The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● House: Republicans retook the House on Wednesday after winning California’s 27th Congressional District and, with it, control over at least 218 seats, ending four years of Democratic majorities. While Democrats will still hold the presidency and Senate, the GOP’s House takeover has ended two years of unified Democratic governance in Washington. Many factors made the difference for what’s guaranteed to be a very narrow GOP majority, but among the most consequential for democracy is that Republicans almost certainly owe their majority to gerrymandering.
In a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2019, every GOP-appointed justice voted over the opposition of every Democratic appointee to prohibit federal courts from curtailing partisan gerrymandering. Chief Justice John Roberts disingenuously argued that judicial intervention wasn’t needed partly because Congress itself could end gerrymandering, at least federally. But following the 2020 elections, every Republican in Congress voted to block a bill supported by every Democrat to ban congressional gerrymandering nationwide, which failed when Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin refused to also curtail the GOP's filibuster to pass the measure.
Consequently, as shown in this map, Republicans were able to draw roughly four out of every 10 congressional districts after the 2020 census—three times as many as Democrats drew. After Republicans blocked Democrats from ending gerrymandering nationally, Democrats largely refused to disarm unilaterally and gerrymandered where they could, just as the GOP did. Republicans, however, had many more opportunities, in large part because state courts struck down a map passed by New York Democrats and replaced it with a nonpartisan map.
By contrast, the Supreme Court and judges in Florida allowed GOP gerrymanders to remain in place for 2022 in four states even though lower courts found that they discriminated against Black voters as litigation continues. Had Republicans been required to redraw these maps to remedy their discrimination, Black Democrats would have been all but assured of winning four more seats, possibly enough to cost the GOP its majority on their own. And in Ohio, Republicans were able to keep using their map for 2022 even though the state Supreme Court ruled it was an illegal partisan gerrymander, potentially costing Democrats another two seats.
Had Republicans in Congress—or their allies on the courts—not blocked Democratic-backed efforts to end gerrymandering nationally and ensure every state draws fair maps, Democrats would likely be enjoying two more years with full control over the federal government and the ability to pass a number of important policies. But because Republicans at the national level and in state after state chose to preserve their power to gerrymander, that outcome will no longer happen.
For more on the final seat that gave Republicans the majority, see our CA-27 item below.
● We're now in the second week of election overtime and there are still plenty of major races yet to be decided—as well as tons more great news for Democrats to exult over on this week's episode of The Downballot. On the uncalled races front, co-hosts David Nir and David Beard dive into a pair of House races in California and several legislatures that could flip from red to blue, including the Pennsylvania House. Speaking of legislatures, the Davids also go deep on what the astonishing flips in Michigan will mean for progressives and particularly organized labor.
And there's more! The hosts explain why New York's court-drawn congressional map did indeed undermine Democrats (despite some claims to the contrary) and wrap up with a recap of interesting ballot measures across the country, including an Arizona amendment to create the post of lieutenant governor for the first time; minimum wage hikes in multiple states; and, in several more states, the legalization of weed plus, in Colorado, psychedelic mushrooms.
We're at 992 subscribers on Apple Podcasts, so we'd love it if you'd subscribe to The Downballot there and get us to 1,000! You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time. New episodes every Thursday morning.
● CA-27: Multiple media outlets called the race in California's 27th District for Republican Rep. Mike Garcia on Wednesday evening, giving the GOP a majority of at least 218 seats in the House. With several races still outstanding, the final size of that majority has yet to be determined, but it will be small—and much smaller than most politicians, operatives, and prognosticators expected heading into election night.
Garcia fended off Democrat Christy Smith in what was the two candidates' third straight matchup. With an estimated 73% of the vote tallied, Garcia led Smith, a former Assemblywoman, by a 54-46 margin. The two first met in a 2020 special election that Garcia won 55-45, then faced off in a much closer rematch that fall that saw Garcia squeak out a 333-vote victory. Despite that tight race, D.C. Democrats seemed to have little faith in Smith for this third bout, spending virtually nothing on her campaign; national Republicans, by contrast, were confident in Garcia, making only relatively small outlays on his behalf.
