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.
● NC-Sen: Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory announced Wednesday that he would enter the primary to succeed his fellow Republican, retiring Sen. Richard Burr. The only other notable Republican currently in the race is former Rep. Mark Walker, but a number of others have expressed interest. We also got a new name this week when an unnamed spokesperson for far-right Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson confirmed that he was thinking about getting in.
We'll start with McCrory, a longtime politician who tried to rebrand himself as an "outsider" in his kickoff video. McCrory was elected mayor of Charlotte back in 1995, and he cultivated a moderate reputation during his 14 years in office, which made him the longest-serving mayor in city history. McCrory lost a close race for governor in 2008 to Democrat Bev Perdue, and he decided to retire as mayor the following year ahead of their widely anticipated 2012 rematch. Perdue, though, ended up retiring in the face of poor approval ratings, and McCrory decisively won the contest to succeed her.
McCrory ditched his centrist image early in his tenure and cooperated with the GOP-dominated legislature to pass right-wing bills that restricted access to abortion, cut higher education funding and unemployment benefits, and made North Carolina the national poster child for making it harder for Black people to vote. The legislation that McCrory would be most remembered for, though, was HB2, the 2016 anti-LGBTQ "bathroom bill" that sparked a backlash and boycott threats by major businesses.
That bill likely cost McCrory a second term that year in his competitive battle against Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper. Donald Trump carried North Carolina 50-46 and Burr won by an even larger margin, but Cooper still unseated McCrory 49.0-48.8. McCrory took a month to concede, and that admission came only after he'd filed countless protests with various state and county elections boards challenging the validity of hundreds of votes and baselessly alleging fraud. Days before his departure from office, McCrory signed a bill passed by the gerrymandered GOP legislature in a lame-duck session that dramatically limited the new governor's power.
The Trump White House eyed McCrory for an administration post but passed on him; documents published in 2019 revealed that some of the many "red flags" raised were how he'd "refused to concede," that he'd "signed legislation removing an estimated 170,000 jobless workers from the unemployment benefit rolls," and his "close ties to Duke Energy" in light of an ash spill in North Carolina.
The former governor instead became a conservative radio host, but he made it clear that he wanted to return to office in some way. McCrory expressed interest in early 2019 in running for Burr's seat, and he finally got in on Wednesday.
Fellow Republican Mark Robinson, by contrast, had not shown any obvious interest in this race in the months since he was elected lieutenant governor until Wednesday, when a spokesperson (who curiously asked to not be publicly identified) told WRAL that Robinson was thinking about it. Dallas Woodhouse, the infamous former executive director of the state GOP, also wrote the previous day that Robinson "plans to announce his decision within days."
Robinson, unlikely McCrory, has only been on the political scene for a short time. Robinson became a conservative celebrity in 2018 for a speech protesting the cancellation of a gun show in Greensboro, and he used that fame to defeat several more established Republicans in the 2020 primary.
Robinson then made news in the general election when he stood by his ugly old Facebook posts, which included anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and transphobic screeds. However, that press didn't stop Robinson from beating Democrat Yvonne Lewis Holley, who would have also been the first African American elected lieutenant governor, by a 52-48 margin.
Reports of Robinson's interest in a promotion also drew a delighted reaction from one would-be candidate. While Rep. Dan Bishop didn't rule out a Senate bid back in December, he responded to WRAL's report by writing, "No more perfect candidate for this time. Bring it."
