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.
● MT Redistricting: Montana's bipartisan redistricting commission adopted a final congressional map on Friday, identical to the one it passed a week earlier. As before, the panel's independent tiebreaker sided with the commission's two Republican members to pick the GOP's plan, which yields a western 1st District that would have gone for Donald Trump by a 52-45 margin last year, according to Dave's Redistricting App, and a much redder 2nd District in the east that would have voted 62-35 for Trump.
In most respects, the map resembles the one the state used 30 years ago, the last time it had two congressional districts—and that includes the numbering. Many people, including ourselves and some would-be candidates, had been referring to the new district as "the 2nd," but in fact it's the 1st: Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale, who currently represents the state's lone at-large district, is sure to seek re-election in the 2nd, which includes his home in Great Falls.
The open 1st, by contrast, ought to see contested June primaries on both sides, even though the district is unlikely to be competitive except in particularly strong years for Democrats. The most prominent Republican running in the western Montana seat is Rosendale's two-term predecessor, former Rep. Ryan Zinke. Zinke gave up his statewide seat in 2017 to serve as Trump's secretary of the interior only to resign from the cabinet the following year in the face of 18 federal investigations, though he was never legally implicated in anything.
Since then, even after launching his comeback campaign, Zinke appears to have spent most of his time in Santa Barbara, California, where his wife is originally from and owns both real estate and a 41-foot yacht. However, it remains to be seen if this will give any Republicans an opening against the well-known former congressman, especially since he has Trump in his corner.
The only other notable Republican who has announced so far is former state Sen. Al Olszewski, who badly lost primaries for Senate and governor during the last two cycles. Zinke has a big financial edge for this latest campaign, but Olszewski still has enough to run a credible campaign: Zinke outraised Olszewski $615,000 to $290,000 during the third quarter (Olszewski self-funded an additional $10,000), and he ended September with a $405,000 to $225,000 cash-on-hand lead.
A few other Republicans made noises about running in the months before the new map was passed, and we'll find out in the coming weeks and months if any of them are still interested. Montana's filing deadline isn't until March, so it could be some time before the race fully takes shape.
Four Democrats, meanwhile, are already competing for the 1st District. The best-funded contender at the end of September was public health expert Cora Neumann, who raised $465,000 during the last quarter and had $475,000 in the bank; she previously ran for Senate in 2020 but dropped out after former Gov. Steve Bullock launched his bid.
Next up was Monica Tranel, an attorney who previously rowed in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. Tranel, who has former Gov. Brian Schweitzer in her corner, brought in $240,000 and had $150,000 on-hand at the end of September. Tranel was on the ballot last year for a seat on the Public Service Commission, a contest she lost by a close 52-48 margin for a district in the western part of the state that voted for Donald Trump 51-46 and Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte by 49-47.
The only sitting elected official in the race is state Rep. Laurie Bishop, though redistricting left her in the 2nd District. Bishop brought in $115,000 for the quarter, but she only had $25,000 on-hand when it concluded. Finally, former state Rep. Tom Winter entered the contest in early November: Last year, he campaigned for what was then the state's lone, at-large House seat but was defeated in the primary by 2018 nominee Kathleen Williams in an 89-11 landslide.
● ND Redistricting: Republican Gov. Doug Burgum has signed North Dakota's new legislative map recently passed by state lawmakers, which you can view here.
● VA Redistricting: The Virginia Supreme Court, which recently took over the redistricting process after the state's new redistricting commission failed to produce any maps, has ordered Republicans to submit a new slate of proposed experts to assist the court in drawing new districts, disqualifying one pick due to a conflict of interest and casting doubt on the other two.
Under Virginia law, the court must appoint two such experts, known in legal parlance as special masters. However, the justices specifically rejected the nomination of Thomas Bryan, who had been paid $20,000 in consulting fees by the Virginia Senate GOP caucus in September—a fact Republicans failed to disclose in putting forth Bryan's name and was only highlighted publicly in a letter that Democratic Sen. Dick Saslaw sent to the court just days ago. The justices further said they have unspecified "concerns" about the GOP's two other candidates, both of whom are also partisan Republican operatives, and told Republicans to provide a new set of proposals by Monday.
