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.
● GA-Gov: Former state Rep. Vernon Jones, a Trump-obsessed Democrat-turned-Republican, announced Thursday that he would oppose Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in next year's GOP primary. Jones' challenge comes as Kemp is also preparing for a widely-anticipated rematch against Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom Peach State political observers universally expect to run again.
Jones used his kickoff Friday to once again repeat the lie that Trump would still be in the White House if Jones had been governor in 2020. Joe Biden, of course, would still have earned an electoral college majority even if Trump had carried Georgia, but that's hardly stopped Trump from targeting his one-time ally Kemp for refusing to go along with his efforts to try to steal the state's electoral votes.
That hasn't changed in the last month even though Kemp has attracted plenty of gratitude in conservative circles for signing the new voter suppression bill, a development that led Major League Baseball to move the All Star Game from the Atlanta suburbs to Colorado. Trump instead responded earlier this month by labeling the new law "far too weak and soft" and claiming, "Kemp also caved to the radical left-wing woke mob who threatened to call him racist if he got rid of weekend voting."
Jones, as we'll discuss, has been an ardent Trumpist throughout the last year, but Kemp is already trying to make his Democratic past a liability. The incumbent's team greeted Jones' arrival into the race by noting that the then-Democrat opposed a 2019 bill that effectively banned abortion just six weeks into a pregnancy, legislation that has since been struck down by a federal court. Jones, who agreed during his 2008 U.S. Senate campaign that abortion should be legal, tried to get ahead of Kemp's attacks by tweeting on Monday, "Life begins at conception - period."
The governor may also have plenty of other material to work with from Jones' long time in Democratic politics, a career that was defined by several failed attempts to win higher office. After a stint in the state House in the 1990s, Jones became the first African American to lead DeKalb County following his 2000 victory for CEO of this large Atlanta-area community. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that during his tenure, he "drew intense scrutiny for angry outbursts and an accusation of rape that he said was a consensual act between three partners." Jones, however, was never charged.
Jones, who had voted for George W. Bush twice, tried to use his high-profile post as a springboard to statewide office by seeking Team Blue's nomination to take on Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss in 2008. However, the CEO earned plenty of negative attention during the nomination contest after Barack Obama took him to task for creating a mailer that made it appear that the two were campaigning together. Jones lost the primary runoff 60-40 to Jim Martin, who went on to lose to Chambliss.
Jones then challenged Rep. Hank Johnson in the 2010 primary for the 4th Congressional District and lost 55-26. In 2013, a grand jury probing his time leading DeKalb County recommended he be investigated for what the AJC calls allegations of "bid-rigging and theft." The following year, his campaign for county sheriff ended in a landslide 76-24 primary defeat.
Jones, though, resurrected his political career when he won the 2016 primary to return to the state House in a safely blue seat. Months later, DeKalb District Attorney Robert James announced that he wouldn't be charging a number of figures, including Jones, for lack of evidence.
Jones spent the next few years often voting with Republicans and tweeting favorably of Trump, but he only burned his last bridges with his party in 2020 when he endorsed Trump's re-election campaign. The state representative, who was already facing a competitive primary, ultimately retired from the legislature (albeit after initially saying he'd be resigning), and he spent the rest of the campaign as a prominent Trump surrogate. Jones spent his time after Election Day headlining Trump rallies alleging non-existent voter fraud, and he finally switched parties in January.
● NC-Sen: Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson on Thursday put out a Facebook video where he confirmed he was "seriously considering" seeking the Republican nomination, a development that came days after a spokesperson, who curiously asked not to be identified, told the same thing to WRAL. Also oddly, Robinson soon yanked the message from his Facebook page without explanation.
● FL-Gov: Joe Biden nominated former Rep. Gwen Graham to a post at the Department of Education on Friday, a development that, should she be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, presumably takes her out of contention for next year's race for governor. Graham narrowly lost the 2018 Democratic primary, and she'd expressed interest in another try as recently as last November.
