The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Matt Booker, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● AK-Sen: Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski unequivocally said back in January that she was running for re-election, but she's sounding a lot less certain now. When reporters recently asked her when she would decide, the 18-year incumbent noncommittally responded, "Well, I have to do it before 2022, right?" If Murkowski does choose to retire, it would mark the first time that an incumbent senator has not sought re-election in Alaska since it became a state in 1959.
One person who would be incredibly happy if Murkowski decided to call it a career is Donald Trump, who talked about trying to unseat her even before she voted to remove him from office in January. Trump has continued to make it clear he'd try to help defeat Murkowski if she ran again, though the Washington Post reported in March that some members of his inner circle are skeptical "that he will be as much of a potent force in the race because traveling to campaign against her would require such a long flight, which Trump generally avoids." The Alaska Republican Party's central committee, which has a much shorter commute, also piled on Saturday when it voted to censure the senator over her vote.
If Murkowski did seek a fourth full term, she would compete under very different electoral rules that could actually make it easier for her to fend off a hard-right challenger regardless of whether Trump actually schlepps out to Anchorage. Last year, Alaska voters approved a referendum that would require all parties to now run together on a single primary ballot, with the top four vote-getters advancing to November. Such a system would make it all but impossible to block Murkowski from the general election, when voters would then choose a winner by means of an instant runoff.
● AZ-Sen: Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said back in January that he would not challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, but CNN reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell still hasn't given up trying to recruit him. There's no word whether the termed-out governor is listening to McConnell's entreaties, though, and some very loud voices closer to home would prefer he just leave the political scene altogether. The Arizona Republican Party censured Ducey over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic around the same time that the governor took his name out of contention, vividly demonstrating the kind of primary he'd have been in for.
● GA-Sen: Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan said over the weekend that he would not seek the Republican nomination to face Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.
● KY-Sen: Former state Rep. Charles Booker said Sunday that he was considering seeking the Democratic nomination to face Republican Sen. Rand Paul. Booker campaigned for Kentucky's other U.S. Senate seat last year and lost a surprisingly close primary to national party favorite Amy McGrath, who in turn went on to lose badly to Sen. Mitch McConnell.
● MO-Sen: Politico's Alex Isenstadt reports that major GOP outside groups are open to spending in Missouri’s open seat primary to stop disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens if he runs. Isenstadt says that Senate Leadership Fund, a major super PAC close to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, "has been engaged in talks about how to keep the former governor from endangering their hold on what should be a safe seat," though no one has settled on anything yet.
Isenstadt adds that GOP operatives in the Show Me State are aware that a crowded field could make it easier for Greitens to win the nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Roy Blunt, though unnamed "top Republicans" acknowledge that they haven't come up with a plan to stop him at this early point in the cycle.
● NV-Sen: CNN says that former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who was Team Red's 2018 nominee for governor, is considering challenging Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto next year. The incumbent will be a top GOP target as she seeks re-election in a state that backed Joe Biden by a close 50-48 margin, but a bit surprisingly, we've heard very little about the prospective field to face her until now.
Laxalt, who unsuccessfully sued to overturn Biden's victory in the state, has not yet said anything publicly about his interest, though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly sees him as a Republican who "could bring together the warring wings of the party." Back in December, the Las Vegas Review-Journal also relayed "rumors" that Laxalt was thinking about seeking a rematch with Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who beat him 49-45, but we've heard nothing new since then.
● OH-Sen: While "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance hasn't publicly expressed interest in seeking the Republican nomination for Ohio’s open seat, that hasn't stopped a group of far-right billionaires from pouring massive sums into a super PAC set up to aid him if he does. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Peter Thiel has given $10 million to a group called Protect Ohio Values, while the PAC’s spokesperson says that Robert Mercer's family has also made a "significant contribution."
On the Democratic side, Rep. Tim Ryan recently told CNN he would decide "in the next few weeks" if he'll campaign to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
● UT-Sen: Former state Rep. Becky Edwards recently told Utah Policy that she was "all in" for a Republican primary campaign against Sen. Mike Lee, but she'll be in for an exceedingly difficult race: Edwards, who retired from the legislature in 2018, spent last year encouraging fellow Mormon women to vote against Donald Trump.