Democrats, by contrast, suggested three nonpartisan professors who are well-known in the field and have served as court-appointed experts in past redistricting cases. The court did, however, order Democrats to come up with one substitution, saying that one unnamed person on their list "has asserted a condition or reservation" indicating he might not be willing to work in tandem with whomever the justices choose as the second special master.
● WI Redistricting: Wisconsin's Republican-run Assembly passed the GOP's new congressional and legislative maps on a party-line vote on Thursday, following similar action in the Senate earlier in the week. The maps now head to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has promised to veto them. Since there's virtually no chance Republican leaders will try to pass compromise maps, redistricting will, as expected, be handed over to the courts. The question, though, is which court: Democrats have already filed suit in federal court while Republicans have a case pending in state court, with each side hoping for more favorable treatment in their preferred forum.
● AK-Sen: Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced Friday morning that she would seek re-election in a contest that, thanks to Alaska's new top-four primary system, will be unlike any other in American history. Murkowski's main foe so far is former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka, a fellow Republican who has the enthusiastic backing of Donald Trump, but other candidates have plenty of time to get in before the June 1 filing deadline.
Sarah Palin, who won the 2006 gubernatorial primary by decisively unseating none other than the senator's father, Frank Murkowski, said in early August that she'd run for Senate "[i]f God wants me to do it." We haven't heard any updates, divinely inspired or otherwise, from the former reality TV star over the last three months, though. Another potential opponent is Democratic state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, who also expressed interest over the summer.
Murkowski ended September with a massive $3.2 million to $295,000 cash-on-hand lead over Tshibaka, and she may benefit from some of the unfavorable headlines that have been dogging her opponent. Last month, the Alaska Department of Public Safety fined the challenger $270 for "commercial fishing without a commercial fishing crew license," following the release of a July campaign video that showed her retrieving fish from a net and selling them to a tender boat.
Officials declined to charge Tshibaka over a separate 2019 incident in which she obtained a sport fishing license reserved only for those who've lived in the state for 12 months, at a time when Tshibaka had only recently returned from living in Maryland.
All of this may help Murkowski define Tshibaka as an outsider, but that may not matter much to an ultra-conservative base that distrusted Murkowski long before her repeated clashes with the Trump administration. Back in 2010, tea partier Joe Miller pulled off one of the biggest upsets in American political history when he defeated the senator 51-49 in the Republican primary. But Murkowski managed to keep her seat that fall by convincing enough Republicans, Democrats, and independents to pick her as a write-in candidate: Murkowski ended up turning back Miller 39-35, with Democrat Scott McAdams taking 23%.
The senator will likely need to put together a similar coalition to win re-election in 2022, but, thanks to the narrow passage of Measure 2 last year, this time she won't need to rummage around for the "Murkowski" wristbands and temporary tattoos her campaign utilized more than a decade ago so voters could correctly spell her name. That's because all candidates for congressional, legislative, and statewide races will each face off on one August primary ballot, where contenders will have the option to identify themselves with a party label or be listed as "undeclared" or "nonpartisan."
The top four vote-getters will advance to the general election, where voters will be able to rank their choices using instant-runoff voting. All of that means that Murkowski can very well secure another term next November even if a majority of voters initially prefer someone else as long as she can convince enough of them to list her as their second or third choice.
P.S. Politico notes that, now that Murkowski has made her plans known, only three senators remain publicly undecided about running for re-election in 2022: Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson, South Dakota Republican John Thune, and Democrat Pat Leahy of Vermont.
● CO-Sen: Former El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn ended whatever speculation there was about another Senate campaign on Thursday when he announced that he'd compete in the 2023 race to succeed termed-out Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, a fellow Republican.
Glenn lost the 2016 Senate contest to Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet by a 50-44 margin. Glenn then campaigned for 5th Congressional District two years later, but Rep. Doug Lamborn held him off in the primary 52-20.