The congressman, however, will be a top Democratic target in 2024, presumably with a different foe. According to calculations from Daily Kos Elections, his district in the suburbs north of Los Angeles would have voted for Joe Biden by a 55-43 margin, making it one of the bluest seats held by a Republican.
● ME-02: Democratic Rep. Jared Golden confirmed his victory over the Republican he unseated in 2018, Bruce Poliquin, when election officials tabulated the results of the instant runoff in Maine's 2nd Congressional District, a rural seat in the northern part of the state that Trump took 52-46.
Golden led 48-45 when it came to first choice preferences while independent Tiffany Bond secured the remaining 7%; the congressman prevailed 53-47 in the second and final round of tabulations. Poliquin was the last New England Republican in the House before Golden beat him four years ago, and his second defeat maintains Team Red’s shutout in the region.
Major outside groups on both sides treated this contest as one of the top House races in the nation, and they deployed their resources accordingly. Altogether the four largest groups involved in House races dropped $19.4 million here: The only seats that attracted more outside spending were California’s 22nd, which is unresolved, and Michigan’s 7th, where Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin won re-election.
Poliquin himself campaigned as an ardent ally of ultra-conservative Paul LePage, the former governor who was waging his own comeback by taking on Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. Poliquin was correct that LePage would carry the 2nd District, but he didn’t do well enough to secure victory for either one of them. LePage, who once called himself “Trump before Trump,” instead ran several points behind MAGA’s master by taking the seat only 50-47 according to Daily Kos Elections calculations: Mills more than made up for that by carrying Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree’s 1st 63-36, which powered her to a 55-43 statewide blowout.
LePage’s performance in the 2nd would still have put Poliquin over the top if the former congressman had been able to secure all of LePage’s voters or appeal to enough Mills backers, but that’s very much not what happened. Golden once again touted himself as an independent-minded congressman and emphasized his time in the Marines, an approach he used to win over crossover voters during his last two campaigns. Golden also made sure to run ads where members of the Maine Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, a group that supported LePage, praised him as "a different type of Democrat."
Poliquin, for his part, never accepted his defeat from four years ago, and he kicked off his comeback attempt in 2021 by claiming, “Head-to-head, you know, I beat Golden in 2018, and God willing, I will do it again next year.” Poliquin had led Golden 49-47 among first-choice voter preferences on election night as Bond and another contender took the balance, but that wasn't enough under the 2016 voter-approved ranked-choice law. Golden ended up prevailing 50.6-49.4 once votes were assigned to subsequent preferences as minor candidates were eliminated, a result that made Poliquin the first incumbent to lose re-election in the 2nd District since 1916.
The ousted congressman, though, responded by filing a lawsuit arguing that the ranked choice law violated the Constitution. Poliquin's suit was frivolous, and both the district court and an appellate court emphatically rejected his legal arguments since nothing in the Constitutional provisions he cited came close to barring the use of ranked-choice voting, which several states have used for overseas and military voters for years to comply with federal law regarding absentee ballots.
Poliquin ultimately dropped all his legal challenges a full seven weeks after Election Day but continued to pretend he was the rightful victor, falsely claiming that he’d won “the constitutional” vote and that victory was denied by a “black box computer algorithm” for an “illegal” election. Poliquin in 2022 refused to say if he’d accept another such defeat, though Golden’s plurality win made the matter moot.
Poliquin, though, didn’t hate ranked choice voting quite enough to give up any hope that it could give him the win after Election Day. On Sunday the Republican wrote, “Regardless of how this week’s rank choice ballot counting ends up for my race, President Joe Biden and the Democrats continue to control all the levers of power in Washington until noon on January 3 when the new Republican majority in the U.S. House is sworn in.”
