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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The Daily Kos Elections team will be taking a short post-election break, so there will be no Live Digest Friday, but we'll be back Monday. For those who read us on the web or via email, there will be no Morning Digest Monday, but we'll be back on the web and in your inbox on Tuesday. Have a good weekend!
● MT-Sen: Republican Rep.-elect Ryan Zinke overcame numerous scandals last week to narrowly return to the House and is already talking about challenging Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, who hasn't committed to seeking a fourth term in 2024. That could bring Zinke into a confrontation with an old foe-turned-colleague, though: Rep. Matt Rosendale has also not ruled out seeking his own rematch with Tester, who held him off in 2018. Gov. Greg Gianforte hadn't dismissed talk that he could wage a Senate campaign rather than seek re-election, either.
We'll start with Tester, who said last week, "I'm going to make this decision based on my effectiveness and my family … Part of the decision on whether to run again is I'm going to be in a position where I can really influence, and that's pretty cool." Tester would be a top GOP target in a state that Trump took 57-41, and the person who would lead the efforts to oust him would be none other than his home state colleague, incoming NRSC chair Steve Daines.
Zinke himself told the Associated Press two days after Election Day―which was the very day the AP and other outlets projected that he'd won his House comeback―that he'd decide whether to take on Tester sometime early next year. Rosendale, for his part, declined to answer the AP's questions about whether he'd go for it. A spokesperson for Gianforte also wouldn't reveal if his boss was looking at the contest, merely saying that the governor was focused on the upcoming legislative session.
This is far from the first time that each of Zinke, Rosendale, and Gianforte's decisions have shaped the others' political futures. In 2014, Zinke and Rosendale both took part in a crowded House primary to succeed Daines, who was waging a successful Senate bid, for what was at the time the Treasure State's only House seat. Zinke ended up edging out another candidate, Corey Stapleton, 33-29, with Rosendale very closely behind, and he easily took the seat in November.
Zinke two years later won a competitive re-election contest as Rosendale was winning the state auditor's post; Gianforte, though, wasn't so fortunate, as he failed to unseat Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock even as Trump was decisively carrying Montana. Tester, then as now, began the following cycle as one of his party's more vulnerable incumbents, and Senate Republicans made a serious effort to recruit Zinke to take him on.
But Trump spoiled those plans by instead tapping Zinke to become secretary of the interior, a move that very quickly had major repercussions. Gianforte went on to win the special election to succeed him one day after he body slammed reporter Ben Jacobs and then lied about it. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, found themselves without an obvious alternative to Zinke. Rosendale eventually emerged with the nomination but failed to impress national GOP groups, who were slow to book ad time for him.
Tester and his allies, however, delighted in reminding voters that Rosendale had only moved to Montana from Maryland in 2002 and and still sported a Maryland accent, and they didn't hesitate to exploit a Talking Points Memo report about how that the self-described "rancher" didn't own any cattle or actually ranch his property. While other Senate Democrats struggled that year in dark red states, Tester beat Rosendale 50-47. Zinke weeks later resigned from the cabinet, reportedly due to Trump White House pressure, in the face of 18 federal investigations, though he has yet to be charged with anything.
Gianforte gave up his new House seat in 2020 to mount a successful bid to succeed the termed-out Bullock, who in turn lost his Senate race to Daines 55-45. Rosendale, for his part, exorcised some of the ghosts of the 2018 campaign by also convincingly winning both the primary and general elections to replace Gianforte in the House.
Zinke himself relaunched his once-promising political career in 2022 after Montana gained a second House seat for the first time in three decades and Rosendale sought the safely red 2nd in the eastern part of the state. Zinke had Trump's endorsement for the new 1st and appeared to be the primary frontrunner even though he faced renewed scrutiny over some of the probes that led to his departure, as well as how much time he's spent in Santa Barbara, California compared to his home state.
Zinke, though, ended up claiming the nomination only 42-40 against former state Sen. Al Olszewski, who had badly lost his last two primaries to none other than Rosendale and Gianforte, respectively. The former congressman also struggled in the general election for this 52-45 Trump constituency against Democrat Monica Tranel, who made sure to emphasize his many old scandals.
One Tranel ad featured her comparing the Republican to "a snake on a plane," explaining, "Ryan Zinke spent tens of thousands of our tax dollars to fly on private planes. He spent even more on travel for his family and friends." A pro-Tranel super PAC also went on the offensive with a spot proclaiming Zinke "promised to build a park honoring veterans but focused instead on cutting a deal with private developers" and lied to investigators about the matter.
All of this wasn't quite enough to stop Zinke, who prevailed 50-46. The congressman-elect responded to that underwhelming win days later by talking again about waging a bid against Tester, a campaign he probably wishes he'd opted for in 2018.
● CO-03: Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert is on the verge of winning a shockingly close battle for re-election: With almost all the votes counted Thursday evening, she led her Democrat challenger, Adam Frisch, by just 551 votes, or 50.1-49.9. However, because that margin is smaller than 0.5% of Boebert's total vote tally, Colorado law requires that an automatic recount be held, which must be completed no later than 35 days after Election Day on Dec. 13. The AP says it will wait for the recount to conclude before making a call.