● VA-Gov: Campaign finance reports are in covering the first three months of 2021, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Virginia Scope have each collected them. Note that state law forbids politicians in holding state-level office from raising money during the legislative session, which lasted from mid-January through early March, but this prohibition did not apply to the other candidates.
We'll start with the Democrats, who will be deciding their nominee at a traditional June 8 party-run primary:
- Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe: $4.2 million raised, $8.5 million cash-on-hand
- Former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy: $1.8 million raised, $2.3 million cash-on-hand
- State Sen. Jennifer McClellan: $635,000 raised, $442,000 cash-on-hand
- Del. Lee Carter: $139,000 raised, $89,000 cash-on-hand
- Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax: $100,000 raised, $21,000 cash-on-hand
Next are the Republicans, who are choosing their candidate at a May 8 convention:
- Finance executive Glenn Youngkin: $2.2 million raised, additional $5.5 million self-funded, $3.3 million cash-on-hand
- Venture capitalist Pete Snyder: $1.6 million raised, additional $5.2 million self-funded, $2.6 million cash-on-hand
- Del. Kirk Cox: $694,000 raised, $310,000 cash-on-hand
- Former Department of Defense official Sergio de la Peña: $263,000 raised, $43,000 cash-on-hand
- State Sen. Amanda Chase: $114,000 raised, $196,000 cash-on-hand
- Businessman Peter Doran: $16,000 raised, $2,000 cash-on-hand
- Former Roanoke City Sheriff Octavia Johnson: $800 raised
● IA-03: Former state Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa on Thursday became the first notable Republican to launch a campaign against Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne in this competitive seat in the Des Moines area.
Hanusa, who previously was the 2006 nominee for secretary of state, was elected to the legislature in 2010 in a seat in Council Bluffs near the Nebraska border. Hanusa had no trouble prevailing until 2018, when she won her final term 50-48 as Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds carried her 16th House District by a similar margin, and she retired in 2020.
● LA-02: The League of Conservation Voters has announced that it is spending $400,000 on a TV and radio ad campaign in support of state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson ahead of the April 24 all-Democratic runoff. The group's TV spot praises Peterson as someone who has "taken on polluters, fought for clean drinking water in schools, and clean energy jobs in every community." It also reminds the audience that Peterson is endorsed by Stacey Abrams, Team Blue's 2018 nominee for governor of Georgia.
● NC-11: Army veteran Jay Carey announced Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nomination to face freshman Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn in this conservative western North Carolina seat.
● New York City, NY Mayor: A trio of Democratic candidates were approved for matching funds on Thursday ahead of the June instant-runoff primary: former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, and 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and former mayoral counsel Maya Wiley had each previously raised enough small donations from city residents to unlock matching funds.
Another contender, former White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, had expected to receive public financing as well, but the Campaign Finance Board said it was "deferring its decision" as it seeks "further information" about a super PAC that has received at least $2 million from the candidate's father. Politico explains, "That's all perfectly legal, of course, provided the PAC doesn't coordinate with the candidate or his team. But in this case, the filial connection between the two may have raised the collective eyebrow of the city's Campaign Finance Board."
The only other notable Democratic candidate for mayor who has not received any public financing is former Citigroup executive Raymond McGuire, who is not taking part in the program.
● VA-AG: Incumbent Mark Herring maintained his financial advantage over Del. Jay Jones during the first quarter of 2021, but Jones, who has the endorsement of Gov. Ralph Northam, still has plenty of cash available to get his message out ahead of their June Democratic primary. Herring outraised Jones $646,000 to $498,000 during the opening three months of the year, and he ended March with a $1.39 million to $1 million cash-on-hand lead.
On the Republican side, Del. Jason Miyares led the four-person field with a far-smaller $236,000 raised and $341,000 on-hand. It's possible, though, that the eventual GOP standard bearer will attract more donor attention after the party's May 8 nominating convention.