● CT-Gov: New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said Sunday that she would not seek the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, a move that the Hartford Courant writes "appeared to take both parties by surprise."
● MD-Gov: Nonprofit executive Jon Baron told the Baltimore Sun's Bryn Stole that he was considering seeking the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s open governorship. Stole writes that Baron, who is a former official in the Clinton-era Department of Defense, currently serves as vice president of Arnold Ventures, a group supported by a billionaire couple that describes its mission as "invest[ing] in evidence-based solutions that maximize opportunity and minimize injustice."
● MN-Gov: Republican Rep. Pete Stauber said Sunday that he would not challenge Democratic Gov. Tim Walz. KSTP’s Ricky Campbell reports that some GOP operatives “had considered Stauber a favorite,” while one top Republican, former state House Speaker Kurt Zellers, was openly dismayed. “I'm a little shocked and, honestly, disappointed," said Zellers. "I would have loved to see Congressman Stauber run. I don't know if there's a clear path right now for any candidate."
● NE-Gov, NE-02: In a development that will almost certainly be a relief to House Republicans, Rep. Don Bacon announced Monday that he would run for re-election rather than campaign for governor. While Republicans are the heavy favorites to keep the governor's office in deep red Nebraska no matter whom they nominate next year, holding Bacon’s Omaha-based 2nd District would be a much more difficult task without him. In its current form, the seat swung from 48-46 Trump to 52-46 Biden last year, but the congressman ran far ahead of the ticket and won his third term 51-46.
● NY-Gov: On Friday, reporter Jessica Bakeman became the seventh woman to accuse Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. Bakeman wrote that she attended a 2014 holiday party at the executive mansion where Cuomo had held her in place without her consent and refused to let go of her after taking a picture with her even as she “practically squirmed to get away from him.” She further described how Cuomo went on to make a joke about what had just happened in front of her colleagues, which Bakeman said left her in “stunned silence, shocked and humiliated.”
Two days after Bakeman’s allegations became public, the New York Times and Washington Post both reported that Larry Schwartz, a longtime Cuomo adviser tasked with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, had been contacting county executives over the last two weeks to assess their loyalty to the governor.
One unnamed Democratic executive reportedly filed an ethics complaint with the state attorney general’s office because, as the Post wrote, they “feared the county’s vaccine supply could suffer if Schwartz was not pleased with the executive’s response to his questions about support of the governor.” On Monday, Cuomo’s attorney put out a statement insisting that Schwartz “would never link political support to public health decisions,” though she didn’t deny the calls had taken place.
Both stories attracted attention days after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced Thursday that state lawmakers would open an impeachment investigation into Cuomo, a development that came after a majority of legislators called for his resignation. Notably, if a majority of the Assembly votes to impeach Cuomo, his powers would temporarily be transferred to a fellow Democrat, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. The governor would regain his powers if he manages to avoid conviction.
Cuomo has repeatedly said that he won’t step down, but now one of his longtime allies is reportedly considering running to replace him. The New York Daily News writes that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a moderate Democrat, has been talking to donors and fundraisers about a possible bid, though he has not yet said anything publicly. There’s no word if Bellone would be willing to challenge Cuomo if the governor is in a position to seek re-election next year.
● VA-Gov: On Friday evening, the Virginia Republican Party's State Central Committee opted to allow convention delegates who will be choosing the party's statewide nominees on May 8 to vote at one of roughly 37 locations across the state. The decision came weeks after the party originally opted to hold its gathering at Liberty University in Lynchburg, only for the school to announce the next day that it hadn’t in fact agreed to host the event at all.
But if you thought the intra-party bloodletting over this convention is finally over, think again. The Richmond Times-Dispatch's Patrick Wilson writes that, even after the party reached its decision, "the meeting veered into a bitter debate related to minutia over how people will file to become delegates." The GOP also won't finalize its list of voting locations until April 24, about two weeks before the event itself.
Democrats, meanwhile, will pick their candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general in a traditional June primary―an event that will be open to any eligible voter and feature far more than 37 voting locations.