Boebert, a notorious extremist who called the Jan. 6 committee a “sham witch hunt” and implied that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar was a terrorist, spent her term infuriating Democrats and even some Republicans. The congresswoman, however, looked secure last year after the state’s new independent redistricting commission adopted new lines that extended Trump’s margin of victory in her 3rd District from 52-46 to 53-45, a map that led her most prominent Democratic foe, state Sen. Kerry Donovan, to end her campaign.
Frisch, who served on the Aspen City Council, consequently looked like a longshot after he won the June primary. While Boebert’s national infamy helped Frisch raise about $3 million through mid-October, major outside groups on both sides behaved like Boebert was safe and spent elsewhere. It was therefore a massive surprise when Frisch ended election night with a tiny edge over the incumbent, though later counted ballots ultimately put her back in the lead.
Boebert still very nearly paid a price for her extremism, and Team Blue’s strong showings at the top of the ballot also made things unexpectedly tough for her. According to preliminary calculations from Daily Kos Elections, Gov. Jared Polis actually carried the 3rd by a 49-47 margin, while Sen. Michael Bennet only lost it by 49-48. All of this doesn’t appear to have been quite enough to take down Boebert, but Democrats are likely to pay much closer attention to what happens here in 2024.
● AK State Senate, AK State House: Major intrigue is afoot in two legislative chambers in the far north, as both Alaska's state Senate and state House could see bipartisan coalitions take hold when lawmakers reconvene next year. The situation is extremely fluid, but Daily Kos Elections contributing editor Steve Singiser walks through all the permutations in both houses to see what exactly might emerge.
In the House, this sort of coalition has been in place since 2017, but the question now is whether it can continue following the results of last week's elections. The Senate, meanwhile, has recently been dominated by the GOP, but a cross-party alliance now looks likely.
However, a large number of contests still have yet to be settled: Under Alaska's new election rules, if the leading candidate doesn't win a majority of the vote, the race goes to an instant runoff, which won't be tabulated until Wednesday. And even then, negotiations could take months to resolve. Whatever happens, though, it's sure to be fascinating—and could result in Republicans losing exclusive control of yet another legislative chamber.
● CA-47: Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, a progressive favorite who is one of the top fundraisers in the entire chamber, has held off former Orange County GOP chair Scott Baugh. Porter leads 52-48 with most of the votes counted in a 55-43 Biden seat located in coastal Orange County and Irvine.
● CA-49: Democratic Rep. Mike Levin has won his expensive rematch against Republican Brian Maryott in a seat located north of San Diego. The incumbent leads 53-47 with 98% of the Associated Press' estimated vote in for a seat Biden took 55-43. Levin two years ago held off Maryott by that same 53-47 margin for a constituency that barely changed after redistricting; major outside groups largely bypassed the 2020 contest only to drop millions down for their second bout.
● AZ Superintendent of Public Instruction: Republican Tom Horne, who promised to establish a hotline for people to accuse teachers of including "critical race theory" in the curriculum, has reclaimed his old job by unseating Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman. Horne leads 50.2-49.8 with almost all of the vote in, and Hoffman conceded Thursday.
Horne was first elected to this post in 2002, and he won a promotion to attorney general in 2010. Horne spent his tenure facing multiple investigations, including allegations that he used staff for his campaigns, and he lost renomination in 2014 to Mark Brnovich by a 53-47 margin. (Brnovich himself took third place in this year's Senate primary.) A 2017 investigation concluded that Horne had indeed had staffers work on political activities, but he was never charged for this or anything else.
● AZ Ballot: Arizona voters by a 50.4-49.6 margin have rejected Proposition 309, which Republicans placed on the ballot to make Arizona's existing voter ID requirement even more restrictive. The rejected measure would have disallowed alternative non-photo IDs for in-person voting and also required birthdates and voter ID numbers to vote by mail.
Consequently, voters without a photo ID will still be able to present two forms of non-photo ID to vote, such as a utility bill, bank statement, or voter registration card; mail voters without a photo ID can still sign an affidavit where their signature is verified by comparing it with the signature on their voter registration documents on file.
● PA State House: Democrats officially gained control of Pennsylvania's state House on Thursday after GOP state Rep. Todd Stephens conceded to Democrat Melissa Cerrato in the 151st District, giving Democrats exactly the 102 seats they need to control the 203-member chamber. It's unclear whether or not Democrats might gain one more final seat with the winner still not called in the 142nd District, where Republican Joseph Hogan led Democrat Mark Moffa by 53 votes, though legal challenges in that contest appear likely.
Democrats' victory ends the GOP’s 12-year hold on Pennsylvania's lower chamber, and it wouldn't have been possible without the GOP’s previous gerrymander getting replaced with a much fairer map following the 2020 census.