● NC-Sen: Ted Budd (R): $140,000 raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand (has not announced campaign)
● AL-05: Dale Strong (R): $172,000 raised, $138,000 cash-on-hand
● CA-39: Young Kim (R-inc): $540,000 raised, $725,000 cash-on-hand; Jay Chen (D): $436,000 raised, $385,000 cash-on-hand
● CA-48: Michelle Steel (R-inc): $545,000 raised, $600,000 cash-on-hand
● IL-06: Sean Casten (D-inc): $252,000 raised, $495,000 cash-on-hand
● KS-03: Sharice Davids (D-inc): $540,000 raised, $775,000 cash-on-hand
● KY-06: Andy Barr (R-inc): $500,000 raised, $780,000 cash-on-hand
● NV-04: Steven Horsford (D-inc): $363,000 raised, $750,000 cash-on-hand
● NY-02: Andrew Garbarino (R-inc): $255,000 raised, $330,000 cash-on-hand
● NY-21: Elise Stefanik (R-inc): $1.1 million raised, $2.5 million cash-on-hand
● TX-03: Van Taylor (R-inc): $575,000 raised
● WY-AL: Liz Cheney (R-inc): $1.54 million raised, $1.43 million cash-on-hand
● WI-Sen: Democratic state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski announced Wednesday that she would run for the Wisconsin Senate seat currently held by Republican incumbent Ron Johnson, who has not yet said if he'll run for re-election. Godlewski joins a primary that includes Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and could attract still more contenders.
Godlewski, who co-founded what the Wisconsin State Journal's Riley Vetterkind characterizes as a "small business incubator that invests in renewable energy projects, start-ups and women-owned businesses," ran for office for the first time in 2018 when she campaigned for treasurer. The job has steadily lost most of its powers over the last few decades, and it's hardly been a launching pad to higher office: The last two Republican occupants even gave it up after just one term to run for the Fond du Lac County Board of Supervisors and state Assembly, respectively, contests they each lost.
Godlewski, who led an effort to defeat a 2018 constitutional amendment that would have eliminated the post altogether, spent the next several months arguing that she could be an effective treasurer. Godlewski won 51-47, and Vetterkind writes that she's used her time in office to "increase both the influence and visibility of the office."
● MD-Gov: State Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz on Wednesday became the first notable Republican to announce a bid for governor, a move that came hours after Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who likely would have been the primary frontrunner, said he would not enter the race.
A few other Republicans are considering running to succeed termed-out incumbent Larry Hogan in this very blue state, and we should know the plans of one of them very soon. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who has also talked about challenging Rep. Andy Harris or seeking another post in 2022, has a "major announcement" set for Thursday. Former RNC chair Michael Steele, who backed Joe Biden in 2020, also reiterated his interest in the governorship Wednesday, though he said he didn't have a timeline to decide.
Schulz, who would be the first woman elected to this office, was last on the ballot in 2014 when she was elected to her second term in the state House representing part of Frederick County in the northern part of the state. Hogan also won the governorship that year in an upset, and he chose Schulz as labor secretary. In 2019, Schulz took a new administration job when she became commerce secretary.
Rutherford, for his part, explained his decision not to run by telling Maryland Matters, "I didn't want it bad enough to put my family through that." Rutherford did leave himself a tiny bit of room to change his mind, though, saying, "You should never say never. I've said 'never' to a lot of things before that I've turned around and done the opposite." Still, Rutherford acknowledged, "As of this moment, I don't think that that's going to be the case in six months, no."
● OR-Gov: Businesswoman Jessica Gomez, the CEO of a company named Rogue Valley Microdevices, said this week that she was considering running for the Republican nomination for this open seat.
● VA-Gov: Public Policy Polling is out with the first survey we've seen in months of the June Democratic primary, and it finds former Gov. Terry McAuliffe well in front with 42% of the vote. PPP also shows state Sen. Jennifer McClellan and former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy tied for second with 8% each; Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Lee Carter had 7% and 4%, respectively.
This poll indicates that, while a majority of primary voters aren't sold on a McAuliffe comeback, none of his four opponents has established themselves as his main rival in this crowded race. Fundraising reports covering the first three months of 2021 are due Thursday, and they'll give us a better idea which contenders will have the resources to get their message out over the next two months, though Virginia's lack of contribution limits mean the funding race could always get shaken up later by a surprise major donor.
● FL-01: The Guardian reports that Air Force veteran Bryan Jones is "planning on running" in the Republican primary against scandal-plagued Rep. Matt Gaetz, though his consultants say he hasn't decided when to announce.
