may need to get through tough primary and general election contests in order to keep his new job.
In January, WPRI's Eli Sherman wrote that McKee was "somewhat less liberal than Raimondo," who has had a rocky relationship of her own with labor and progressives at home ever since ushering through painful pension cuts in 2011 as state treasurer. Indeed, a number of labor groups, especially teachers unions, have clashed with McKee for over a decade because of his ardent support for charter schools.
In 2008, the National Education Association of Rhode Island, the state AFL-CIO, and Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals ran ads against McKee during his re-election bid as mayor of Cumberland, but he decisively won with 64% of the vote. Six years later, after McKee claimed the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, several unions decided to back his Republican opponent in the general election, but McKee prevailed 54-34.
McKee, though, came close to losing renomination in 2018 to progressive state Rep. Aaron Regunberg. Regunberg, who accused the incumbent of accepting "dark money" from PACs, also benefited from the support of what Sherman described as "most of the state's unions." But McKee, who argued that he'd be better positioned to lead the state should Raimondo leave office early, still had the backing of most Ocean State politicos, and he held on 51-49 before decisively winning the general election.
It remains to be seen if McKee's longtime detractors will attempt to beat him in 2022, however. In January, right after Raimondo's nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Commerce was announced, the head of the state branch of the National Education Association praised McKee as someone who "will bring the perspective of local control being important." McKee and Raimondo's notoriously distant relationship may also not matter much to the new governor now that Raimondo is heading to D.C.
Of more immediate concern to McKee are the number of other Rhode Island Democrats who had planned to run in 2022, when Raimondo was to be termed-out, and may now decide to take on McKee. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea reaffirmed her interest in January, while Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and state Treasurer Seth Magaziner have both raised serious amounts of cash. A crowded field, though, would likely aid McKee in a state where conservative Democrats still retain plenty of influence in primaries.
Rhode Island, while a solidly blue state in federal elections, has also been willing to sending Republicans to the governor's office, and a bruising Democratic primary could give Team Red a larger opening. Former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung reportedly has been mulling a third bid for office: Raimondo beat Fung only 41-36 in the 2014 open seat race, though she prevailed by a decisive 53-37 in their 2018 rematch. There has also been speculation that state House Minority Leader Blake Filippi could also campaign for governor.
● AZ-Sen: Rep. Andy Biggs, who hasn't previously spoken publicly about his interest in seeking a promotion to the upper chamber, confirms he's "looking at" taking on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly next year. Biggs, the extremist head of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, also appears to have leaked a very hypothetical primary poll that shows him leading a bunch of largely unknown potential rivals, though he didn't offer a timetable for making a decision.
Two of the names tested in Biggs' poll are new, though: Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, who is in charge of the Arizona National Guard, and businessman Jim Lehman.
● MO-Sen: Disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, who last month declined to rule out a bid for Senate, now says in a new interview that he's "evaluating" a possible campaign against Sen. Roy Blunt in next year's GOP primary.
Greitens, who was pressured to leave office by members of his own party in 2018 after he was accused of sexual abuse, criticized Blunt for insufficient fealty to Trump and even attacked him for his role presiding over Joe Biden's inauguration. However, it's traditional for the chair of the Senate Rules Committee (which Blunt presided over until recently) to do so: In 1997, the last time the Senate and White House were held by opposite parties following a presidential election, Virginia Republican John Warner chaired the inaugural committee for Bill Clinton's second swearing-in.
Greitens didn't say when he might make a decision, but if he does go for it, he may not wind up squaring off against Blunt after all: While the 71-year-old senator has said he's "planning" to seek re-election, he's made some comments this year that suggest he might not go through with it.
● FL-Gov: Mason-Dixon is out with the first poll we've seen of next year's race for governor of Florida, and it finds Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis leading two Democrats who are considering taking him on. DeSantis bests state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried 51-42, while he enjoys a slightly-larger 52-41 edge against Rep. Charlie Crist.
● AZ-01: Republican state Rep. Walt Blackman recently filed paperwork with the FEC for a possible bid against Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran in this swingy northern Arizona seat, though he doesn't appear to have said anything publicly about his interest yet.
Blackman, who earned a Bronze Star serving with the Army in Iraq, won a close race for the state House in 2018, which made him the legislature's first Black Republican member. While Blackman successfully passed a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill during his time in office, he's also made a name for himself by attacking Black Lives Matter as a "terrorist organization." Blackman also posted a video about George Floyd on Facebook that the state representative titled, "I DO NOT support George Floyd and I refuse to see him as a martyr. But I hope his family receives justice."
Blackman won re-election last year after another competitive contest, and he spent the next few months ardently echoing Donald Trump's lies about election fraud. Blackman at one point even suggested that the state legislature could try to overturn Joe Biden's victory in Arizona and instead award its 11 electoral votes to Trump, and he was one of three legislators to call for the U.S. Senate to reject the state's electors.
Another Republican, Williams Mayor John Moore, also filed with the FEC, but he's unlikely to make much of an impact if he gets in. The National Journal notes that Moore, whose community has a population of just over 3,000, ran here in 2020, but he ended his campaign before the primary.
According to new data from Daily Kos Elections, Arizona's 1st District swung to the left from 48-47 Trump to 50-48 Biden as O'Halleran was winning his third term 52-48. No one knows what the new congressional map would look like, though, especially since Republicans are continuing to do whatever they can to undermine or eliminate the state's independent redistricting commission.
● LA-02: Both Democratic state senators competing in the March 20 all-party primary for this safely blue seat received a notable endorsement over the last few days. Troy Carter picked up the support of the SEIU, which joins the AFL-CIO in his corner, while Karen Carter Peterson earned the backing of the League of Conservation Voters.
