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.
● NY-LG: Newly elevated Gov. Kathy Hochul named state Sen. Brian Benjamin as lieutenant governor on Thursday, filling the vacancy created by her ascension to the top job earlier this week. Benjamin offers Hochul's ticket the proverbial "balance" that most New York governors seek: Hochul, a white woman, hails from Buffalo, while Benjamin, who is Black, represents a Harlem-based district in New York City.
Benjamin first won his seat in the Senate in 2017, earning the Democratic nod without a primary thanks to a New York law that allows party leaders to pick nominees in special elections. He easily prevailed in the general election in the overwhelmingly blue 30th District and went on to win two full two-year terms. Earlier this year, he ran for city comptroller but finished fourth in the primary after taking just 8% of first-choice votes and getting eliminated in the eighth round of ranked-choice tabulations.
Hochul was able to make her selection unilaterally, without a confirmation vote by the legislature, because the state constitution doesn't specifically prescribe a method for filling a vacant lieutenant governorship. Instead, as New York's highest court ruled in 2009 when this issue last came up, governors can rely on a catch-all provision that allows them to fill vacancies in government posts on their own.
This system creates the problematic possibility that the state's governor and lieutenant governor could both hold their posts without either having won election or the approval of state lawmakers. Such a scenario would arise should Hochul herself leave office early, allowing Benjamin to name his own replacement. In fact, New York flirted with this fate a little over a decade ago, when then-Gov. David Paterson, who rose to the governorship after Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace, was himself beset by scandal and faced calls to step down. It was Paterson who, in a surprise, secured that favorable decision from the courts, allowing him to pick Richard Ravitch as his second-in-command without legislative approval.
Not only does the current arrangement raise questions about democratic representation, that tenuous legal decision, which became law thanks to a narrow 4-3 majority, could always be overturned—once again leaving New York without a way to fill vacancies in the lieutenant governor's office (as things stood before Paterson's gambit). Fixing these issues, however, would likely require amending the state constitution, and there's been no sign of any interest in such an effort on the part of legislators.
● AL-Sen, AL-Gov: The conservative site Yellowhammer News name-drops three Democratic mayors in charge of some of Alabama's biggest cities who could run for Senate or governor next year: Randall Woodfin (Birmingham), Steven Reed (Montgomery), and Walt Maddox (Tuscaloosa). Of course, except for Doug Jones' all-time stunner of a win in 2017, Democrats have fared very poorly in statewide elections for a long time, so even if a notable candidate does run in either race next year, there's little reason to think we'd see a competitive contest.
Maddox is a case in point: He actually ran for governor in 2018, losing to Republican incumbent Kay Ivey (who is seeking re-election) by a wide 59-40 margin. But because Tuscaloosa, like the other cities mentioned above, elects its mayors in odd-numbered years, he was able to retain his current post. That means he, or Reed or Woodfin (who just won re-election in a landslide earlier this week) could take another long-shot gamble on a promotion without risking his current position.
The members of this trio do differ, though, in their political profiles. Maddox, who is white, has been in office since 2005 and styled himself as a "pro-life" and pro-gun candidate in his bid against Ivey. Woodfin and Reed, by contrast, are both Black and first won in 2017 and 2019, respectively, with Reed's victory making him Montgomery's first-ever African American mayor in the city's 200-year history. The two are also part of a more progressive generation of close-knit, younger Black mayors across the South.
● CA-Gov: A Friday rally for Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom that was to be headlined by Kamala Harris has been canceled following the deadly terrorist attack outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday and reportedly "is not likely to be rescheduled."
● HI-Gov, HI-LG: Former state Sen. Jill Tokuda had been considering a gubernatorial bid, but instead, she tells Civil Beat's Chad Blair, she's going to run for lieutenant governor. The no. 2 spot is open because the current incumbent, Democrat Josh Green, is running for the top job; Green defeated Tokuda in the primary in 2018 by a tight 31-29 margin. Blair lists a large number of other Democrats who have publicly said they're considering campaigns for lieutenant governor and mentions several more potential names, including—gack—former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
● NY-Gov: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says he's "absolutely not" considering a challenge to Gov. Kathy Hochul in next year's Democratic primary. So far, no prominent Democrats have said they'll run against Hochul, though New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has said he's weighing a bid.
● VA-Gov, VA-LG, VA-AG: We've got two more new polls of November's gubernatorial race in Virginia, and like every public survey before them, they both show Democrat Terry McAuliffe leading. The first is from Christopher Newport University, which hasn't previously polled the contest. It finds McAuliffe up 50-41 on Republican Glenn Youngkin, the largest advantage he's posted to date. The other, from Change Research on behalf of the progressive news organization Crooked Media, has McAuliffe ahead 49-43; another recent Change poll for the progressive group Future Majority, which was in the field on partly overlapping dates, had McAuliffe in front by a narrower 47-44 spread.
Unsurprisingly, Christopher Newport also has Democrats doing well downballot: Attorney General Mark Herring is currently beating Republican Jason Miyares 53-41 in his bid for re-election, while Del. Hala Ayala enjoys a similar 52-42 advantage over Republican Winsome Sears in the race for lieutenant governor. (Change did not ask about these races.)
● MI-06: Insurance agent Gina Johnsen, who lost a close race for the state House last year, has filed paperwork with the FEC for a possible primary challenge to Rep. Fred Upton, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump earlier this year. She has yet to say anything publicly, though, about a possible campaign. In 2020, Johnsen ran against Democratic state Rep. Angela Witwer, who prevailed by a 51-47 margin, though the legislative district she sought does not overlap with Upton's district. Johnsen has embraced conspiracy theories about COVID-19, saying in a YouTube video, "I think it's a myth that there's no cure" for the disease. There is no cure for the coronavirus.
● TX-24: Accountant Jan McDowell, who at this point has reached or is at least approaching perennial candidate status, has announced that she's taking a fourth stab at Texas' 24th Congressional District. The reason McDowell just barely rates a mention at all is because in the 2018 Democratic wave, she held Republican Rep. Kenny Marchant to a narrow 51-48 margin. Her two other tries, however, have not gone well: In 2016, she lost to Marchant 56-39, while last year, when the seat became open following Marchant's retirement, she didn't make it out of the primary, finishing third with just 10% of the vote.
Two notable Democrats were already running to take on Marchant's successor, Republican Rep. Beth Van Duyne: Marine veteran Derrik Gay and state Rep. Michelle Beckley. In addition, 2020 nominee Candace Valenzuela, who lost to Van Duyne just 49-47, is also considering another bid.