● PA State House: Pennsylvania Democrats declared victory in a crucial race for the state House on Wednesday after additional ballots were tallied, reversing what had been a 12-vote lead for Republican Todd Stephens and putting Democrat Missy Cerrato ahead by 37 votes in the 151st District. If Cerrato's advantage holds up, she'll give Democrats 102 seats in the 203-member chamber, setting the stage for state Rep. Joanna McClinton to become the first Black woman to serve as House speaker and capping a stunning election night that saw Democrats flip the 12 seats they needed to win their first majority in more than a decade.
Republicans, meanwhile, have moved into a small lead in the 142nd District, another seat in the Philly suburbs. However, even if Republican Joseph Hogan hangs on to defeat Democrat Mark Moffa, the best the GOP can hope for in the next session of the legislature is 101 seats—a minority. But it may yet be some time before we have final resolution for both races, as recounts and legal challenges are likely.
● Criminal Justice: Five states in 2022 voted on ballot measures that aimed to remove language from their state constitutions that currently still allows slavery and indentured servitude as punishment for crimes, and four out of the five passed. Much like the U.S. Constitution's 13th Amendment, whose ban on slavery also has an exception for punishment for crime, a number of states enacted similar wording following the Civil War, and proponents hope that removing such exceptions will help eliminate forced labor in prisons.
In particular, voters this month approved amendments removing these exceptions in Alabama, where a more extensive recompiled constitution passed 77-23; Oregon, where Measure 112 prevailed 56-44; Tennessee, where Constitutional Amendment 3 won 80-20; and Vermont, where Proposal 2 succeeded 89-11.
Meanwhile in Louisiana, voters rejected Amendment 7 by 61-39 despite its unanimous passage by the GOP-run legislature. However, that outcome occurred after a Democrat who sponsored the amendment later came out against it, saying that a drafting error in the amendment's language could have unintentionally expanded the exceptions to the ban on slavery and involuntary servitude, so lawmakers may try again with different wording in the future.
● Drug Law Reforms: Six states voted this month on whether to approve ballot measures that would either legalize marijuana or decriminalize other drugs, three of which were approved while three others were rejected.
In Maryland, voters approved legalizing marijuana by passing Question 4 by a 66-33 margin after Democratic lawmakers placed it on the ballot, and voters in Missouri did the same by passing voter-initiated Amendment 3 by a 53-47 spread. However, voters rejected marijuana legalization ballot initiatives in Arkansas by defeating Issue 4 by 56-44, North Dakota by voting down Statutory Measure 1 by 55-45, and South Dakota by opposing Initiated Measure 27 by 53-47.
Meanwhile in Colorado, which along with Washington was one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana back in 2012, voters this month passed Proposition 122 by 54-46 to decriminalize certain psychedelic plants and fungi such as psilocybin mushrooms and regulate their sale for therapeutic uses. Colorado is now the second state to decriminalize and regulate psilocybin mushrooms after Oregon voters did so in 2020.
● Gun Safety: Iowans last week voted 65-35 to pass Amendment 1, which GOP lawmakers voted along party lines to place on the ballot as an amendment that will now add a constitutional right to "keep and bear arms." The amendment additionally subjects any and all laws restricting that right to a standard for judicial review that makes it much harder for such restrictions to survive in court.
In Oregon, voters headed in the completely opposite direction by passing citizen-initiated Measure 114 by a 51-49 margin to adopt one of the strictest gun safety laws in the country: It will require firearm purchasers to obtain a permit, submit to a federal background check, complete a hands-on safety class, and get fingerprinted before they can acquire a gun, and the new statute also bans magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
● OR Ballot: Oregon voters by a 51-49 spread have approved Measure 111, which was placed on the ballot by the Democratic legislature and will amend the state constitution to "ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right."
● OH-Sen: NBC's Henry Gomez name-drops venture capitalist Mark Kvamme as one of the Republicans who is "either courting party insiders and donors or being mentioned as prospects." Kvamme, Gomez says, is close to former Gov. John Kasich, who was persona non grata in the Trump-era GOP even before he endorsed Biden in 2020. The article also name-drops Rep. Warren Davidson, a hardliner who considered bids for governor and Senate this year, as a possibility.
