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 final Live Digest of 2022 will be on Friday, while the year's last Morning Digest will be going out Monday. We'll be back in early January!
● VA-04: Del. Lamont Bagby ended his three-day old campaign to win the Democratic nomination on Thursday by endorsing state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, a move that observers quickly interpreted as an attempt to ensure that a different state senator, the scandal-ridden, anti-abortion Joe Morrissey, doesn't win next Tuesday’s special firehouse primary.
While Bagby didn’t mention Morrissey by name as he explained his decision to leave the contest to succeed the late Rep. Donald McEachin in this safely blue seat, he said he “want[s] to be an example that sometimes you have to sacrifice for the greater good.” Morrissey, meanwhile, once again threw around evidence-free allegations insinuating that Democratic leaders were trying to get McClellan nominated and pledged to continue on to Tuesday.
Several other prominent Democrats followed Bagby's lead and quickly consolidated behind McClellan. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who was arguably Bagby’s most prominent ally, endorsed McClellan right after Bagby dropped out, while four previously neutral figures, Sen. Mark Warner and Reps. Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria, and Bobby Scott, did so later in the day. McClellan had already earned the backing of Sen. Tim Kaine and Northern Virginia Reps. Don Beyer, Jennifer Wexton, and Gerry Connolly earlier in the week, giving her the support of every Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation, while EMILY’s List endorsed McClellan shortly before Bagby did.
Morrissey, for his part, is counting on a very different base of support to carry him to the Democratic nomination. The state senator is running a radio ad starring conservative radio host John Fredericks, a Big Lie spreader who owns the radio network where Morrissey has his own show. Fredericks, unsurprisingly, tells Republican listeners to cast a ballot in the Democratic nomination contest for the “pro-life” and “fiscal conservative” Morrissey. Not all Republicans are so high on Morrissey, though: State Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “He is a disgrace as a 'public servant.'”
The Democratic field also includes former Del. Joseph Preston and insurance business owner Tavorise Marks. Further contenders could still get in ahead of Friday’s noon filing deadline, though any prospective candidates would need to submit signatures from 150 registered voters. One person who will not be running, though, is retiring Petersburg City Councilor Treska Wilson-Smith, who just said no to a bid.
● FL-Sen: An unnamed GOP operative recently suggested Rep. Byron Donalds to The Hill as a potential 2024 primary rival for Sen. Rick Scott following his disastrous term as NRSC chair and failed challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, though there's no indication that Donalds or any other prominent Republicans are actually thinking about taking on the extremely rich incumbent.
One of Scott's allies played down the possibility, arguing, "Anyone talking about a primary challenge from the right against Sen. Scott because he stood by the candidates selected by Republican primary voters and challenged the least popular Republican in the country among Republican voters for leader is even dumber than they look."
● IN-Sen: Juliegrace Brufke of the conservative Washington Examiner relays that an unnamed source says that retiring Rep. Trey Hollingsworth is indeed "seriously considering" running to succeed Sen. Mike Braun, a fellow Republican who is campaigning for governor. That would be quite an about-face for Hollingsworth, who in January explained his unexpected decision to retire after just three terms by saying, "I ran for Congress to return this government to the people from the career politicians who had broken it, and I will be damned if I become one in the process."
● WI-Sen: The Dispatch's Audrey Fahlberg asked Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher Wednesday about his interest in taking on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and the congressman didn't exactly shut the door on the idea. Gallagher instead said a Senate campaign was "not on my mind," adding, "I just got appointed chair of the Select Committee on China, so fully focused on that. There's no hidden conspiracy here." Fahlberg recognized this was not a no, tweeting, "Politicians deflect all the time about their aspirations."
● MA-Gov: In a surprise, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Thursday that outgoing Republican Charlie Baker would become its new president about two months after his term as governor of Massachusetts ends in early January. Baker, who played basketball at Harvard in the 1970s, was suggested by Boston Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy for the job.
Baker won't be the first former governor to head a powerful sports organization. Kentucky Democrat Happy Chandler resigned from the Senate in 1945 to become the second-ever commissioner of baseball: Chandler later returned to electoral politics by regaining his old post as governor.
