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.
● AL-Sen: Republican Sen. Richard Shelby announced Monday that he would not seek a seventh term next year in Alabama, a decision that will likely set off a competitive GOP nomination fight in this dark red state. Three other Republican senators had previously announced that they wouldn’t be running again: North Carolina’s Richard Burr, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, and Ohio’s Rob Portman.
Most politicos had anticipated that the 86-year-old Shelby, who had switched to the Republican Party in 1994 after spending nearly eight years in the Senate as a Democrat, would retire, and the Associated Press reported days earlier that the incumbent was indeed telling people this was his plan.
Shelby’s departure will mean that 2022 will feature the first Alabama Senate race without an incumbent running since 1996, when Republican Jeff Sessions flipped the seat held by retiring Democratic incumbent Howell Heflin. Alabama requires a runoff in any primaries where no one takes a majority of the vote in the first round.
Speculation began well before this month about who would run to succeed Shelby, and one name that has been repeatedly mentioned is Business Council of Alabama head Katie Boyd Britt, who previously served as the senator’s former chief of staff. The AP also wrote on Friday that Britt, who would be the first woman elected to represent Alabama in the Senate, “would likely have the senator's backing if she decided to enter the race.” Britt, for her part, released a statement on Monday that praised her old boss but did not address her own plans.
A few Republicans did say they were interested following Shelby’s announcement, though. Rep. Mo Brooks, who helped foment the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, said, “I am running for election in 2022, either for my House seat or for the Alabama Senate seat.” Secretary of State John Merrill, who spent a few months in 2019 running for the other Senate seat, said he expected to decide during the first two weeks of April.
Longtime Rep. Robert Aderholt, by contrast, responded, “I am perfectly content serving Alabama through my current work in the House and I don’t have any current plans to run for an open Senate seat,” which isn’t quite a no. Former Rep. Bradley Byrne, who took third in the 2020 primary, said that while he wasn’t going to rule it out, “I’m doubtful I will run.”
Al.com, Politico, and Roll Call mentioned a number of other Republicans as possibilities:
- Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth
- Former Ambassador to Slovenia Lynda Blanchard
- State Rep. Tommy Hanes
- State Attorney General Steve Marshall
- Rep. Gary Palmer
- 2020 House candidate Jessica Taylor
One person who hasn’t gotten much chatter, though, is former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions badly lost the 2020 GOP runoff to now-Sen. Tommy Tuberville, and an unnamed “senior GOP source” tells The Hill he’s unlikely to try to return to the Senate again.
The list of Democratic prospects is much shorter. Politico writes that former Sen. Doug Jones, whom Tuberville unseated last year, said “he has no plans to run.” AL.com name-drops Rep. Terri Sewell and state Reps. Anthony Daniels and Chris England as possibilities, though there’s no indication yet that they’re thinking about it.
No matter who ends up winning next year, Shelby’s impending departure from the Senate will end a long career in Yellowhammer State politics as a member of both parties. Shelby got his start in elected office when he was elected to the state Senate as a conservative Democrat in 1970, a year when the long-dominant party still controlled every seat in the chamber.
Shelby then sought a promotion in 1978 when he campaigned for the open 7th Congressional District, which at the time included part of the Birmingham area and Tuscaloosa and had the highest proportion of Black residents of any of the state's seven House seats. Shelby ended up winning the Democratic primary runoff 59-41 against state Rep. Chris McNair, whose daughter was one of the four Black girls murdered in 1963 when Ku Klux Klan members bombed Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and he had no trouble in the general election.
Shelby got his chance to run for the Senate in 1986 when Republican incumbent Jeremiah Denton was up for re-election. Denton, who had been one of the highest-ranking officers to become a POW during the Vietnam War, had made history six years before when he became the first Republican from Alabama to win a seat in the upper chamber since Reconstruction, but he was vulnerable in a state where conservative Democrats still remained the dominant political faction.
Shelby narrowly managed to win the Democratic nomination without a runoff, but he began the race as the heavy underdog against Denton; one poll even showed the incumbent ahead by 25 points. Shelby, though, spent heavily on ads arguing, "Denton votes to cut your Social Security ... And give it to illegal aliens." Shelby also ran more commercials featuring a clip of Denton saying, "I can't be down here patting babies on the butt and get that done in Washington."
The congressman, for his part, called himself "a fiscal conservative" in his own messaging, which prominently featured a picture of him with President Ronald Reagan. Shelby ended up unseating Denton by a narrow 50.3-49.7, a victory that coincided with Democrats retaking the Senate after six years, even as Alabama was electing its first GOP governor in over a century.
Shelby was one of a number of conservative Democrats in the Senate when he was first elected, and for a time this suited him just fine. In 1987, Shelby joined with his party to vote down Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court, saying, "There's a perception in Alabama—from a lot of whites as well as Blacks—that Bork could bring an unsettling effect to the court." Four years later, though, Shelby was one of 11 Democrats to confirm Clarence Thomas.