● NM-01: The U.S. Senate confirmed Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland as secretary of the interior on Monday, making Haaland, who is a member of the federally recognized Laguna Pueblo tribe, the first Native American to ever run a cabinet-level department. The congresswoman's departure from the House will also set off a special election in New Mexico’s 1st District in the Albuquerque area, which supported Joe Biden 60-37 last year.
In anticipation of a vacancy, several candidates from both parties have been running here for some time, but there won't be any primaries. Instead, state law requires each party's central committee to pick their candidate: The Democrats’ body is made up of about 180 members, while Republicans put their own membership at 119. Lawmakers introduced a bill this year to institute traditional primaries instead, but it looks unlikely to win the support of the necessary two-thirds of each chamber before the legislature's session ends on Saturday.
We’ll have a look at both parties’ fields in a future Digest, but there was one notable development on the GOP side shortly before Haaland was confirmed when state Sen. Mark Moores announced he would run. Political observer Joe Monahan writes that while Moores, who is the only Republican in the chamber who represents any part of the city of Albuquerque, would have a tough time flipping this seat, even an unsuccessful House campaign could help raise his profile for a bid against Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham next year.
Haaland’s confirmation also ends, at least for now, her brief but historic time in elective office. Haaland, who was a longtime Democratic activist, first appeared on the ballot in 2014, when she was then-Attorney General Gary King’s running mate in that year's election for governor. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s strong poll numbers and the terrible political climate for Democrats made the race very challenging, though, and the King-Haaland ticket lost 57-43.
Haaland soon won the race to chair the state party during the 2016 cycle, an election that saw Democrats retake the state House after two years of GOP control. Haaland got a chance to run for the 1st District to succeed Lujan Grisham when the congresswoman ran for governor, but she had to get through an expensive primary. The contest effectively turned into a three-way race between Haaland, who earned the top place on the ballot by winning the state party convention; retired University of New Mexico law school professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez; and former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez.
Haaland ran commercials talking about how she'd put herself through college and law school as a single mom, noting that she “doesn't look like most people in Congress.” She also received outside help from a new group called 7Gen Leaders that ran ads that promoted her chance to make history as the first Native American woman elected to Congress. (The group's name refers to the philosophy, attributed to the Iroquois, that those living today should strive to work for the benefit of those who will live seven generations from now.)
Still, while Haaland looked like she had a real chance to win, there didn’t seem to be an obvious frontrunner heading into the primary. Sedillo Lopez spent more than any other candidate, while Martinez received considerable outside help. EMILY’s List, meanwhile, aired ads attacking Martinez even though it didn’t endorse either Sedillo Lopez or Haaland.
Ultimately, though, Haaland beat Martinez by a surprisingly wide 41-26, and she had no trouble in November. In January of 2019, Haaland and a fellow Democrat, Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, together made history when they were sworn in as the first American Indian women to serve in Congress, which Haaland did while wearing traditional Native dress.
● New York City, NY Mayor: Former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and nonprofit executive Dianne Morales have both announced that they've raised enough money from small donors to qualify for the city's matching funds program. The city's Campaign Finance Board, though, will need to verify that they've met all of the requirements before they can receive public money.
● King County, WA Executive: It's been over a decade since there was a competitive race for the top elected position in Washington's most populous county, but that could change this year. Incumbent Dow Constantine has had no trouble winning since he was first elected in 2009, but state Sen. Joe Nguyen, a fellow Democrat who has represented West Seattle in the legislature since 2018, is now saying he's seriously considering a run against him this fall. The filing deadline is in late May.
Constantine may be in for a tough race because the backlog at the very top of Washington's political pyramid—where Democrat Jay Inslee took the unusual step of running for and winning a third term as governor last year—is starting to have some trickle-down effects on the next tier of political positions. Constantine had looked like a probable candidate for governor in 2020, but he backed Inslee once it became clear the governor wasn’t going anywhere. (As it happens, fully one-third of all elected King County executives have gone on to the governorship, so it's a good stepping stone.) That’s left Nguyen, in turn, stuck in line behind Constantine.
With King County's Republican bench currently consisting of blowing tumbleweeds, it's likely that if Nguyen does run, he and Constantine would face each other in this November’s general election thanks to Washington’s top-two primary system. Nguyen would presumably stake out terrain to the left of the already-progressive Constantine, though note that this race is officially nonpartisan.