● NC-11: Defeated Rep. Madison Cawthorn is ending his short congressional career in true Madison Cawthorn fashion by getting sued by his own attorneys for failing to pay $193,000. The Bopp Law Firm represented the Republican as he defended himself from a lawsuit that argued his support for the Jan. 6 rioters made him ineligible to hold office under the U.S. Constitution.
● NV-01: Republican Mark Robertson, who lost to Democratic Rep. Dina Titus 52-46 last month, has filed paperwork with the FEC to raise money for a potential rematch. Robertson does not appear to have said anything publicly yet about his 2024 plans.
● PA State House: Bryan Cutler, the leader of Pennsylvania's House Republicans, announced Thursday that he was purportedly scheduling the special elections for two vacant Democratic-held state House seats, the 34th and 35th Districts, for May 16, a move that comes a week after Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton set them for Feb. 7. McClinton argues she has the authority to do this because her party won 102 of the 203 seats on Nov. 8, while Cutler says he’s in charge because the GOP will have more members when the new legislature meets Jan. 3 because of those vacancies.
A third seat, the 32nd District, is also vacant, but the dueling leaders both said it should be filled on Feb. 7; however, they each dispute that the other has the authority to actually schedule the contest. Both the Department of State (which is run by an appointee of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf) and election officials in Allegheny County—where all three seats are located—have scheduled all three races for Feb. 7.
Republicans filed a lawsuit last week seeking to block McClinton’s chosen dates, and the verdict could have serious consequences even if Democrats end up holding all three of these constituencies. The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson writes that Democrats are afraid that if the GOP gets control of the speakership next month, they’d rewrite the rules to keep it even if Democrats prevail in all three special elections; Cutler, in the words of Robertson, insisted that “such speculation was premature,” which is anything but a denial of his intentions.
And as pointed out by Pennsylvania election law attorney Adam Bonin, who works with state Democrats, a Republican House would have the chance to place an anti-abortion constitutional amendment before voters during the May 2023 primary. This measure would amend the state’s governing document to say, “This constitution does not grant the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.”
The GOP is also looking to advance other amendments to require voter ID and to enhance the legislature’s power. State law requires both chambers to pass a proposed amendment during two successive sessions of the legislature with an election in between before it can get on the ballot. The GOP already began the process with a vote in favor of these amendments following the 2020 elections, but if the state House can’t pass them a second time, Republicans (who currently run the state Senate) would need to wait until they hold both chambers again before starting the process once more from scratch.
● WI State Senate: Here's a true blast from the past: Former Wisconsin state Sen. Randy Hopper, who was ousted in a major 2011 recall campaign, has announced that he'll compete in the Feb. 21 special election primary to succeed his old colleague and fellow Republican, Alberta Darling. Democrats are hoping to score a pickup here on April 4 that will deprive Republicans of their new supermajority in the upper chamber.
Hopper was elected in 2008 from a constituency around Fond du Lac, which is located to the northeast of Darling's former Senate District 8 in the Milwaukee suburbs, and he attracted national attention in 2011 when he helped pass Republican Gov. Scott Walker's infamous anti-labor legislation. Both Hopper and Darling were among the group of six Republican state senators who had to defend their seats from recall efforts that summer, and while Darling held on, things didn't go so well for Hopper.
The contest began poorly for the incumbent when his estranged wife both said she'd signed a recall petition against him and declared Hopper had filed for divorce several months prior after she learned he was having an affair. The media also reported that Walker's administration had hired the woman identified as Hopper's girlfriend for a well-paying state job, a decision Hopper denied playing any role in.
Democrats weren't able to recall enough Republicans that August to take back the state Senate after Darling and three others prevailed, but they at least got the satisfaction of watching as Democrat Jessica King, who lost to Hopper by 163 votes in 2008, beat him 51-49. (Fellow Democrat Jennifer Shilling that night also ousted Dan Kapanke; Democrats briefly took the majority the next year when voters recalled another Republican state senator, Van Wanggaard.)
Hopper was back in the news a few months later when he was arrested for drunk driving, charges he claimed were politically motivated. He prevailed in court, though, and the former state senator, who now lives in the Milwaukee suburbs, has largely kept a low profile in the ensuing decade until now.
