The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● SD-Gov: State Rep. Steve Haugaard, who served as speaker from 2019 to early this year, announced Tuesday that he was challenging Gov. Kristi Noem from the right in the June Republican primary.
It may seem impossible to believe that anyone could outflank Noem, a Trump sycophant who auditioned for a future presidential run by loudly denouncing any measures aimed at combating the pandemic, but Haugaard has no shortage of far-right credentials. Christopher Vondracek of Forum News Service notes that back in January, Haugaard attended a rally aimed at promoting the Big Lie that featured Proud Boys members as speakers. Haugaard, Vondracek also writes, is also "part of a group of ultra-conservative legislators" that often clashes with Noem.
Haugaard and Noem have also come into conflict over whether state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in August and avoided jail time for striking and killing a man with his car last year, should stay in office. Noem has called for the legislature to remove the attorney general if he won't resign, and last week, the state House voted 58-10 to authorize the Special Investigative Committee to probe whether impeachment is justified. (House Speaker Spencer Gosch said the report may not be ready until January.) Haugaard, though, was in that small minority that voted against starting that investigation into his ally Ravnsborg.
Polling is scarce in South Dakota, so there's little indication if a significant number of primary voters are open to parting ways with Noem. What we do know, though, is that the incumbent, who announced that she had $6.5 million on-hand, will not struggle with money.
Whoever emerges with the GOP nod will be the heavy favorite in a state that hasn't elected a Democratic governor since 1974. Back in 2018, the blue wave helped then-state Sen. Billie Sutton hold Noem to a 51-48 win in the closest South Dakota gubernatorial race since 1986, but we haven't heard any notable Democrats so much as express interest in running so far.
● NV Redistricting: Nevada's Democratic-run legislature passed new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, sending them to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who has said he will sign them. (The Assembly made minor amendments to versions the Senate had approved on Sunday, requiring the Senate to re-pass them on Tuesday.)
As before, the congressional plan would make the 3rd and 4th Districts bluer at the expense of the 1st District; under these boundaries, all would have supported Joe Biden by about 7-8 points. The 2nd, meanwhile, would remain solidly Republican. The legislative maps also favor Democrats: 14 districts in the Senate would have gone for both Biden and Hillary Clinton to seven for Donald Trump, while the Assembly map would have yielded a 28-14 advantage for Biden and Clinton. The median district would have been about 6 points bluer than the state as a whole in the upper chamber, and 8 points bluer in the lower.
● OH Redistricting: Just a day after releasing a new congressional redistricting proposal, Ohio's Republican-run state Senate passed the map on a party-line vote, sending it to the state House. The plan differs from maps that lawmakers previously released, but it shares their most important characteristic: It's an extreme gerrymander that aims to send 13 Republicans and just two Democrats to Congress. While two seats would have narrowly gone for Joe Biden, those same districts would have also backed Donald Trump in 2016, and in a normal midterm environment, Republicans will have a strong chance to win them.
● SD Redistricting: Apparently, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed South Dakota's new legislative redistricting plan right after lawmakers passed it last week, but her move has gotten virtually no attention. A spokesperson tweeted that Noem approved the new maps, and one local outlet gave the news a very brief mention, but even the legislature's own website still says, a week later, that the bill is on the governor's desk.
Given the bitter GOP infighting in the state House that preceded the maps' final passage—Democrats provided the necessary margin for a band of more moderate Republicans to approve the legislation over the objections of conservative dissenters—Noem might've decided to veto the maps to prove her bona fides. She didn't, but it won't surprise you that her new primary opponent, state Rep. Steve Haugaard, voted to reject the maps, which bolster Native representation. (See our separate SD-Gov item for more.)
● UT Redistricting: Republican Gov. Spencer Cox has now signed Utah's new GOP-drawn redistricting plans for the state legislature, following his previous approval late last week of the state's new congressional map.
● WA Redistricting: Washington's bipartisan redistricting commission collapsed in chaos late on Monday night as its four commissioners failed to approve new congressional and legislative maps by a midnight deadline. As a result, the redistricting process will now get turned over to the nine-member state Supreme Court, which is composed entirely of liberals and is also one of the most diverse high courts in the nation (seven justices are women and four are people of color).
Monday's turn of events came as a surprise, given that the commission had released draft maps in September. For unclear reasons, however, the panel's members scrambled to finish their work and only voted on new maps just moments before midnight—a rush that revealed a whole host of problems. For starters, as Crosscut's Melissa Santos explains, the maps hadn't even been made public (and still haven't). In addition, a required vote transmitting the plans to the legislature didn't take place until just after midnight, and it also appears that commissioners may have violated state laws regarding public meetings by conferring in private.
