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.
● WI Supreme Court: The conservative majority on Wisconsin's Supreme Court handed Republicans a major victory on Tuesday when it issued a ruling saying it would use a "least-change" approach to redrawing the state's election districts. Under such an approach, the court—which took over redistricting after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed new Republican plans—will adjust the current maps in order to achieve population equality between districts, purportedly making any necessary adjustments as minimal as possible.
Of course, those old maps are extreme Republican gerrymanders that were passed on party-line votes without any Democratic input a decade ago, ensuring that any resultant new maps will reinforce those gerrymanders if only modest tweaks are made to the existing lines. That means they’d lock in the GOP's 6-2 advantage in the state's congressional delegation, despite the fact that Joe Biden carried Wisconsin last year, as well as its wide legislative majorities.
In a dissent written by Justice Rebecca Dallett, the court's progressives excoriated the majority, saying it was not using a "neutral standard" (as it professed) but rather was "inserting the court directly into politics by ratifying outdated partisan political choices." Instead, said the dissent (which is well worth a read), the court should rely on traditional redistricting criteria, including requirements in the state constitution for "compactness, contiguity, and respect for political subdivision
As law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos notes, the majority's decision to insist on least-change maps—a method not found anywhere in state or federal law—directly conflicts with those requirements, precisely because the existing districts are "the *least* compact districts in WI's modern history and split the *most* counties." The dissent also points out that the majority did not explain how precisely it defines the concept of "least-change," which could "refer to the fewest changes to districts' boundary lines" or "[t]he fewest number of people moved from one district to the next."
The majority was also unclear as to whether its decision applies only to Wisconsin's legislative maps, or also to its congressional districts. That ambiguity could allow Democrats to return to federal court, where a three-judge panel stayed a separate lawsuit in order to give the state Supreme Court time to complete the redistricting process. In staying that case, the federal judges said, "Federal rights are at stake, so this court will stand by to draw the maps—should it become necessary."
● CT Redistricting: Connecticut's bipartisan redistricting commission has asked the state Supreme Court for three more weeks to draw a new congressional map after missing Tuesday's deadline to complete its work. If the commission doesn't receive an extension (or gets one but fails to finish the job), the task of drafting a new map would fall to the court.
● OH-Sen: Self-funding businessman Bernie Moreno, one of many Republicans running for Ohio's open Senate seat, is reportedly launching a new $4 million TV ad buy. In the spot, Moreno invokes the long lines at gas stations provoked by the 1979 oil crisis and blames Joe Biden for "crippling inflation."
● PA-Sen: Republican Rep. Guy Reschenthaler gave his endorsement to TV doctor Mehmet Oz on Wednesday, the first indication of support for Oz's new bid for Senate from Pennsylvania's political establishment.
● GA-Gov: Former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams announced a long-expected second bid for governor on Wednesday, likely setting up a rematch with the man who narrowly bested her three years ago, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
Abrams, who'd sought to become the first Black woman governor in U.S. history, electrified progressives nationwide during her campaign and became a household name in Democratic politics. But the race was marred by GOP voter suppression efforts, with a key role played by Kemp, who, as secretary of state at the time, was able to preside over his own election.
Following Kemp's 50.2 to 48.8 win—the closest gubernatorial race in Georgia in over half a century—Abrams said she acknowledged her opponent's victory but declined to offer a traditional concession, saying, "Concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede."
Since then, Democrats have built on Abrams' efforts to turn the state blue at the presidential level for the first time since 1992 with Joe Biden's razor-thin win last year, then took the Senate in a huge upset by winning two runoffs in January. Abrams, whose organizing has often been credited with accelerating Georgia's transformation, will be counting on continued demographic shifts to help counter what is shaping up to be an adverse midterm environment for Democrats.
But while Abrams is all but guaranteed to win the Democratic nomination, Kemp might not even make it out of the GOP primary. Thanks to his refusal to wholeheartedly embrace the Big Lie, he could face a primary challenge from former Sen. David Perdue, who lost one of those fateful runoffs but is reportedly being urged by Trump to run against Kemp.
● MA-Gov: After hemming and hawing all year, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Wednesday that he would not seek a third term, ensuring that Massachusetts' race for governor will be at the top of Democratic target lists. Baker's lieutenant governor, Karyn Polito, also said she would not run for re-election or for the top job.
Baker was CEO of a healthcare group when he first ran for governor in 2010, but he'd worked in state government under previous Republican administrations and held local office in his hometown of Swampscott. He lost that gubernatorial bid to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick 48-42, but four years later, after Patrick had decided to retire, Baker rode the 2014 GOP wave to a 48-47 win over Democrat Martha Coakley.
In office, Baker became very popular as a relative moderate, in the tradition of previous Republican governors who'd regularly won office despite the Bay State's strong Democratic lean. He cultivated that reputation with public criticism of Donald Trump and romped to a 67-33 landslide in 2018. But those anti-Trump stances naturally angered many Republicans: Trump had endorsed former state Rep. Geoff Diehl's primary challenge to Baker, and even the state GOP dumped on the incumbent following his announcement on Wednesday.
Whether or not Baker would have faced a real threat from Diehl, he would have been a very tough opponent for Democrats in November. Unsurprisingly, with his departure, there's new interest in the race from some quarters. Most notably, Joe Biden's labor secretary, Marty Walsh, is now reportedly considering a bid, even though he only stepped down as mayor of Boston in March to join the president's cabinet. State Attorney General Maura Healey, meanwhile, hadn't previously ruled out the contest but said nothing about her intentions in a statement thanking Baker for his service.