Shelby's old rival Chris McNair challenged Shelby for renomination from the left in 1992, but the incumbent prevailed 61-28. Shelby then went on to win his general election 65-33 as George H.W. Bush was beating Bill Clinton in the state 48-41, a result that marked the last time a Democrat won a Senate seat in Alabama until Doug Jones' 2017 special election victory.
Shelby would then spend the first two years of the Clinton administration as one of the new president's fiercest intra-party critics. In 1993, Shelby used a meeting with Vice President Al Gore to denounce the White House's budget goals as, "[h]igh on taxes, low on [spending] cuts," and he repeatedly voted against the Clinton agenda. The administration would also announce in 1993 that it was transferring 90 major NASA jobs from Huntsville to Texas in what was perceived to be retaliation for Shelby's loud attempts to undermine Clinton.
Shelby denied speculation that he was thinking of changing parties well into the fall of 1994, but he did just that one day after that year's elections gave the GOP control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in 40 years. The senator explained his defection, "I thought if there was room in the Democratic Party for a conservative southern Democrat such as myself representing my people from Alabama and other areas in the South, but I can tell you there is not. There is not room."
Shelby's new party embraced him, and he had no trouble winning his first campaign as a Republican in 1998. Shelby himself proved to usually be a loyal Republican as well, and he rose to claim a number of senior posts on powerful committees. A few other members of Congress would switch parties after Shelby, but he would outlast most of them: The only other member of the 117th Congress who had changed party labels while in D.C. was New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a fellow Democrat-turned-Republican.
In 2016, Shelby faced his first notable opposition in some time in the form of Marine veteran Jonathan McConnell, but the primary challenger struggled to gain traction. Shelby did earn the wrong type of attention thanks to a very badly edited ad where the part on his hair appeared to switch sides on his head, but this continuity error didn't stop him from winning renomination 64-28.
● MO-Sen: Former state Sen. Scott Sifton announced Monday that he would seek the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Sen. Roy Blunt. Sifton quickly earned the backing of state Auditor Nicole Galloway, who was the party's 2020 gubernatorial nominee and is the only Democrat who holds statewide office in Missouri.
Sifton does have some experience winning competitive turf. In 2012, he unseated a Republican state senator 51-49 to win a St. Louis County seat that backed Barack Obama 51-48 that cycle. Four years later, Sifton prevailed 53-47 as Hillary Clinton was carrying his seat 49-46.
It will be extremely difficult for any Democrat to prevail statewide in Missouri, a longtime swing state that has taken a hard right turn over the last several years, but it's always good to field a strong candidate in case the unexpected happens. And the unexpected could very well be in store for Blunt: The incumbent only won re-election 49-46 in 2016 even as Donald Trump was prevailing 56-38, and disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens has not ruled out challenging him in the primary.
● PA-Sen: On Monday, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman became the first notable Democrat to enter the race for the Senate seat held by retiring Republican incumbent Pat Toomey. Fetterman has been raising money for months, and Politico reports that he'd already stockpiled $1.4 million before he officially launched his campaign this week.
Fetterman first won statewide office in 2018, but he'd been making news long before that. Fetterman was elected mayor of the tiny western Pennsylvania borough of Braddock in 2004, and the tattooed 6-foot-8 leader earned national attention over the years for his work trying to revitalize the community.
Fetterman decided to seek a big promotion to the Senate in 2016, but he struggled to gain traction against his two main intra-party rivals, 2010 nominee Joe Sestak and former gubernatorial chief of staff Katie McGinty. Sestak still had some name recognition and connections from his last campaign, but national Democrats, including Barack Obama, consolidated behind McGinty. McGinty ended up beating Sestak 43-33, while Fetterman took third with 20%; Toomey went on to narrowly defeat McGinty that fall.
Fetterman's campaign for lieutenant governor two years later, though, went very differently. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor compete in separate primaries before running as a ticket in the general election, and allegations that Lt. Gov. Mike Stack had mistreated staffers helped poison his relationship with Gov. Tom Wolf.
Fetterman was one of four candidates running to unseat Stack, but while a packed field of primary opponents is often good news for vulnerable incumbents, Fetterman was the beneficiary of the crowded field: While Stack and three of his opponents hailed from the Philadelphia area, Fetterman was the one candidate from the western part of the state. Fetterman defeated his nearest opponent, Nina Ahmad, 37-24, while Stack wound up taking just fourth place with 17%. The Wolf-Fetterman ticket then prevailed 58-41 in the general election.
A number of other potential candidates from both parties are eyeing this race. On the GOP side, Carnegie Mellon University professor Kiron Skinner, who is a former Trump State Department official, said over the weekend that she was interested. The Post-Gazette also mentioned U.S. Attorney Scott Brady, a Trump appointee who still holds this post, as a possibility, though he hasn't indicated if he's looking at this race.
● AR-Gov: In a surprise, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin announced Monday that he was dropping out of next year's Republican primary for governor and would instead run for state attorney general. Griffin, who'd previously served in the House from 2011 to 2015, had launched his campaign to succeed termed-out Gov. Asa Hutchinson all the way back in August of 2019, and he'd long looked like a strong contender.
However, former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, entered the race in late January and quickly picked up an endorsement from Donald Trump. Griffin did not mention Sanders when he switched races two weeks later, but she very well may have altered his calculus.