● NM-01: Republican Mark Moores is up with the first negative TV spot of the June 1 special election, and he accuses Democrat Melanie Stansbury of having "done little to lower taxes on seniors' Social Security." Moores then argues he's "leading the effort to repeal the state tax on Social Security."
Stansbury's campaign responded with a statement declaring that, contrary to this messaging, she "has sponsored bipartisan legislation to provide a Social Security income tax exemption. . . She has been there for seniors throughout the pandemic, and even helped shop for her senior constituents when they couldn't." Her team also argued, "On the other hand, Mark Moores has not sponsored a single bill with the sole purpose of exempting Social Security income from income taxation."
● NY-12: Nonprofit founder Rana Abdelhamid announced Wednesday that she would challenge longtime Rep. Carolyn Maloney in the Democratic primary, and she said later in the day that she'd quickly raised $100,000 for her effort. Abdelhamid is the first notable candidate to announce a bid for this safely blue New York City seat, which in its current form includes the East Side of Manhattan and nearby parts of Queens and Brooklyn, though she's unlikely to be the last: 2020 candidate Suraj Patel, who held Maloney to a 43-39 win last time, recently said, "I fully expect to be a candidate in this race."
The 27-year-old Abdelhamid, who would be the first Muslim to represent New York in Congress, said of the incumbent, "Congresswoman Maloney has been in office for 28 years, for longer than I've been alive." Abdelhamid also argued, "Under her leadership, rent has only skyrocketed, our public schools have only gotten more segregated and more underfunded." Abdelhamid herself acknowledged that she hasn't lived in the 12th District since high school, saying that her family was forced to move because of the increasing cost of living.
● TX-08: Republican Rep. Kevin Brady, who serves as top Republican on the influential House Ways and Means Committee, announced Wednesday that he would not seek a 14th term representing Texas' 8th Congressional District. This seat, which includes the suburbs and exurbs north of Houston, backed Donald Trump 71-28 in 2020, and there's little question that it will remain safely red turf after the GOP-dominated legislature completes redistricting.
Brady acknowledged that he was leaving in part due to internal party term limits that would have cost him his committee post in the next Congress. As The Hill's Scott Wong notes, though, the next-most senior Republican on the panel is none other than the infamous California Rep. Devin Nunes.
Brady got his start in elected office in 1990 when he won a seat in the state House, and sought a promotion in 1996 to an open congressional district in what turned out to be an unexpectedly long campaign. Gene Fontenot, a wealthy physician who had unsuccessfully sought a different House seat two years before, led the primary with 36% of the vote, while Brady beat out another candidate 22-16 for the second runoff spot.
Fontenot took Brady to task for voting against the state's concealed weapons law the previous year. Brady explained at the time how his father had been murdered while trying a case in a South Dakota courtroom, saying, "I couldn't look Mom in the eye and vote for this." (Brady would later become an ardent supporter of concealed carry laws.)
Brady won the Republican nomination 53-47, but just two months later, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that four Texas congressional seats be redrawn for that year's elections because of racial gerrymandering; the 8th District was not singled out, but its lines were also altered by the subsequent round of mid-decade redistricting. The state ultimately allowed all-party primaries to take place that November in the impacted seats, and Fontenot decided to run again.
Brady this time took first place with 41%, which was below the majority he needed to avoid a December runoff, while Fontenot was just behind with 40%. Their fourth bout of the year was another nasty affair, with Fontenot labeling his opponent "Shady Brady." Major GOP establishment figures, including then-Gov. George W. Bush and Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison, supported Brady, while Fontenot had the backing of social conservative leader Pat Robertson and defeated presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. Brady finally got his seat by winning their overtime contest 59-41.
Brady spent much of his time in Congress as a fairly low-profile figure who was close to the party's leadership. In late 2014, he lost an internal party battle with Paul Ryan for the right to chair the Ways and Means Committee; the Washington Post would say later that Brady had "been criticized by lobbyists for his lack-luster fundraising performance and relatively weak private-sector connections."