One person we thankfully won't have to kick around anymore, though, is former Treasurer Josh Mandel, who lost the 2022 primary to Sen.-elect J.D. Vance. "Josh is not running for Senate in 2024 and has no plans to return to politics," a longtime Mandel aide told Gomez.
● NRSC: Montana Sen. Steve Daines was chosen Wednesday to chair the NRSC for the 2024 cycle months after Politico reported that he appeared to be the only candidate for the job.
● Senate: Politico published an article early last month where reporter Burgess Everett asked each Democratic senator up in 2024, as well as allied independents Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, whether they'd be seeking re-election. Since then two vulnerable senators, Montana's Jon Tester and West Virginia's Joe Manchin, have reiterated that they haven't made up their minds, while Ohio's Sherrod Brown has announced he's in. The responses from the other incumbents to Everett are below:
● AZ-Sen: Kyrsten Sinema deflected questions by saying she was focused on re-electing homestate colleague Mark Kelly. Sinema has spent the last two years infuriating her party, and Rep. Ruben Gallego has been openly musing about launching a primary bid against her.
● CA-Sen: Dianne Feinstein, who has faced serious questions about her cognitive health all year, has not discussed her plans, though Everett says that fellow Democrats are "already eyeing the seat as essentially open."
● CT-Sen: Chris Murphy declared he has "no plans other than to run for re-election."
● DE-Sen: Tom Carper, who considered retiring six years ago, said, "I'm gonna listen to people in Delaware, and I'm going to listen to my wife ... it's a bit early to be deciding."
● HI-Sen: A spokesperson for Mazie Hirono said she's "running for re-election."
● MA-Sen: A spokesperson for Elizabeth Warren also confirmed she would seek a third term.
● MD-Sen: Ben Cardin said, "It's too early to make those types of decisions."
● ME-Sen: Angus King divulged, "I'm thinking about it. And I'll probably make a decision early next year." He continued, "I feel great. I feel like I'm accomplishing something. So, no decision."
● MI-Sen: Debbie Stabenow said she plans to run again.
● MN-Sen: Amy Klobuchar declared it was "very clear" she's in.
● NJ-Sen: Robert Menendez said it was a "long time from here to 2024, but I have every intention of running again." Weeks later, Semafor reported that the senator is again under federal investigation.
● NM-Sen: Martin Heinrich revealed he was "putting all the pieces together" to run.
● NV-Sen: Jacky Rosen unequivocally announced, "I'm definitely running."
● NY-Sen: Kirsten Gillibrand divulged she was "really excited" to seek another term.
● PA-Sen: Bob Casey said that running was "my goal," adding, "We try not to talk about it 'til it starts."
● RI-Sen: Sheldon Whitehouse was in no hurry to reveal anything, saying instead, "I actually like to do those announcements as announcements. And this is not the place for that announcement." He added to Everett, "You're not my vector for an announcement."
● VA-Sen: Tim Kaine remarked that, while he wouldn't make a decision until late 2022 or early 2023, he was "vigorously fundraising, doing everything that a candidate does."
● VT-Sen: Bernie Sanders said that it was "too early to talk about" if he'd be seeking re-election.
● WA-Sen: Maria Cantwell divulged she plans to run again but there's "plenty of time" before 2024.
● WI-Sen: Tammy Baldwin said, "I think I'm gonna run for re-election."
● WV-Gov, WV-Sen: West Virginia Metro News relays that Republican Secretary of State Mac Warner "has his eye on" a bid against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in 2024, though it also notes that he could instead run to succeed termed-out Gov. Jim Justice or seek re-election.
The Senate contest got started Tuesday when GOP Rep. Alex Mooney launched a bid to take on Manchin, who has not yet announced if he'll run again, but the Republican primary for governor has been underway for almost a year longer. Back in December of 2021 auto dealer Chris Miller, who is the son of Rep. Carol Miller, declared he was in and would partially self-fund, and Metro News wrote last month that he had about $970,000 on-hand.