● Los Angeles, CA Mayor: Democratic Rep. Karen Bass secured victory Wednesday evening over billionaire developer Rick Caruso, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, a win that will make her the first woman to lead America's second-most populous city. Bass will also be Los Angeles' second-ever Black mayor following the legendary Tom Bradley; once Bass takes office next month all four of America's largest cities—New York, L.A., Chicago, and Houston—will have Black mayors simultaneously for the first time.
Bass initially trailed on election night but pulled ahead as later-counted ballots were added to the tabulation, and she finished Thursday ahead 54-46 with 83% of the AP's estimated vote in. The congresswoman touted endorsements from President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, former President Barack Obama, and former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Caruso, for his part, campaigned as an outsider, and he used his vast fortune to dwarf Bass in spending.
The contest was overshadowed weeks before Election Day when a 2021 recording leaked where then-City Council President Nury Martinez made bigoted comments against numerous groups to two colleagues and a labor official in a conversation where she also talked about using City Council redistricting to strengthen Latino representation and weaken their opponents.
Caruso declared that the scandal proved that a political outsider was badly needed while Bass, who has a long history of working to unite Black and Latino residents and whose stepchildren are Mexican American, argued she could bridge the ugly racial fault lines that Martinez's recording has put front and center.
● San Jose, CA Mayor: City Councilman Matt Mahan claimed victory Wednesday when his fellow Democrat, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, conceded the race to succeed termed-out incumbent Sam Liccardo. Mahan's win keeps business allies in control of the mayor's office in a city where local elections often are clashes between unions and business groups. Labor hasn't had an ally in charge since Chavez lost the 2006 race to succeed Mayor Ron Gonzales to Chuck Reed.
Mahan, who had the support of Liccardo, Reed, and the California Association of Realtors, scored a 51-49 win over Chavez, a longtime labor ally who also benefited from heavy spending from the San Francisco 49ers and the local police union. Mahan will serve an abbreviated two-year term because of a ballot measure passed in June moving mayoral races to presidential cycles starting in 2024.
Chavez very much didn't rule out another shot then, saying Wednesday "that is a decision that will be made with the input of my family and our community."
● Santa Clara, CA Mayor: Mayor Lisa Gillmor overcame a $1.4 million offensive funded by the San Francisco 49ers' owner Jed York and defeated City Councilman Anthony Becker 51-49 in Santa Clara, a Silicon Valley community that's home to the team's Levi's Stadium. Gillmor had the support of a different NFL owner, the Miami Dolphins' Stephen Ross, whose massive real estate firm has the mayor's support in its project to develop city-owned land near the stadium.
Gillmor's win came weeks after a civil grand jury accused Becker and four other City Council members of forming an unethical "voting bloc [that] puts the 49ers' interests ahead of the city's interests." Becker denied the allegations, arguing, "It's basically gossip, cherry picked evidence, rehash newspaper stories and campaign slogans."
● GA-Sen: Georgia Honor, which is an affiliate of the Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC, announced Wednesday that it has reserved an additional $8.8 million for ads ahead of the Dec. 6 runoff, which brings its total bookings to $13.5 million for the second round. The news comes on the heels of the GOP-aligned Senate Leadership Fund announcing its own $14.2 million reservation, though unlike its Republican counterparts, Georgia Honor’s move wasn’t accompanied by public party infighting on Twitter.
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, meanwhile, is airing new ads designed to appeal both to voters who selected GOP Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this month and anyone who wants to move on from the Trump era. One spot stars a woman saying that, while she was “proud” to back Kemp, “The more I heard about Herschel Walker, I became concerned about his honesty, his hypocrisy, but also just his ability to lead. I just can’t get past Herschel Walker’s lack of character.”
The other is just footage of Trump praising Walker at his Tuesday 2024 kickoff event, with on-screen text imploring the viewer to stop them both.
● CA-11, MD-05, SC-06: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn all announced Thursday that they'd be stepping down from their posts as the top three Democrats in the House but would continue to represent their safely blue seats in the new 118th Congress.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said Thursday that he would not challenge Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the crowded Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary, a decision that resolves perhaps the last major question hanging over this contest going into the Nov. 28 filing deadline.
● Denver, CO Mayor: Former state Sen. Mike Johnston announced Wednesday that he was joining the packed April 4 nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out Mayor Michael Hancock.
Johnston raised a serious amount of money when he competed in the 2018 Democratic primary to succeed John Hickenlooper as governor, and his allied PAC received another $2 million from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who like Johnston is a major supporter of gun safety measures and expanding charter schools. Johnston ended up taking third place in the primary, though, with Jared Polis beating him 44-24 statewide and 37-29 in Denver.
Johnston went on to enter the 2020 primary to face GOP Sen. Cory Gardner but dropped out shortly after Hickenlooper entered the contest. The former state senator later took over as head of a major nonprofit focused on housing and education issues. Last week Johnston's group, Gary Community Ventures, spearheaded Proposition 123, a statewide ballot measure to dedicate 0.1% of income tax revenue to affordable housing programs: Prop. 123 won 53-47 statewide and prevailed 70-30 in Denver.