On Tuesday morning local time, the commission finally admitted defeat, blaming the "late release of the 2020 census data combined with technical challenges," though it did not specify the nature of those challenges. Under Washington law, the state Supreme Court must now adopt new maps by April 30. Once it does so, they'll immediately take final effect; legislators won't have the chance to amend them, as they would have any maps approved by the commission.
● MO-Sen: State Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz announced Tuesday that he was joining what was already a packed August Republican primary. St. Louis Public Radio writes that Schatz, who represents Franklin County as well as a small portion of neighboring St. Louis County, gave his 2014 legislative campaign "hundreds of thousands of dollars" and retains the ability to self-fund.
While Schatz launched his campaign by emphasizing his right-wing credentials, though, the Kansas City Star says that the state Senate leader has faced intense opposition from the chamber's so-called "conservative caucus" this year. Notably, Schatz successfully pushed for Missouri's first gas tax increase since the 1990s, which earned him a furious condemnation from the Franklin County GOP.
Now that Schatz has made his decision, the only major Republican who appears to still be making up his mind is Rep. Jason Smith. The congressman attracted media attention in late September when he launched a statewide digital ad, but if any observers thought that meant he was about to announce, they were wrong.
● SD-Sen: Republican Sen. John Thune said Monday that he would decide by the end of the year whether or not he'd run for a fourth term.
● VT-Sen: Democratic Rep. Peter Welch put out a statement Tuesday night promising to announce his 2022 plans “in the coming days.”
● ME-Gov: Former state Sen. Tom Saviello, a Democrat-turned-independent-turned-Republican who backed Democrat Janet Mills in 2018, said this week he knew he'd need to decide "pretty soon" if he'd challenge her next year as an independent.
Saviello said he was motivated by his opposition to the construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect hydropower project, which the incumbent and her presumptive Republican foe, ex-Gov. Paul LePage, both backed. Saviello was part of the successful campaign earlier this month to pass Question 1, a referendum to "ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine."
Saviello, though, also acknowledged that LePage had prevailed with a plurality in three-way races in 2010 and 2014, which does not seem to be an outcome he wants. (While Maine's instant-runoff voting law applies to primaries for governor, it still only takes a plurality to win the general election thanks to a court opinion.) LePage, for his part, once called Saviello "the most repugnant human being I've ever seen."
● NY-Gov: New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams announced Tuesday that he would challenge Gov. Kathy Hochul in the June Democratic primary. Williams joins state Attorney General Tish James, who would also be the first African American elected to this post, in the contest to take on the governor.
Polls taken last month, before Williams or James got in, indicate that the public advocate will start out as the clear underdog. An early October poll from Marist College showed Hochul leading James 44-28 with Williams a distant third with 15%. A Siena College survey done days later, meanwhile put the incumbent's edge over James at 47-31, with Williams in fourth at just 8%. (Just ahead of him at 10% was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has not yet decided on his 2022 plans.)
This is not the first time that Williams has gone up against Hochul, who became New York's chief executive in August when Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace after James concluded he'd sexually harassed 11 women. Back in 2018, when Williams was a New York City councilman, the self-described "democratic socialist" campaigned against Hochul from the left in the primary for lieutenant governor and held the incumbent to a surprisingly small 53-47 victory.
Williams quickly used that strong showing as a springboard to win a 17-way 2019 special to succeed James, who had just been elected attorney general, as public advocate. That contest took place under some very unusual rules: Not only did it take just a plurality to win, but candidates also were not permitted to run under their normal party labels and instead had to come up with lines of their own creation. Williams, running under the moniker "It's Time Let's Go," defeated his Republican colleague Eric Ulrich (of the "Common Sense" line) 33-19 to win this citywide post, and he's had no trouble holding it.
Williams kicked off his new campaign by arguing that he's the only Democratic contender who stood up to Cuomo at the height of his power. In particular he faulted Hochul, who was Cuomo's running mate in 2014 and 2018, for not doing enough to combat what he characterized as a toxic political environment in the state capitol. Williams, by contrast, focused far less on James, who shares a Brooklyn political base with him; he even said James has been doing "a good job," but that he believed he's been the one with a "really consistent" vision.