The younger Miller, columnist Steven Allen Adams wrote last year, "has mostly been front and center in his family's car dealership commercials, where Miller is known for wacky and humorous antics, including spoofing former president Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders." However, Adams added that Miller had plenty of connections of his own within GOP politics.
One person who probably won't want to see Miller in the governor's office, though, is Justice. Last month, the GOP governor and Rep. Carol Miller found themselves on opposite sides in the fight over Amendment Two, which among other things would have let the legislature exempt vehicles from personal property taxes. Justice cited the fact that the congresswoman's family owns seven auto dealerships in his quest to derail the measure, declaring, "Just ask yourself—the automobile dealers, you know, does Congresswoman Miller have a conflict? Are they going to get real, live money? They sure are." Voters went on to decisively reject Amendment 2.
Justice, for his part, has not ruled out a Senate bid, which would bring him into conflict with Mooney. The governor also had some choice words about his would-be primary rival during the Amendment 2 fight, saying, "From the standpoint of Congressman Mooney, I honestly don't know and I'm not throwing any rocks at Congressman Mooney, but I've been here for six years, but I've seen Congressman Mooney one time, one time in six years."
Justice went on to trash Mooney, a former Maryland state senator who only moved to the state in 2013 ahead of his first congressional bid, by asking, "Really and truly, does Congressman Mooney even know West Virginia exists?"
● VA State Senate: The first big special election of the new election cycle is coming up fast, as Virginia officials just set Jan. 10 as the date for the race to replace Republican state Sen. Jen Kiggans, who will soon enter Congress after unseating Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria 52-48 in the redrawn 2nd District. The battle will have major implications for Democrats, who hold the Senate by a narrow 21-19 margin but could pad their majority with a win.
Three candidates have already announced plans to run. Virginia Beach Councilman Aaron Rouse, a former Virginia Tech football star who briefly played in the NFL, kicked off a bid on Monday with an endorsement from Luria. Rouse won an at-large seat on the city council in 2018, so he already represents about two-fifths of the district he's now running for. (He also briefly challenged Republican Mayor Bobby Dyer in 2020 but dropped out, citing the coronavirus pandemic.)
Former state Rep. Cheryl Turpin, who lost to Kiggans by a narrow 50.4 to 49.5 margin in 2019, likewise has said she'll run, which would set up a matchup with Rouse. While plans haven't yet been announced, the two will likely face off in a so-called firehouse primary, a small-scale nominating contest run by the Democratic Party (rather than the state). The lone Republican to enter so far is businessman Kevin Adams, a Navy veteran who doesn't appear to have run for office before.
Because the election is being held to complete the final year of Kiggans' term, it will take place in the old version of the 7th State Senate District in Virginia Beach, an area in the state's southeastern corner with a heavy Navy presence. Kiggans, a nurse practitioner and former Navy helicopter pilot, won her only term in the Senate in that 2019 race against Turpin for an open Republican seat. The tight result that year was very similar to the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, which saw Hillary Clinton narrowly edge out Donald Trump 46.8 to 46.5 in the district.
But while Joe Biden cruised in 2020, winning the 7th 54-44, Democratic performance dipped badly the following year, when Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe 52-48 in the governor's race. Democrats are naturally hoping to return to Biden's form, but this contest will very likely be another tossup.
The race to succeed Kiggans for a full term, however, should be a more one-sided affair. Redistricting not only gave the district a new number, the 22nd, but it made it considerably more Democratic, as Biden would have won 59-39. All three candidates in the special election had already announced they'd seek the 22nd when it first goes before voters in November of next year.
● Indianapolis, IN Mayor: Democratic Mayor Joe Hogsett announced Tuesday that he'll seek a third term, which he says would be his last, next year. Hogsett kicked off his campaign days after state Rep. Robin Shackleford launched a primary bid against him. Should Hogsett win re-election, he'd be the first mayor to serve more than two terms since Republican William Hudnut completed his fourth and final term in 1991. The last person to try to secure a third term was Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson, who lost to Republican Greg Ballard in a 2007 upset.