Hopper joins a primary that includes Thiensville Village President Van Mobley and two state representatives: Janel Brandtjen, an election conspiracy theorist who was recently banned from attending the GOP caucus' private meetings, and Dan Knodl, who is closer to the party leadership. Environmental attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin, meanwhile, currently has the Democratic primary to herself.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Allegheny County, PA Executive: Three more candidates announced this week that they were competing in the May party primary to succeed their fellow Democrat, termed-out incumbent Rich Fitzgerald, as head of Pennsylvania's second-most populous county: County Council Member Olivia Bennett, attorney Dave Fawcett, and state Rep. Sara Innamorato. The trio joins Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb and former congressional candidate Erin McClelland, in a contest where it takes just a simple plurality to win the all-important Democratic nod in this dark blue community.
Bennett would be both the first woman and first African American to lead Allegheny County since it began electing its county executive in 1999. Bennett, who was a local activist before she was elected in 2019, kicked off her campaign by declaring, "I have fought for workers, the incarcerated, and those who don't have a voice to fight for themselves … I worked to lower the population in the jail, to protect our most vulnerable in the pandemic."
Fawcett, for his part, served on the Council as a Republican from 2000 to 2007, and he joined the Democratic Party a few years later before waging an aborted 2016 bid for attorney general. WESA, though, notes that Fawcett may be better known for his work as a lawyer against the infamous coal baron Don Blankenship: In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Fawcett in a decision saying that judges cannot hear cases concerning one of their major donors. Fawcett, who also served as the ACLU's lawyer in its suit against the county Jail over conditions for pregnant inmates, also pledged to support criminal justice reforms as county executive.
The final new arrival is Innamorato, who launched her campaign with endorsements from two prominent local allies: Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Rep.-elect Summer Lee. Innamorato rose to prominence in 2018 when the Democratic Socialists of America member defeated incumbent Dom Costa for renomination, a victory that came the same night Lee scored an upset of her own against another Costa brother. Innamorato, who would also be the first woman to lead Allegheny County, emphasized local criminal justice reforms as well in her kickoff.
● Jacksonville, FL Mayor: Democrats are hoping to end Jacksonville's status as the largest city in America with a Republican mayor, but new campaign finance reports underscore just how tough it will be to win next year's race to succeed termed-out incumbent Lenny Curry. The nonpartisan primary takes place March 21, and, unless one candidate wins a majority, the top two vote-getters will advance to the May 16 general.
That's because the two contenders with access to by far the most money are both Republicans, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis and City Councilmember LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber. Davis, whose kickoff was attended by none other than Curry, began raising money all the way back in January of 2021, and the former council member finished November with $4.5 million split between his campaign and leadership committee.
Cumber, whom Florida Politics says has the backing of "various anti-Lenny Curry Republicans" in local government, had $2.8 million available. Cumber, whose fundraising efforts also started last year, has emphasized her opposition to Curry's successful 2021 effort to raise the local gas tax from 6 to 12 cents per gallon, and her PAC has already run digital ads declaring that Davis "led the charge to double the gas tax." The only other notable Republican in the race is Al Ferraro, a fellow councilmember who only had $240,000.
On the Democratic side, former local TV anchor Donna Deegan leads in fundraising with about $590,000 between her campaign and committee. Deegan, who is a former local TV anchor, entered the race one year after she challenged Republican Rep. John Rutherford in the old 4th District: Rutherford turned her back 61-39 as Donald Trump was taking that constituency by a similar 60-39 spread.
Deegan's main intra-party rival is state Sen. Audrey Gibson, who has about $250,000 available. Gibson, who is Black, has a history of doing well in heavily African American areas, which could give her a boost in a city where 55% of registered Democrats are Black. The filing deadline is Jan. 13, but it would be a surprise if there were any new notable contenders over the next month.
Republicans seized control of city hall for the first time in a century when Mayor Ed Austin switched parties while in office in 1993, and they've only lost one mayoral election since then. That defeat came in 2011 when Democrat Alvin Brown scored a major upset in an open seat contest, a win that also made him Jax's first Black chief executive. Curry, though, retook this post four years later by narrowly unseating Brown 51-49.