Meanwhile, Politico's Anna Gronewold writes that Cuomo's remaining advisors (yes, he still has some) haven't ruled out the idea that their boss, who still has an $18 million war chest, could be on the ballot for governor or another office next year. Gronewold spoke to several Empire State insiders, both on and off the record, who also were far from convinced that they were finally rid of the ex-governor.
Assemblymember Yuh-line Niou outright predicted he'd try again, while an unnamed legislative source memorably declared, "He's nuts and he's got a vendetta right now." New York's filing deadline isn't until early April, though candidates need to start gathering petitions much earlier than that.
Finally, Hochul this week earned an endorsement from Rep. Brian Higgins, who represents part of her longtime geographic base in the Buffalo area.
● PA-Gov: State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman announced this week that he was joining the crowded May Republican primary to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. NBC 10 writes that Corman, who runs the upper chamber, has been part of the GOP legislative leadership team "that sent more than 50 bills to a veto on the Democrat's desk, putting Wolf on track to compile the most vetoes by any governor since Milton Shapp in the 1970s." Among other things, this includes bills to roll back abortion rights, restrict voting, and take away some of the governor's pandemic authority.
Corman, who was elected in 1998 to succeed his father in a central Pennsylvania state Senate seat, told NBC 10, "Someone who comes from the Legislature, who understands the Legislature, can work with the Legislature to get good things accomplished is something that we need." We're, shall we say, skeptical that this will be a particularly compelling pitch to Trump-obsessed primary voters, though his attacks on Wolf's public health measures may strike more of a chord.
Corman also said he'd be keeping his leadership post while he runs statewide. That's not going to be welcome news for state Sen. Dan Laughlin, who said last week that he'd drop out if he won an intra-party race to succeed Corman as president pro tempore.
● CA-14: California Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat who survived the 1978 Jonestown cult shooting that murdered her boss, Rep. Leo Ryan, announced Tuesday that she would retire after a long career in Bay Area politics.
The current configuration of Speier's 14th Congressional District, which includes most of San Mateo County and a portion of San Francisco to the north, is heavily Democratic turf at 78-20 Biden, and the new version of this constituency is likely to look similar once the state's independent redistricting commission completes its work. Because this area is so blue, there's a good chance that next June's top-two primary will result in a general election between two Democrats.
Speier got her start in politics as an intern for then-Assemblyman Ryan, and she joined his staff after he was elected to Congress in 1972. Speier was part of the delegation that traveled to Guyana to probe allegations that some of Ryan's constituents were being held against their will at Jim Jones' Peoples Temple. She told Roll Call in 2015, "Back in 1978, there were not many women in high-ranking positions in Congress. I felt if I didn't go, it would be a step back for women holding these high positions. I thought, 'I can't not go.'"
The party, which did find some members who wanted to escape, was ambushed at the airport by Jones' assassins. The attack, which took place just before Jones killed himself and murdered 900 of his followers, resulted in the deaths of Ryan, three journalists, and one former cult member trying to leave. Speier herself was shot five times and spent 22 hours waiting for help; she recounted in her Tuesday retirement announcement, "Forty-three years ago this week, I was lying on an airstrip in the jungles of Guyana with five bullet holes in my body. I vowed that if I survived, I would dedicate my life to public service. I lived, and I survived."
Speier, who underwent 10 surgeries over the next two months, campaigned in the following year's special election to succeed Ryan, who remains the only member of Congress to die in the line of duty, in what was then numbered the 11th District. Speier, though, ended up placing sixth in the all-party primary with 16% of the vote in a contest that was ultimately won by Republican Bill Royer. In 1980, she prevailed in a race for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors by defeating a 20-year incumbent; during that same year, Democrat Tom Lantos, who is the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, beat Royer.
Speier spent the following years in local government before winning a state Assembly race in 1986 and a state Senate contest in 1998. In 2006, Speier entered the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor (the Golden State would pass a ballot measure in 2010 to set up its current top-two primary system), but she lost 43-40 to state Commissioner of Insurance John Garamendi; Garamendi defeated Republican Tom McClintock in a close race that fall, and the trio would later spend over a decade serving together in the House.
Speier in late 2007 began making preparations to challenge Lantos for what was now numbered the 12th District, and she even released a poll showing her decisively beating him in a primary. Lantos, though, announced soon after that he was retiring because he had been diagnosed with esophagus cancer, and he went on to endorse his would-be rival Speier as his successor. Lantos died in February of 2008, and Speier had no serious opposition in the special election to succeed him.