Indianapolis spent decades as a GOP bastion after then-Mayor Richard Lugar consolidated it with the rest of Marion County in 1970, but it remains to be seen if Republicans will field a serious candidate to lead what's become reliably blue turf especially in recent years. Hogsett won an uncompetitive contest to succeed Ballard in 2015, and his landslide win four years later helped propel Democrats to a supermajority on the City-County Council. Biden took Marion County 63-34 in 2020, and it supported Democratic Senate candidate Thomas McDermott by a similar margin last week as he was badly losing statewide to GOP incumbent Todd Young.
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: The May Democratic primary swelled once again on Wednesday when businessman Jeff Brown, who owns 12 locations of the ShopRite grocery store chain, announced that he'd be competing to succeed termed-out Mayor Jim Kenney.
Brown is the first notable candidate who has never held elected office, and he says he plans to self-fund some of his bid. The Philadelphia Inquirer also notes that he "has long had connections in the city's Democratic political class," while a PAC he's been involved in called Philly Progress PAC took in $934,000 last year.
Brown, who started a nonprofit to provide food access to underserved neighborhoods, clashed with Kenney in 2016 when the mayor successfully pushed for a sweetened-beverage tax. However, Brown now says that he won't prioritize trying to repeal the tax, which the paper says has brought in $385 million in revenue.
● Philadelphia, PA District Attorney: The Republican-dominated state House voted Wednesday to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who is one of the most prominent criminal justice reformers in the country, a move his fellow Democrats denounced as a power grab. The state Senate will hold a trial at an unannounced later date, and it would take two-thirds of the upper chamber’s members to remove Krasner.
Republicans and an allied independent, John Yudichak, together hold 29 of the 50 seats, so they’d need to win over at least five Democrats to get the requisite 34 votes to oust the district attorney. No House Democrats, though, supported impeachment, while Republican state Rep. Michael Puskaric gave it the thumbs down. It’s possible the trial could take place after new members are sworn in for January but, because Democrats netted a seat last week, that would only make the math harder for Krasner’s detractors.
Republicans argued that, while the legislature hasn’t impeached anyone in nearly three decades, it was necessary to remove Krasner. “Lives have been lost, property has been destroyed and families have been crushed,” said the resolution, which argued that the district attorney had mismanaged his office and pushed policies that led to more unrest. Krasner, who was re-elected last year, responded that the GOP hasn’t provided “a shred of evidence” that he was at fault for a national rise in crime and that “history will harshly judge this anti-democratic authoritarian effort to erase Philly’s votes.”
Law professor Bruce Ledewitz also told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “There is very little likelihood here that there’s a legally sufficient basis for impeachment and removal.” Ledewitz noted that, even if Krasner is convicted by the state Senate, the courts have the power to intervene if they don’t feel his removal meets the standards required for impeachment.
● Suffolk County, NY Executive: Outgoing Rep. Lee Zeldin has been talked about as a possible RNC or state GOP chair following his 53-47 loss to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, and Politico also floats the idea that he could instead run next year to succeed termed-out Democrat Steve Bellone as Suffolk County executive. Zeldin carried this populous Long Island community 59-41 two years after Trump took it by all of 232 votes.
Another local Republican, county Comptroller John Kennedy, didn't rule out the idea of a second campaign for the top job last week just before he was re-elected 60-40. Kennedy challenged Bellone in 2019 but struggled with fundraising and lost 56-43.
On the Democratic side, venture capitalist Dave Calone kicked off his campaign all the way back in July by saying he'd already taken in $1 million, and he has no serious intra-party opposition so far. Calone previously competed in the 2016 primary to take on Zeldin in the 1st District but lost to Anna Throne-Holst in a 51-49 squeaker; Zeldin went on to easily turn back Throne-Holst 58-42.