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-Sen: CNN reports that a number of possible Republican candidates are waiting to see whether former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker, a current Texas resident whom Donald Trump has publicly urged to run for the Senate, challenges Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock before they decide on their own plans.
That's not welcome news for many Republicans, though, who fear what will happen if Walker freezes the field for months only to ultimately sit the race out. Said one unnamed GOP operative, "People are starting to get really nervous that Warnock is building this gigantic war chest, and we don't even have a substantive candidate."
Another party operative also conveyed "anxiety" about what would happen if Walker does run. While he's still remembered well from his time at UGA in the early 1980s, CNN notes that his skeptics fear that he might not be able to "handle the enormous challenges" involved in taking on Warnock.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn't sound especially happy about the idea of a Walker campaign, either. When asked about the former UGA player, McConnell responded, "Well, I've met him." He continued, "I have no idea who we're going to come up with down there. ... I think it's wide open."
Two potential Republican candidates, however, say they very much want Walker to campaign for this seat. Rep. Buddy Carter, who publicly expressed interest earlier this week, told Roll Call that he had encouraged Walker to run and would not make up his mind until Walker decides. Carter also told CNN that if "Hershel doesn't run, then I can run," so it very much sounds like he'd defer to him.
Former Ambassador to Luxembourg Randy Evans, who has reportedly been considering getting in, still has not publicly expressed interest in taking on Warnock, but like Carter, he also praised Walker to the stars. Evans extolled him as "a candidate that Trump Republicans, non-Trump Republicans, independents, traditional Democrats, and even many partisan Democrats can agree with." Evans added, "It is why so many Georgia voters of all persuasions have taken to quoting the famous Larry Munson who was often heard to shout, 'Run, Herschel, run.'"
Walker himself, though, doesn't appear to be in any hurry to reach a decision. He told CNN, "Right now, (I'm) just going through the process and thinking about it. Not really talking a lot about it."
Still, not every Peach State Republican is waiting on Walker. Businessman Kelvin King and banking executive Latham Saddler each entered the primary earlier this month, and CNN adds that former Rep. Doug Collins is "nearing a decision" whether to launch a second Senate campaign.
● CA-Sen: Appointed Sen. Alex Padilla this week publicized endorsements from every statewide elected official in the state, including fellow Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Padilla also recently announced that he had the backing of 40 of California’s 42 Democratic House members.
● MI-Gov: While Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said last month that she would not challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Politico's Alex Isenstadt reports that she told committee members Wednesday "she'd given thought in recent months to running against Whitmer in next year's midterm elections."
It doesn't sound like McDaniel is likely to change her mind about her 2022 plans, though. An RNC official responded by saying that the chairwoman "has no desire to do anything else other than lead the Republican Party to victory in 2022 by taking back the House and Senate," and two sources tell Isenstadt they thought that McDaniel was "speaking more out of frustration on Wednesday."
● NE-Gov: Wealthy agribusinessman Charles Herbster announced this week that he will seek the Republican nomination for this open seat.
Herbster joins University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen in the primary to succeed termed-out Gov. Pete Ricketts; the Lincoln Journal Star writes that the outgoing governor "has said he expects to endorse a GOP candidate, and most speculation would appear to point toward Pillen." Several other Republicans could also run including the state's last governor, Dave Heineman, who is on the board of directors for Herbster's company.
Herbster previously launched a campaign for governor in 2013, but he announced six weeks later that he was dropping out because of his wife's health. He ended up donating an eye-popping $860,000 to a fellow candidate, state Sen. Beau McCoy, who finished third in the following year's primary against Ricketts.
Herbster, however, has stronger connections in national GOP politics. He chaired Donald Trump's agriculture and rural advisory committee and donated over $1 million to allied groups last year; he was also at the infamous Jan. 6 Trump rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol, though Herbster says he left before violence broke out. David Siders recently wrote in Politico that these ties could serve the new candidate well, as plenty of Republicans expect that Trump will ultimately endorse his longtime backer.
● SC-Gov: Former Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham filed paperwork Wednesday to allow him to raise money for a potential bid against Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, though he has not yet announced he's in. The State asked Cunningham the previous evening if he was getting ready for a possible run, to which he responded, "I'm strongly considering it."
● VA-Gov: EMILY's List announced Thursday that it was endorsing former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy in the June 8 primary, a move that came one day before the start of early voting. The five-person field also includes another pro-choice woman, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan; either Carroll Foy or McClellan would be the first Black woman elected governor of any state.
EMILY is taking sides at a time when former Gov. Terry McAuliffe continues to hold a huge polling lead over the rest of the field. On Thursday, Christopher Newport University released a survey showing McAuliffe beating Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax 47-8, with McClellan and Carroll Foy at 6% and 5%, respectively; Del. Lee Carter was in last place with just 1%. The results were very similar to numbers released the previous week by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that had McAuliffe at 42% with Carroll Foy and McClellan tied for second at 8% each.
