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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This is the last Digest of the 2022! We hope you all enjoyed yourselves, and we'll see you all again in January of 2023!
● Wow. That was a hell of an election, wasn't it? Democrats defied almost every expectation and historical precedent to rack up thunderous wins across the country, rebuking GOP extremism and safeguarding democracy. And every step of the way, Daily Kos Elections was there.
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● NC Redistricting: On Friday, the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down the Republican-drawn state Senate map in a 4-3 ruling along party lines. The Democratic majority held that the state constitution prohibits partisan gerrymandering and concluded that GOP mapmakers ran afoul of this ban by systematically advantaging Republican voters over Democrats. However, the court upheld the map for the state House that plaintiffs were also challenging, though in a separate ruling handed down the same day, it also struck down the voter ID law that Republicans passed in a 2018 lame-duck session for intentionally discriminating against Black voters.
While the high court sent the Senate case back to a lower court to oversee the drawing of new districts, it's doubtful whether we'll see a fairer map in 2024. That's because Republicans flipped two seats on the Supreme Court in this year's elections and gained a 5-2 majority, which will be far more hostile to efforts to curb GOP gerrymandering.
Furthermore, Republicans firmly maintained their legislative majorities last month—thanks in key part to those same gerrymandered districts—and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper lacks the power to veto congressional or legislative redistricting. GOP lawmakers will therefore almost certainly have the opportunity to pass their own tilted maps regardless of what the courts do next.
With that reality in mind, the Supreme Court expressly emphasized that the state House map is now final for the rest of the decade, since North Carolina's constitution prohibits mid-decade legislative redistricting by lawmakers. That statement was a judicial warning shot toward Republican leaders, who are reportedly eyeing a redraw of the legislative maps beyond just the changes needed to remedy this latest ruling.
Regardless, GOP legislators will already have a chance to pass a new extreme gerrymander of the state's congressional map for 2024 and beyond, since the nonpartisan map that the state courts previously implemented to replace the GOP's prior gerrymander was only intended to be used in 2022.
● LA-Gov: Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has confirmed that he'd run against Attorney General Jeff Landry in next year's all-party primary if their fellow Republican, Sen. John Kennedy, sits the contest out, and he was not subtle about why. Nungesser told NOLA.com's Tyler Bridges of Kennedy, "If he runs, it's a big problem for Jeff," before adding, "If he doesn't, I have to run. Jeff is not a good person."
The lieutenant governor has said his announcement will take place on Jan. 10, which is his birthday, while Kennedy will reveal his own plans sometime next month. Bridges writes that "[m]ost people who know Kennedy believe he'll stay out, noting that he has considered running for governor every four years beginning in 2003 and has opted not to each time." (Kennedy was still four years away from leaving the Democratic Party when those flirtations began.)
A few sources, however, do think that 2023 will actually be the year that the senator goes for it, as he's already released a pair of polls showing him well ahead. Bridges adds that Kennedy has "harbored gubernatorial ambitions dating to when he ran to be governor of Pelican Boys State in 1968 as a teenager," a contest he lost.
Landry, who as far as we know has never tried to run Pelican Boys State, is making it clear he won't end his campaign even if he needs to get past Kennedy. Personal injury lawyer Hunter Lundy, an independent who is the only other declared contender, also tells Bridges he's in no matter what. Two Republican legislators, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt and state Rep. Richard Nelson, additionally say Kennedy won't impact their own deliberations.
● NC-Gov: Differentiators Data, a new Republican pollster run by two former state Senate aides, has released a survey showing Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson demolishing a trio of foes in very hypothetical one-on-one GOP primary matchups:
60-21 vs. former Gov. Pat McCrory
58-8 vs. former Rep. Mark Walker
60-6 vs. state Treasurer Dale Folwell
None of these people are currently running to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, though local political observers have long anticipated that the far-right Robinson, who would be North Carolina's first Black chief executive, will campaign for the job.
Robinson, who narrowly won in 2020 even after his history of antisemitic, Islamophobic, and transphobic screeds surfaced, recently published a memoir where he wrote, "While I have not declared for that race, we are making plans to make a strong run should I decide to." He also used that tome to reiterate his extremist views, including his belief that "[j]ust as we brought an end to slavery for the causes of liberty and justice, we must end abortion for the cause of life."