● MD-01: Foreign policy strategist Dave Harden announced this week that he would seek the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Rep. Andy Harris in Maryland's 1st District, a conservative seat that the Democratic legislature could dramatically redraw in the upcoming round of redistricting. Harden, who says he intends to "run down the middle," will face off in the primary against former Del. Heather Mizeur, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2014 as a progressive.
Harden previously served in the Foreign Service in the Middle East and other parts of Asia before taking a post in the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Obama administration. Harden left the Foreign Service in 2018 and went on to found a consulting group.
● MS-04: The Office of Congressional Ethics this week released a report determining that it had "substantial reason to believe" that Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo impermissibly used campaign funds for personal purposes. Investigators also uncovered evidence that the congressman had asked government aides to perform tasks benefitting his political campaigns and himself. The OCE recommended that the House Ethics Committee probe Palazzo, who has represented a heavily Republican seat along Mississippi's Gulf Coast since 2011.
Palazzo's campaign revealed in November that it was under investigation by the OCE for allegedly misusing nearly $200,000 in campaign funds, though his treasurer argued at the time that the congressman had done nothing wrong. The newly published report, however, highlighted what it called a "concerning pattern of campaign expenditures" to pay for rent and repairs to "a large riverfront home which Rep. Palazzo owned and rented to Palazzo for Congress as an ostensible campaign headquarters." The OCE says its evidence "casts doubt on the extent to which the River House actually was used as a campaign headquarters."
OCE staffers also concluded that the congressman's brother, Kyle Palazzo, had been paid $23,000 by the campaign during the last election cycle for work that "may not have justified the salary he received." They further "found evidence that Rep. Palazzo may have used his official position and congressional resources to contact the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in order to assist his brother's efforts to reenlist in the military." According to a former staffer, Kyle Palazzo "was separated from the Navy for affecting a fraudulent enlistment."
● TX-15: 2020 nominee Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez's new campaign earned an endorsement this week from Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a high-profile Republican whose Houston-area 2nd District is located far from this South Texas seat. Last year, De La Cruz-Hernandez held Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez to a shockingly close 51-48 win as this McAllen-based constituency snapped from 57-40 Clinton to just 50-49 Biden.
● Hialeah, FL Mayor: Republican Mayor Carlos Hernandez is termed-out this year as leader of Hialeah, a longtime GOP bastion that's home to the highest proportion of Cuban Americans in the country, and a familiar name is running to succeed him. Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Steve Bovo, a Republican who lost last year's race to lead the county 54-46 against Democrat Daniella Levine Cava, announced Monday that he would join the contest. He may have some big-name backing soon, as Gov. Ron DeSantis indicated last month that he'd support a Bovo campaign.
The field already includes two former city council members, Vivian Casáls-Muñoz and Isis Garcia-Martinez, as well as perennial candidate Juan Santana. All the candidates will compete in the Nov. 2 nonpartisan primary, and a runoff would take place two weeks later if no one contender received a majority of the vote.
● Minneapolis, MN Mayor: Former state Rep. Kate Knuth announced Tuesday that she would challenge her fellow Democrat, Mayor Jacob Frey, in the November instant-runoff election.
Knuth left office in early 2013 and went on to serve as Minneapolis' chief resilience officer under Frey's predecessor, Betsy Hodges, but left soon after Frey's 2017 victory. Knuth joins community organizer Sheila Nezhad in the contest, though Nezhad raised a mere $5,100 last year for her campaign. Other contenders may also get in ahead of the August filing deadline.
Both Knuth and Nezhad have emphasized police reform in a campaign that will take place the year after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. (Chauvin is scheduled to go on trial for second-degree murder and manslaughter next week.) Knuth argued in her kickoff that the Minneapolis Police Department should be abolished and replaced by a "public safety department that includes multiple ways to create public safety, including first responders who can help solve problems," though unlike Nezhad, she avoided explicitly saying the department should be defunded.
Frey, for his part, was loudly booed in June when he told a crowd that he opposed an effort by the City Council to fully defund the police. The mayor told NPR afterwards, "We need to entirely shift the culture that has for years failed Black and brown people … We need a full structural revamp. But abolishing the police department? No, I think that's a bad idea."
Frey has also defended his handling of the unrest that followed Floyd's death and argued that he's put needed changes in place at the police department. The incumbent enjoys the backing of state Attorney General Keith Ellison, a former Minneapolis-area congressman and the first Black person to win a non-judicial statewide office in Minnesota.
● SD-AG: Former South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley has announced a comeback bid for his old job next year against incumbent Jason Ravnsborg, who was criminally charged for striking and killing a man with his car late last month and now faces impeachment proceedings.
A nominee would not be chosen by voters in a primary but instead by Republican delegates at a state party convention. Jackley unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018 when he was term-limited out as attorney general, losing to now-Gov. Kristi Noem 56-44 (in a contest that was decided by a primary). Under state law, he can run again now that he's been out of office in the interim. Ravnsborg hasn't said anything about seeking re-election, though he's insisted he won't resign, even with fellow Republicans moving forward with impeachment proceedings in the state House.
● House: Using Daily Kos Elections' recently completed calculations of 2020 presidential election results by congressional district, Stephen Wolf looks at the districts that split their tickets last year for House and president, complete with maps and and a chart. Seven districts voted for a Democrat and Donald Trump while nine voted for Joe Biden and a Republican, and those 16 "crossover" districts represent the lowest number of split-ticket districts in a century, a result of historically high levels of partisan polarization.