Ryan ended up becoming speaker a year later, however, and this time, he supported Brady's successful bid to replace him as chairman. Brady would later use his powerful perch to help push through Trump's 2017 tax bill.
The only time Brady had a serious re-election fight was 2016, when he faced a primary challenge from former state Rep. Steve Toth. Toth campaigned as an anti-establishment Republican who argued that Brady was out of step with the district's conservative values. Brady took the challenge seriously and massively outspent Toth to win 53-37. The incumbent had no trouble winning his final two terms afterwards.
● Special Elections: Here's a recap of Tuesday's two special elections:
CT-HD-112: Republican Tony Scott defeated Democrat Nick Kapoor 53-46 to hold this seat for his party. This GOP win moves the makeup of this chamber to 96-54 in favor of Democrats with one other seat vacant. The final vacancy will be filled April 27 in a district much more favorable to Team Blue, where Hillary Clinton won 80-17 in 2016.
NH-HD-Hillsborough 21: Republican Bill Boyd defeated Democrat Wendy Thomas 53-45 to hold this seat for his party. In contrast to most special legislative elections, this contest featured very high turnout. The New Hampshire Union Leader noted that the town of Merrimack ran out of their allotment of machine ballots for this race due to the high turnout.
The Republican advantage in this eight-seat multi-member district moves to 7-1, and Team Red's control of this chamber moves to 213-186 with one other seat vacant.
● Anchorage, AK Mayor: Democratic City Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar earned an endorsement this week from former City Manager Bill Falsey, who finished third in last week's nonpartisan primary, while conservative Air Force veteran Dave Bronson has received the backing of fifth-place contender Mike Robbins for the May 11 general election.
Dunbar and Bronson finished well ahead of their primary rivals, though late-counted ballots have pushed Bronson into first place. With 72,000 votes tabulated, Bronson holds a 33-31 edge; Falsey and Robbins have 13% and 8%, respectively.
● Boston, MA Mayor: MassINC, working on behalf of WBUR, the Dorchester Reporter, and The Boston Foundation, has the first survey we've seen all year of this contest, and it shows acting Mayor Kim Janey and City Councilwoman Michelle Wu advancing to the November general election. Wu leads with 19% in the September nonpartisan primary, while Janey beats City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George 18-6 for the second-place spot.
Another member of the City Council, Andrea Campbell, is at 4%, while state Rep. Jon Santiago and former Boston Chief of Economic Development John Barros are at 3% each.
● New York City, NY Mayor: The Working Families Party has backed City Comptroller Scott Stringer in the June instant runoff Democratic primary, and it's also designated non-profit head Dianne Morales and attorney Maya Wiley as its second and third choices. The WFP has long been a force in New York progressive politics, but several unions have withdrawn support in recent years.
● GA-AG: Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan announced Wednesday that she would challenge Republican Attorney General Chris Carr. Jordan, who flipped a suburban Atlanta seat in a 2017 special, would be the first Democrat to hold this office since Thurbert Baker left to wage an unsuccessful 2010 campaign for governor. Jordan's kickoff also comes amid speculation that Republican legislators could make her seat far redder through redistricting.
Carr, for his part, reportedly hasn't ruled out a campaign for Senate, though there's been little other information about his deliberations. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also says that he's "preparing" to fight for his current office even though he hasn't decided on his 2022 plans.
● Wisconsin Schools Superintendent: Last week, Jill Underly defeated Deborah Kerr 58-42 to become the next top education official in the Badger State. In a new post, Daily Kos Elections contributing editor Steve Singiser takes a look under the hood at what happened in this contest. In particular, Singiser investigates how the hot-button issue of school reopenings in the COVID-era failed to gain traction for Team Red, the continued decline of the GOP in the suburbs, and how the unusually high turnout in this off-year election affected the outcome. You can check out the full deep dive of this contest here.