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.
● Richmond, VA Mayor: Democratic Richmond Mayor LeVar Stoney has been talked about for a while as a potential 2021 candidate for governor of Virginia, but he has a potentially competitive re-election campaign to get through first.
City Councilwoman Kim Gray announced that she would challenge the incumbent last month. Attorney Justin Griffin, who is a first-time candidate, also entered the race this week, and more contenders could join ahead of the June 9 filing deadline. And as we'll discuss, Virginia's capital city uses a very unusual electoral system that makes it difficult to handicap this race.
Gray played a major role in last year's successful effort to rename Richmond's historic Boulevard for the legendary tennis player Arthur Ashe, a Richmond native who is the only black man to win the titles at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. Stoney and Gray were on the same side in that high-profile campaign but they've often battled on other matters, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch described Gray as "Stoney's most vocal critic on the City Council."
Back in February, Gray succeeded in putting together a majority on the Council to kill Stoney's $1.5 billion Navy Hill redevelopment plan, which Robinson called the mayor's "signature project." Navy Hill backers argued that the effort, which was intended to create a new coliseum as well as affordable housing and retail, would "transform" downtown Richmond and lead to more jobs and revenue. Gray and her allies, though, said that the expensive project was too much of a risk for the city, and that its developers had shown too little transparency.
Gray has also opposed Stoney's attempts to raise meal and real estate taxes, and she used her campaign kickoff to argue that as mayor, "I will not leave the management of the city government to any bureaucrats, appointed or not, or to be directed by the biggest campaign donors."
Griffin, who announced his campaign on Monday, is also a Navy Hill opponent, and he argued that city leaders had done a poor job preparing for the coronavirus crisis. While it remains to be seen if Griffin will have the resources to get his name out, he could have an effect on this race if he costs Gray some votes, and Richmond's unusual electoral system could magnify his impact.
All the contenders will face off on one nonpartisan ballot this fall, and a candidate needs to win a plurality of the vote in at least five of the nine City Council districts in order to win the contest outright. This means that, just like in a presidential election, it's very possible for a candidate to win the mayor's office while coming in second (or potentially even further back) in the popular vote.
If no one wins outright, then the two candidates with the most votes citywide would compete in a runoff six weeks later. However, the winner still isn't the candidate with the most votes, it's the candidate who wins a majority of the Council seats. If no one manages to pull this off (ie, if there's a tie that prevents anyone from winning at least five districts), only then would the popular vote determine the winner.
This system was first put in place for the 2004 mayoral race, a contest that former Democratic Gov. Douglas Wilder won overwhelmingly, and so far, the candidate with the most votes has always won outright. In 2008, Del. Dwight Clinton Jones won 39-34 and carried five of the nine Council seats, and he was re-elected in a landslide four years later. In 2016, Stoney himself won the popular vote by a narrow 36-34, but he also avoided a second round of voting by carrying a majority of the Council districts.
So, how did this system come to be? While Richmond only started voting this way in 2004, Venugopal Katta explained in a 2017 piece for William & Mary Law School's Election Law Society that the reasoning behind it goes back decades further. Back in 1969, the predominantly white City Council, whose members were elected citywide at the time, approved a plan to annex part of neighboring Chesterfield County. This move lowered Richmond's black population from 52% to just 42%, and critics argued it was done to strengthen white voters at the expense of African Americans.
However, as Katta wrote, the plan ran into trouble two years later when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Voting Rights Act required any changes in city lines to be approved either by the U.S. attorney general or the D.C. District Court. Richmond had completed the annexation by this time, but the attorney general's office refused to approve it. The city finally came up with a compromise where it would elect city councilors by district, and it agreed that five of the nine seats would have black majorities.
The Supreme Court approved this new plan in 1975's City of Richmond v. United States decision, and for decades, the City Council remained the major force in Richmond politics. The body continued to pick the mayor from among its members (now-Sen. Tim Kaine became mayor this way in 1998), but a series of corruption scandals involving councilmembers led to calls for a strong and independent chief executive.
In 2002, former Gov. Douglas Wilder and former Mayor Tom Bliley called for electing the mayor citywide. However, while Richmond was again majority black by this point, local African American leaders feared that wealthier and better organized white voters would have a greater say over who led the city. In order to ensure that a mayor couldn't win without substantial black support, the Wilder-Bliley Commission's plan required mayoral candidates to win five of the nine districts in order to be elected. This plan overwhelmingly passed in a 2003 referendum, and it remains in place today.
Please bookmark our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, both of which we're updating continually as changes are finalized.
● District of Columbia: The D.C. Council has passed new legislation that requires election officials to send absentee ballot applications with pre-paid return envelopes to every registered voter ahead of the district's June 2 presidential and local primaries. The measure now goes to Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser for her signature.
● New Jersey: Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy will reportedly delay New Jersey's June 2 presidential and downballot primaries until July 7, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. According to the paper, an announcement is expected "later this week."
● Oregon: Oregon has announced that it's forging ahead with its May 19 presidential and downballot primaries next month without any changes, which is possible because the state has conducted all elections by mail for decades. All voters will receive ballots by mail later this month, and new voters can register until April 28, with an option to do so online. Voters are also able to track their ballots online and can even receive a virtual "I Voted" sticker.