The well-known and well-funded McAuliffe, who ended March with an $8.5 million war chest, will be extraordinarily difficult to defeat unless one of his four rivals emerges as his main opponent, and EMILY's endorsement could help Carroll Foy do that. The former delegate also had a large $2.3 million to $442,000 cash-on-hand lead over McClellan, which puts Carroll Foy in a better position to increase her name recognition and get her message out over the next several weeks.
● LA-02: State Sen. Troy Carter is running an ad ahead of Saturday's all-Democratic runoff to defend his progressive record from outside attacks. Carter begins by alluding to messaging from EMILY's List, which supports fellow state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, that he summarizes as "commercials with fake musicians claiming I'm against women's health rights and police reform."
Carter denounces these charges as "lies" that have been disproved by fact-checkers and declares he's "advocated for mandatory police training, and was co-author of the unanimous juries bill that ended one of the last vestiges of the Jim Crow era." That's a reference to an old state law that required just 10 of 12 jurors to vote for conviction in felony trials; voters finally repealed this in 2018, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that unanimous guilty verdicts were needed for serious crimes.
Carter goes on to note that he's been endorsed by a number of women in local elected office, whom he declares "would not be supporting me if any of these ads were true." He concludes, "You have a choice to make, and I'm prayerful you'll choose honesty and hard work over lies."
● WA-04: 2020 gubernatorial nominee Loren Culp filed FEC paperwork Wednesday for a potential intra-party challenge to Rep. Dan Newhouse, who was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Donald Trump, though he has not yet said he's in. Instead, Culp responded to a Seattle Times inquiry about his plans by saying he had "no public announcement at this time."
● Special Elections: There's a special election in Louisiana on tap for Saturday:
LA-HD-82: An all-Republican runoff election will take place Saturday in the New Orleans suburbs between businessman Eddie Connick and mental health counselor Laurie Schlegel. In the first round of voting, where none of the candidates took the required majority to win outright, Connick led Schlegel 40-36. Both of these candidates belong to prominent local families: Connick is the cousin of Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick Jr., and Schlegel is the wife of Judge Scott Schlegel.
● Albuquerque, NM Mayor: Mayor Tim Keller got his first major opponent this week when Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales announced that he would challenge the incumbent in this November's nonpartisan contest. Both men are Democrats, though there are major ideological differences between Keller and Gonzales, a self-described fiscal conservative.
Gonzales infamously appeared at a June White House event as Donald Trump and then-U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr announced that they were deploying federal agents to Albuquerque. New Mexico Democrats roundly condemned what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called "authoritarian, unnecessary and unaccountable military-style 'crackdowns,'" and Sen. Martin Heinrich called for Gonzales' resignation. Gonzales very much did not quit, though, and Trump soon commended him in a tweet for his "great comments on Operation Legend!"
Gonzales, who was first elected to his current post in 2014, has also been resistant to criminal justice reform policies at home. The Albuquerque Journal's Jessica Dyer writes that he spent years opposing calls to require members of the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office to wear body cameras. The state legislature, weeks after the murder of George Floyd, passed a bill mandating body cameras in 2020 over Gonzales' objections, and the sheriff finally acknowledged in January that "there is value in this."
Dyer also writes that "a county-funded independent analysis" included "concerns about insufficient training in such BCSO units as homicide and criminal investigations, and a 'stark' lack of clearly articulated policies and procedures in some BCSO specialty units."
Gonzales kicked off his campaign for mayor by arguing that Albuquerque's crime rate, which is a perennial concern in local elections, is out of control. "Their policies on whether it's law enforcement matters, whether it's business matters, whether it's tourism matters development matters, whatever impacts the restriction or oppressiveness of running a government, we're going to lift," Gonzales said, though he refused to mention any specific policies he'd get rid of.
Two other candidates are also running against Keller, though the field could still expand ahead of the mid-June filing deadline. If no one wins a majority of the vote in November, a runoff would take place at a later date.
● Pittsburgh, PA Mayor: Incumbent Bill Peduto faces a credible challenge in the May 18 Democratic primary from state Rep. Ed Gainey, but the mayor is going into the final weeks with a big financial lead. Peduto outraised Gainey $356,000 to $80,000 in March, and he had a $423,000 to $113,000 cash-on-hand edge. A pro-Gainey PAC called Justice for All, though, did manage to narrowly outraise Peduto's allies at Good Jobs Pittsburgh $150,000 to $133,000 during this time.
● VA-AG, VA-LG: Christopher Newport University has a rare poll of the June 8 Democratic primary for attorney general, and it finds incumbent Mark Herring leading Del. Jay Jones 42-18. Both contenders had more than $1 million available at the end of March, so each of them will be able to get their message out in a race where 34% of respondents are undecided.
The open seat race for lieutenant governor is far more undefined, with 64% of respondents not yet opting for a candidate. Del. Sam Rasoul, who has the largest war chest, is next with 12%, while no one else breaks 4%.