Democrats over the last decade had been gaining ground in Jacksonville, which has been consolidated with Duval County since 1968. Both Sen. Bill Nelson and gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum took the city in 2018 even as they were narrowly losing statewide, while Joe Biden's 51-47 victory two years later made him the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry Duval County since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
In 2022, though, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio took Jacksonville 54-45, while GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis won it 55-44. Both those showings still put Duval County to the left of the state as a whole, though that may not have been much comfort to local Democrats especially as they lost the special election for sheriff 55-45.
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: Grocer Jeff Brown is spending what the Philadelphia Inquirer reports is $100,000 for a one-week opening TV buy, a move that comes shortly after his allied PAC sank $150,000 into the first TV ads of the packed May Democratic primary.
One Brown ad commends him for putting his stores in "underserved neighborhoods," which the narrator says "became a national model to combat poverty." The other features the first-time candidates arguing that city government is failing, with one person saying that "anybody from City Council, they've all sat on their hands." Four of Brown's eight intra-party rivals just happen to be former City Council members.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Prosecutors and Sheriffs: Bolts has assembled a calendar for 2023's races for county prosecutor and sheriff, and Daniel Nichanian explains what's up for grabs in an accompanying post.
Several district attorneys in dark blue areas may face Democratic primary fights from criminal justice reformers, though these contests are still taking shape. One big race to watch will likely be in Pennsylvania's Allegheny County, where Nichanian describes incumbent Stephen Zappala, who has held office for 24 years, as "a vocal critic of criminal justice reforms amid significant racial disparities in his office."
There will also be some big contests in Northern Virginia's Loudoun County. Commonwealth's Attorney Buta Biberaj was one of several progressives elected in 2019, and conservatives began trying to collect enough signatures to recall her and her fellow like-minded prosecutors two years later. Biberaj in June took to the Washington Post to write, "This recall attempt is intended to intimidate me and prevent me from doing the job Loudoun County voters elected me to do."
Sheriff Mike Chapman, a Republican whom Nichanian says "has drawn scrutiny for accepting campaign donations from private contractors that work with his office, a common practice among jailors," is also up in Loudoun County. And over in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, Republican Sheriff Sid Gautreaux is up for another term in a post where he administers what Bolts says is "a jail with infamously dangerous conditions."
There's a whole lot more on the ballot next year across the country, and you can find more at Nichanian's story. We'll also be covering these and other big criminal justice elections as they unfold in the new year.
● Babka: With Raphael Warnock’s triumphant victory in the Georgia’s Senate runoff election, we can now unveil the winners of the 2022 Daily Kos Elections prediction contest! As you may recall, we asked you to submit your predictions for the winners in 10 Senate, 29 House, and 12 gubernatorial races, as well as six downballot deep cuts ranging from ballot initiatives to judicial elections.
Ultimately, it was a three-way tie for first place, with users kloechner, Rubyclaire, and egamaunt scoring 49 points each (out of a total possible 57 points)! After a tiebreaker round—where we asked entrants to submit their guesses for the first-round results in Alaska’s at-large congressional district—kloechner finished first overall, with the lowest error score of 3.1, followed by Rubyclaire with 4.5, and egamaunt with 51.9.
Rounding out the top four was Xamtishado, who finished just behind at 48 points and a tiebreaker score of 2.9. All four winners will receive gift baskets from Green’s Bakery!
If you’d like to see how you stacked up, you can find our full spreadsheet of the results here. In total, we had over 600 entries. Overall, you were a smartly optimistic bunch: The median score was 42. For the tiebreaker, the median error was 20 points. You can also find out how entrants did overall on each question by checking out the shaded “Percent Correct” row. At one extreme, fully 98% of you correctly guessed the outcome of Colorado’s Senate race, while at the other, just 10% said that DCCC chair Sean Maloney would lose re-election. On average, 72% of participants got each question right.
Thanks again to all who entered, and a special thank you to our generous sponsor, GreensBabka.com! We’ll be in touch with the winners shortly to arrange for the delivery of your delicious baked goods!