● Texas: Texas Democrats have filed a second lawsuit, this time in federal court, asking that a judge loosen the requirements for requesting an absentee ballot. This suit argues that the state's refusal to allow most voters under the age of 65 to vote by mail violates their rights under the Constitution. The earlier case, which was brought in a state court, makes similar arguments in regard to state law. A hearing is scheduled in the state case for April 15.
● KY-Sen: Mitch McConnell (R-inc): $7.5 million raised, $14.9 million cash-on-hand; Amy McGrath (D): $12.8 million raised, $14.7 million cash-on-hand
● MI-Sen: Gary Peters (D-inc): $4 million raised; John James (R): $4.8 million raised
● TN-Sen: Bill Hagerty (R): $1.2 million million (campaign tells Politico no self-funding), $5.6 million cash-on-hand
● IA-01: Ashley Hinson (R): $550,000 raised, $943,000 cash-on-hand
● IA-03: David Young (R): $400,000 raised, $1 million cash-on-hand
● SC-01: Nancy Mace (R): $287,000 raised, $800,000 cash-on-hand
● KS-Sen: Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is up with his first TV spot ahead of the August GOP primary, and Advertising Analytics reports that it will run for at least $48,000 on cable TV. The commercial features footage of Donald Trump praising him at a 2018 rally supporting Kobach's unsuccessful bid for governor.
● Tennessee: Candidate filing closed last week for Tennessee's Aug. 6 primary (as usual, The Volunteer State is the only state that holds primaries on a Thursday), and the state has a list of candidates available here.
● TN-Sen: GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander announced his retirement in late 2018, and 17 Republicans filed to succeed him. The frontrunner is former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, a wealthy businessman who picked up Donald Trump's endorsement before he even announced his campaign.
Hagerty's main intra-party foe is orthopedic surgeon Manny Sethi, who has been self-funding much of his campaign. Also in the mix are dentist Byron Bush and wealthy perennial candidate George Flinn, who has poured millions into numerous failed races. Both men did some self-funding in 2019, but they all had far less money than Hagerty and Sethi. A previous candidate we'd mentioned, physician Josh Gapp, ended up switching to the 1st District race.
Six people are running on the Democratic side, and the DSCC is supporting attorney and Army veteran James Mackler. Tennessee has become a very hostile state for Democrats, though, and Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Safe Republican.
● North Dakota: Candidate filing closed Monday for North Dakota's June 9 primary, and the state has a list of contenders here.
This is another state that won't generate much attention this cycle. GOP Gov. Doug Burgum doesn't have any notable intra-party opposition, while Rep. Kelly Armstrong doesn't have a GOP primary challenger at all. Neither incumbent should have any trouble prevailing in November in this red state.
● CO-03: Colorado Politics reports that all three Democrats running to take on GOP Rep. Scott Tipton—2018 nominee Diane Mitsch Bush, businessman James Iacino, and climate activist Root Routledge—decided to get on the June primary ballot by competing at the April 12 virtual party assembly rather than collecting signatures. A candidate needs to win at least 30% of the vote to make it to the primary, so it's possible that all three of these contenders will advance.
● MT-AL: 2018 Democratic nominee Kathleen Williams picked up an endorsement this week from the Montana Federation of Public Employees.
● SC-01: Mount Pleasant Councilwoman Kathy Landing has launched what her campaign says is a $125,000 TV buy on Fox that will last through the June GOP primary. Landing uses her opening ad to talk about how she lost her parents when she was young and says, “I could have let this tragedy stop me, but through faith and hard work, I chose to live a life that my parents would be proud of.” Landing doesn’t mention Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham or any of her intra-party foes.
● TN-01: GOP Rep. Phil Roe is retiring from a safely red East Tennessee seat that Democrats last won in 1878, and 16 Republicans are competing to succeed him.
There's no obvious frontrunner here, though the first quarter fundraising reports, which are due on April 15, may give us some clues about which contenders are capable of running serious campaigns. The field includes four sitting elected officials: state Sen. Rusty Crowe; state Reps. David Hawk and Timothy Hill; and Chad Fleenor, a member of the Washington County School Board.
Also in the running are former Kingsport Mayor John Clark, who is reportedly wealthy; former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden; pharmacist Diana Harshbarger; and physician Josh Gapp, who had been running for the Senate. It's also possible that another candidate could gain traction, especially in a crowded race where it takes just a simple plurality to win.
● TN-05: Rep. Jim Cooper, who has long been one of the more moderate members of the Democratic caucus, faces three opponents in the primary for this reliably blue Nashville seat. Cooper's most notable foe is former public defender Keeda Haynes, but it remains to be seen if she or any of the other candidates will have the resources to put up a serious fight against the longtime incumbent.
● TN-09: Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen faces a primary challenge from former Shelby County party chair Corey Strong in this safely blue Memphis seat, but Strong struggled to raise money last year. Two other candidates are also running.
● WA-LG: On Tuesday, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib endorsed state Sen. Marko Liias in the August top-two primary to succeed him.