● NJ-Gov: Republican Jack Ciattarelli used his Friday concession, which very belatedly came over a week after it was clear he'd lost to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy 51-48, to announce that he planned to run for this post again in 2025. That's an absurdly early start, though Ciattarelli, who lost the 2017 primary, is certainly no stranger to the permanent campaign.
● NY-Gov: WAMC asked Westchester County Executive George Latimer on Thursday about his interest in entering the Democratic primary, to which he replied, "I think it's pretty unlikely at this stage of the game." Latimer added, "Never say never. But, you know, I think it's pretty clear to me that the candidacies of Governor [Kathy] Hochul and Attorney General [Tish] James are the major candidacies."
He may be about to say never, though, as News 12 reported the following day that James was strongly considering selecting Latimer as her candidate for lieutenant governor, an idea he seemed to like when asked. Latimer said, "If I can offer a viable team to New York and voters just like we did in Westchester County twice, I would seriously look at it going forward."
Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor of New York compete in separate nomination contests before running as a ticket in the general election, but they can choose to campaign together in the primary. Primary voters, however, are under no obligation to pick both the gubernatorial candidate and their informal running mate.
● IA-03, IA-Gov: Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne announced Friday that she would defend the new 3rd Congressional District next year rather than challenge Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Axne's current seat, which is also numbered the 3rd District, makes up about 85% of the new constituency, so the congresswoman will be campaigning in turf she knows well. The new version of this Des Moines area seat went for Trump 49.3-48.9, which makes it very similar to his 49.1-49.0 showing in the existing 3rd. Axne has been preparing for another competitive fight since she won in 2020, and she ended September with $1.6 million in the bank.
Several Republicans were campaigning against Axne before the new maps were drawn. Her most high-profile foe appears to be state Sen. Zach Nunn, who had $215,000 on-hand, while businesswoman Nicole Hasso had $135,000 to spend. A third Republican candidate, former state Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa, had a mere $45,000 in the bank, and she learned last month that the new map moved her to Republican Rep. Randy Feenstra's 4th District. Hanusa recently told the Des Moines Register, "I will look at the situation and consider everything. For right now, the campaign's still on."
● NC-14: Republicans in North Carolina's mountainous western region, for the second cycle in a row, have an open seat congressional primary ahead of them thanks to Rep. Madison Cawthorn's decision to run for re-election in the new 13th District, which he barely represents, instead of in the 14th District. The new seat backed Donald Trump by a 53-45 margin last year while Cawthorn's current 11th supported Trump 55-43, a shift to the left that still likely puts the 14th out of reach for Democrats outside of an unusually strong Democratic year.
The field will need to come together before long because the filing deadline is Dec. 17, which comes before any state but Texas. The primary will take place in early March, and if no one secures at least 30% of the vote, a runoff would be held in May―though only if the runner-up candidate requests a second round.
While Cawthorn's district switch surprised most people, he did give potential candidates considerably more time to decide whether to run than his predecessor did. Then-Rep. Mark Meadows announced his departure a mere day before the filing deadline in 2019 when it was too late for anyone who had already filed to seek a different office to switch races.
Dallas Woodhouse, a former executive director of the state GOP notorious for his voter suppression efforts but who these days serves up political commentary, relays that a trio of Republican state senators are interested: Deanna Ballard, Chuck Edwards, and Ralph Hise. Hise, interestingly, co-authored this new gerrymandered congressional map, though he may not have known he'd have an opportunity to run here anytime soon. Business North Carolina's Colin Campbell also writes that the legislative map paired Ballard and Hise together, so it may make sense for one to run for Congress.
Edwards, for his part, has been one of Cawthorn's loudest intra-party critics. Notably, he put out a statement days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol taking Cawthorn to task for trying to delegitimize the 2020 election, declaring, "Congressman Cawthorn's inflammatory approach of encouraging people to 'lightly threaten' legislators not only fails to solve the core problem of a lack of confidence in the integrity of our elections system. It exacerbates the divisions in our country and has the potential to needlessly place well-meaning citizens, law enforcement officers, and elected officials in harm's way." The Mountaineer said back in March that Edwards was even interested in challenging Cawthorn, though there were no new public developments since then.