The only other noteworthy Republican who is running for governor is the woman Griffin is now seeking to succeed, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. Rutledge said last week that she would keep campaigning for the state's top job, saying, "After working a full-time job with a staff of 180 people, I'd be bored with a part-time job and a staff of two."
● CA-Gov: 2018 Republican nominee John Cox launched a $1 million statewide TV ad on Monday to announce that he'd be seeking this office again. The AP reports that Cox will run either if there's a recall election this year against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom or in 2022, when the incumbent would next be on the ballot.
Cox had a long history of electoral defeats even before his 62-38 loss against Newsom last time, including several failed runs for office in Illinois in the early 2000s and an ignored 2008 presidential run, and Republican leaders are unlikely to welcome his return. They probably will be especially unhappy that the wealthy Cox is starting out with a TV spot that also attacks former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican who, unlike Cox, has experience winning in competitive areas.
Cox's spot declares that Faulconer "got the city to overpay for a highrise riddled with asbestos. The deal enriched a campaign donor." The commercial then takes its shot at Newsom before Cox appears and pitches himself as an alternative to both his rivals.
● MA-Gov: On Monday, former state Sen. Ben Downing became the first Democrat to announce a run for governor. Incumbent Charlie Baker has not yet said if he'll seek a third term next year, but Downing declared that he was in "[r]egardless of what the field is in the Democratic primaries, regardless of if Gov. Baker runs for re-election." The only other Democrat who has begun fundraising so far is political scientist Danielle Allen, who opened an exploratory committee in December.
Downing was elected to a state Senate seat in the westernmost part of the state at the age of 25 in 2006, and GBH's Mike Deehan writes that he became "well-regarded by progressives, the Democratic establishment and the energy and environmental advocates he worked with as Senate chair of the utilities and energy committee." Downing did not seek re-election in 2016, and he soon moved to Boston on the other side of the state and took a job at a renewable energy company.
If Downing won the governorship, he'd be the first Berkshire County native to hold this post since Republican Jane Swift served as acting governor from 2001 to 2003, and the first to be elected since 1901.
● NM-01, Albuquerque, NM Mayor: Political observer Joe Monahan writes that 2020 GOP nominee Michelle Garcia Holmes "now says she will not seek the GOP Central Committee nomination for the House seat." There's no quote yet from Garcia Holmes, whom Monahan adds "says she is likely to again run" for mayor of Albuquerque this year against Democratic incumbent Tim Keller.
● NY-22: Democrat Anthony Brindisi conceded defeat to Republican Claudia Tenney on Monday, a move that came days after a judge ordered state and county election authorities to certify that Tenney had won the November election by 109 votes. Brindisi said that, while he believed the upstate New York district needed to move on after more than three months of uncertainty, "Sadly, we may never know how many legal voters were turned away at the polls or ballots not counted due to the ineptitude of the boards of election, especially in Oneida County."
Brindisi's move ends the second tight contest between him and Tenney in as many cycles. Brindisi successfully unseated Tenney 51-49 during the 2018 Democratic wave, but she came back and very narrowly regained the seat this time.
● TX-06: Republican Rep. Ron Wright of Texas died Sunday night at the age of 67 after contracting COVID-19.
Wright was a longtime political figure in Tarrant County, which is home to Fort Worth and Arlington. He got his start as a member of the Arlington City Council in 2000, and Wright's service on the body largely overlapped with his stint as chief of staff and district director to longtime Rep. Joe Barton. Wright went on to become tax assessor-collector for Tarrant County, and he was for years viewed by local politicos as Barton's heir apparent whenever the congressman retired.
Wright got his chance to run for the 6th District a bit sooner than expected in 2018, though, after a scandal ended Barton's plans to run for an 18th term. The incumbent apologized when a "graphic nude photo" of him circulated online, and the public learned even more unsavory aspects of Barton's personal life. Wright soon entered the race to succeed his old boss; Barton, for his part, said that while he planned to support Wright, he was "not sure if anybody would want my endorsement, so I might come out against somebody if that helps them." However, Barton ended up holding events for Wright in both Washington and in the district.
Wright led his main intra-party rival, Navy veteran Jake Ellzey, by a wide 45-22 in the first round of the primary, but he won the runoff only 52-48. The Star-Telegram's Bud Kennedy explained the close result afterwards by noting that there were several competitive local races in Ellis and Navarro counties that helped boost turnout in Ellzey's strongest areas, while turnout in Wright's Tarrant County base was bad.
The 6th District had moved from supporting Mitt Romney by a 58-41 margin to backing Donald Trump by a smaller, but still substantial, 54-42 spread in 2016, and Wright always looked like the clear favorite against Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez. The race attracted little outside spending, but Sanchez held Wright to a 53-45 victory as GOP Sen. Ted Cruz was carrying the seat just 51-48.
Democrats nominated attorney Stephen Daniel in 2020, and Team Blue had some optimism that Trump's decline in suburban areas like this could cost Wright. Ultimately, though, Wright ran ahead of the ticket and won 53-44 as Trump was winning here only 51-48.