However, Boston's new mayor, Michelle Wu, immediately said she wouldn't run, as did former Sen. Mo Cowan, who was briefly appointed to the Senate after John Kerry became secretary of state. A few Democrats had already been running before Baker called it quits, including former state Sen. Ben Downing, political scientist Danielle Allen, and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz.
● WI-Gov: Republican state Rep. John Macco, whose brief foray into exploring a bid for governor was rather a mess, has in the end decided not to run and instead has endorsed former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
● IL-06: Two Chicago-area House Democrats, Bill Foster and Brad Schneider, have endorsed Rep. Sean Casten's bid for re-election in Illinois' revamped 6th Congressional District. Casten faces a primary with fellow Rep. Marie Newman as a result of redistricting.
● NC-02: Democratic state Sen. Don Davis, who recently filed paperwork with the FEC, has now kicked off a campaign for North Carolina's reconfigured 2nd District, which is open because Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield is retiring after Republicans targeted him in redistricting. Already in the primary are former state Sen. Erica Smith and state Rep. James Gailliard. Meanwhile, Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson has also formed a campaign committee with the FEC ahead of a possible bid for the GOP nomination, but he hasn't commented publicly yet. The new district would have voted just 51-48 for Joe Biden and 52-46 for Hillary Clinton.
● NC-04: Democratic state Rep. Charles Graham, who'd been running against Republican Rep. Dan Bishop in the old 9th District, has announced that he'll instead run for the new 4th District, an open seat based around Fayetteville. Graham, a member of the Lumbee tribe and the only American Indian in the North Carolina legislature, saw his home base of Robeson County shifted from the 9th (now numbered the 8th) to the 3rd thanks to a GOP effort to split up the state's Native population. The 3rd, however, is very red—it would have gone 58-41 for Donald Trump—while the neighboring 4th would have voted for Trump by a narrower 53-46 margin.
● OR-04: Rep. Peter DeFazio became the latest veteran Democrat in the House to announce his retirement on Wednesday, bringing to a close a four-decade political career that made him one of the most senior members of Congress and the longest-serving representative in state history.
After working as an aide for Rep. Jim Weaver, DeFazio entered elective office himself when he won a seat on the Lane County Commission in 1983. In 1986, Weaver retired and DeFazio narrowly prevailed in the primary to succeed him, beating Democratic state Sen. Bill Bradbury 34-33. He went on to win the general election 54-46 against Republican Bruce Long for southwest Oregon's 4th Congressional District—turf that's generally leaned blue but, at the presidential level, only narrowly so.
Despite the potentially precarious nature of his seat, DeFazio almost always ran far ahead of the top of the ticket during each of his re-election campaigns: In 2016, for instance, when Hillary Clinton carried the district by just 554 votes—making it the closest in the nation—DeFazio won by almost 63,000 votes, a 55-40 margin. He rang up his electoral successes by cultivating a reputation as both a progressive and a populist who, as chair of the Transportation Committee, fought for infrastructure investment while also opposing almost every big trade deal, including those supported by fellow Democrats.
But in 2020, DeFazio faced the most difficult election of his long tenure when Republican Alek Skarlatos, an Army National Guard veteran who became famous for subduing a gun-wielding terrorist on a train in Europe in 2015, ran an energetic campaign and raised considerable sums. DeFazio survived, but only after outside Democratic groups spent more than $2 million on his behalf late in the race, and his 52-46 win was the tightest of his career.
Skarlatos announced he'd seek a rematch this spring, portending another arduous campaign for the incumbent, though DeFazio got a boost from redistricting when Democrats in the legislature redrew the 4th to make it decidedly bluer: Under the new lines, it would have backed Joe Biden by a 55-42 spread, compared to 51-47 under the old map.
Following DeFazio's announcement, state Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle immediately put out a statement saying she'd run to succeed him. A variety of other Democrats might also give consideration to the race, including state Senate President Pro Tem James Manning, state Sen. Sara Gelser, state Rep. Dan Rayfield, former Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson, and former state Sen. Chris Edwards, but given Hoyle's prominence as a statewide official, she would likely start out as the frontrunner for the nomination.
● WA-03: State Rep. Vicki Kraft, an ardent proponent of the Big Lie, reportedly told a gathering of fellow Republicans on Tuesday that she plans to run for Washington's 3rd Congressional District, though she hasn't responded to requests for comment. The 3rd is currently held by Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who's already drawn several intra-party challengers thanks to her vote to impeach Donald Trump, including Army veteran Joe Kent, who has Trump's endorsement.
● Special Elections:
MA-HD-4th Essex: Democrat Jamie Zahlaway Belsito flipped a GOP-held seat in the Massachusetts state House on Tuesday night, defeating Republican Bob Snow by a 54-45 margin. Belsito, who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Seth Moulton in last year's primary, ran behind Joe Biden's 64-36 performance in the 4th Essex District, but she's reportedly the first Democrat to carry the district since 1858.
● Atlanta, GA Mayor: City Councilman Andre Dickens defeated City Council President Felicia Moore in a 64-36 landslide on Tuesday night, a win that will make him the next mayor of Atlanta. Moore had chalked up a wide 41-23 advantage in the first round of voting, with Dickens just squeaking past former Mayor Kasim Reed for the second slot by 612 votes in an upset. But during the brief four-week, all-Democratic runoff, Dickens secured endorsements from a number of prominent officeholders including outgoing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who'd declined to seek re-election, and built up a fundraising advantage over the better-known Moore.