Speier made national headlines in 2011 when, in response to then-Indiana Rep. Mike Pence's attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, she became one of the first members of Congress to disclose that she had once had an abortion. The congresswoman took to the House floor after New Jersey Republican Chris Smith used graphic details to emphasize his own opposition to abortion rights and said, "I had a procedure at 17 weeks pregnant with a child who moved from the vagina into the cervix. And that procedure that you just described is a procedure that I endured."
Speier also made a name for herself as an advocate for sexual assault survivors. In 2017, as the #MeToo movement was beginning, Speier revealed that she had been sexually assaulted by a senior staffer while she worked as a congressional aide. "I know what it's like to keep these things hidden deep down inside," the congresswoman revealed in a video. In September, Congress passed the new National Defense Authorization Act that included her amendments to change how the military handled sexual assault and harassment allegations.
Speier mulled a 2010 campaign for state attorney general, but she opted to stay in Congress and never had any trouble getting re-elected. In 2015 she said of Jonestown, "I had moved beyond being a survivor. It's part of my life story, but it's a small part of my life story."
● CO-08: Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer announced this week that she was running for this new open swing seat in the Denver suburbs. Kirkmeyer, unlike most Republican candidates this cycle, actually acknowledges that Joe Biden won the presidency, though she less surprisingly attacked his vaccination mandate. She joins Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine, who made a name for herself as one of the Colorado GOP's most extreme members during her eight years in the state House, in the June primary.
Kirkmeyer herself is a former member of the Weld County commission, where she backed a failed 2013 push for her constituents to join other northeast Colorado counties in creating a 51st state. Kirkmeyer ran for the House the following year in the current 4th Congressional District but took a distant third with 16% of the vote; the winner, with 44%, was Ken Buck, who still holds the seat.
On the Democratic side, EMILY's List has endorsed state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, who faces Adams County Commissioner Chaz Tedesco in the primary.
● FL-20: State election authorities have certified a final vote total that shows businesswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick defeating Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness by 5 votes in the Nov. 2 Democratic primary, and the Associated Press has also called the race for Cherfilus-McCormick.
● IL-14: Conservative radio host Michael Koolidge has announced that he'll run for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood. The new version of this seat in the Chicago exurbs backed Joe Biden 55-43, while the current seat with the same number supported him just 50-48.
● NC-13: Former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Karen Bentley has announced that she’ll seek the Republican nomination for the new 13th District, which went for Donald Trump 60-39. Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla also says he’s considering running for Team Red here.
But the big name, of course, is far-right Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who is running here even though his current 11th District makes up just 12% of this new constituency. We haven’t seen any polls so we don’t know how primary voters are reacting to Cawthorn’s move, but the past and present party officials who spoke to the Charlotte Observer’s Will Wright did nothing to hide their disgust.
Matthew Ridenhour, another former member of the Mecklenburg County Commission, was particularly angry with Cawthorn for saying he needed to campaign here because his absence could mean that “another establishment, go-along-to-get-along Republican will prevail there.” Ridenhour said, “Voters in the new 13th don’t need some savior swooping in to rescue them from themselves” and called the congressman’s declaration “an insult to the people of the 13th.” Former state Rep. Charles Jeter piled on with, “A lot of folks in the Republican Party recognize that, frankly, if Madison Cawthorn is the future of the Republican Party then the Republican Party doesn’t have a future.”
● WV-02: Donald Trump on Monday took sides in the incumbent vs. incumbent Republican primary by supporting Alex Mooney over David McKinley, and the anti-tax Club for Growth followed suit the following day.
Both congressmen have been ardent Trump allies, but only McKinley voted to set up a committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack and for the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill. In his not-Tweet, Trump lauded Mooney for having “recently opposed the horrendous Biden Administration’s ‘Non-Infrastructure’ plan, and he opposed the January 6th Committee, also known as the Unselect Committee of partisan hacks and degenerates.”
● NY-AG: Two more Democrats have joined next year's primary for this open seat: Daniel Goldman, who was the lead Democratic counsel in Donald Trump's first inquiry, and Assemblyman Clyde Vanel, who represents part of Queens in the legislature.
● Nassau County, NY Executive: Democratic incumbent Laura Curran conceded the Nov. 2 contest on Tuesday after Republican Bruce Blakeman maintained a 50.4-49.6 lead after absentee ballots were tabulated. Blakeman’s 2,150 vote-win returns the GOP to power in a populous Long Island County they lost control over four years ago.