Local GOP official Michele Woodhouse, meanwhile, didn't rule out her own campaign in the hours before Cawthorn announced his move. The Smoky Mountain News writes that she's "related to Dallas Woodhouse through her husband."
Three Republicans were also already running long-shot campaigns against Cawthorn here. The only one who had a serious amount of money at the end of September was inn owner Bruce O'Connell, though almost all of his $245,000 war chest was the result of self-funding.
A few Democrats were also already in the race back when they assumed they'd be running against Cawthorn. The best-funded of the group was Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who had $345,000 on-hand. Pastor Eric Gash, by contrast, had $100,000 to spend.
● NY-AG: Two Democrats have announced bids this month to succeed Attorney General Tish James, who is giving up this post to run for governor: state Sen. Shelley Mayer and law professor/2018 candidate Zephyr Teachout. Plenty of other Democrats could also run, and the New York Times lists Daniel Goldman, who was the lead Democratic counsel in Donald Trump's first impeachment inquiry, as a possibility.
● PA Commonwealth Court: Democrats are on the verge of flipping a Republican-held seat on Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court, one of the state's two intermediate appellate courts whose members are elected statewide. Democrat Lori Dumas, a judge in Philadelphia, currently leads Republican Drew Crompton by more than 17,000 votes in the race for the crucial second slot (the top two vote-getters both win), though the contest will head to an automatic recount since the margin is under 0.5%. Given the large gap in raw votes, however, it would be almost impossible for the outcome to change.
Two spots on the court were up for election earlier this month: Crompton's, since he was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2019, and one held by another Republican, Mary Hannah Leavitt, who chose to retire. Heading into the election, the GOP held a 7-2 advantage on the court; because Republican Stacy Wallace finished in first place, once Dumas' victory is confirmed, that advantage will drop to 6-3.
It will soon shrink further, though, because one of the court's other members, Republican Kevin Brobson, narrowly won a seat on the state Supreme Court on Nov. 2. That means Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will be able to fill the impending vacancy, though since anyone he nominates would need to be confirmed by the Republican-held state Senate, he might prefer to leave the seat open rather than accede to a compromise candidate (which is precisely what Crompton was two years ago).
While most traditional appeals in Pennsylvania are handled by the state's other intermediate court, known as the Superior Court, the Commonwealth Court hears cases brought against the state and other governmental bodies. Its most crucial area of jurisdiction is election law, where it often acts as a trial court—meaning lawsuits must be brought there initially—rather than an appellate court. Its rulings therefore tee up cases for the state Supreme Court, which Democrats control 5-2 and has frequently acted to guarantee voting rights in recent years.
● NJ State Senate: State Senate Democrats on Friday designated Nicholas Scutari to serve as the chamber's president when the new legislative session begins in January. Scutari will succeed Steve Sweeney, a conservative Democrat whose record-setting 12 years in power are coming to an end because of his upset loss to Republican Edward Durr, a truck driver who reported spending a total of $153 on his campaign. (Sweeney conceded Wednesday.)
Democrats will hold a 24-16 majority next year, a net loss of one seat. The other Democratic incumbent to lose was state Sen. Dawn Addiego, who left the GOP in early 2019: Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield returned LD-08 to GOP hands by unseating Addiego 51-49 in a seat Joe Biden won 53-46 last year. Democrat Andrew Zwicker, as we've previously written, likewise flipped the open LD-16.
● Site News: Friday was a bittersweet day at Daily Kos Elections, since it marked Matt Booker's last day with the team. Matt joined us as our elections research coordinator just before the wild 2018 midterms and has spent the last three years performing every imaginable task around our little shop. If you've ever perused our special elections Big Board, consulted one of our election calendars, read our coverage of local races, or relied on any of our many, many data sets, you have Matt to thank for making it possible—and making it better. Above all, he's a true mensch and a delight to work with. We're very sorry to see him go, but we're excited for the next chapter in his career … which he'll tell you all about very soon. Good luck, Matt!