Folwell himself also expressed interest in September, though we haven't heard anything from him about his 2024 plans since. However, we haven't seen any indication that McCrory, who lost this year's Senate primary to eventual winner Ted Budd in a 59-25 drubbing, will try to retake his old job. Fox 8's Steve Doyle wrote last month that Walker "has been circumspect when asked if he plans to run," though he took just 9% in that Senate contest.
One person who wasn't polled is state House Speaker Tim Moore, who declined to rule anything out in August. "I'm running for speaker of the House," Moore responded at the time to questions about his interest in campaigning for governor.
On the Democratic side, Attorney General Josh Stein, who would be the Tar Heel State's first Jewish governor, has long been talked about as a likely contender. Stein himself has avoided saying much about his plans, though he's already positioned himself as an alternative to Robinson. "I don't believe that gay people are 'filth,'" he said in September. "I don't believe that women are second-class citizens and that men should be the ones who lead. I don't believe that abortion in every single instance is murder."
Back in August, state House Minority Leader Robert Reives didn't rule out the idea, either; Reives, who would also be the state's first Black governor, doesn't appear to have said anything about it following his re-election win, however.
Several other people have been mentioned as possibilities, though they've shown no public interest. Doyle last month name dropped Rep.-elect Jeff Jackson, whose new seat is in danger of being gerrymandered by Republicans, and 2022 Senate nominee Cheri Beasley.
A primary poll done in October for the progressive organization Carolina Forward also tested out former state Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen; the group explained it included her "because she's one of the more prominent Democrats in the state." Cohen, who accepted a job in Maryland in early 2022, responded when WNCN asked for comment about the survey by merely writing back, "Thanks for sharing this poll – I had not seen it."
● VA-04: Candidate filing closed Friday fours days ahead of the special Democratic firehouse primary, and there were no final arrivals or dropouts. The four Democrats competing to succeed the late Rep. Donald McEachin are:
- insurance business owner Tavorise Marks
- State Sen. Jennifer McClellan
- State Sen. Joe Morrissey
- former Del. Joseph Preston
McClellan has the backing of the state's entire Democratic congressional delegation as well as her former rival, Del. Lamont Bagby, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. The scandal-ridden Morrissey, by contrast, is running radio ads where conservative radio host John Fredericks tells Republican listeners to cast a ballot in the Democratic nomination contest for the "pro-life" and "fiscal conservative" contender.
It takes a simple plurality to win Tuesday's firehouse primary, a party-run contest where voting will take place at eight different locations.
● AK State House: The Alaska Landmine's Jeff Landfield reports that several incoming members of the state House on Thursday seriously discussed breaking the ongoing impasse by forming a cross-party coalition of freshmen and a few sitting members, but the plan was prematurely divulged after an errant text went out to a Republican representative who is very much not open to the idea. One longtime operative told Landfield, "When you think it can't get any crazier, it always does."
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: The local pollster M3 Strategies, which did not disclose a client, has released numbers showing Mayor Lori Lightfoot taking third place in the Feb. 28 nonpartisan race. Rep. Chuy Garcia leads with 28%, while former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas edges out Lightfoot 19-15 for the second spot in the likely April general election.
Wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson grabs 13%, while no one else clears 3%; Fox 32 says Wilson's campaign paid M3 earlier in the year, though it's not clear if it's doing more work for him.
● Memphis, TN Mayor: Businessman J.W. Gibson II has filed paperwork to run in next year's busy race to succeed termed-out Mayor Jim Strickland, though he has not yet made an announcement. Gibson, who co-purchased the prominent New Daisy Theatre in 2019, joins a nonpartisan October race where there is no primary or runoff.
● Mercer County, NJ Executive: Assemblyman Dan Benson announced Wednesday that he would challenge his fellow Democrat, five-term incumbent Brian Hughes, in next year's contest to lead Mercer County, a dark-blue Central Jersey community that's home to both the state capital of Trenton and Princeton University. Each contender quickly showcased long lists of prominent backers, but the New Jersey Globe's Joey Fox writes that "the depth and breadth of Benson's support will be tough to match at the county Democratic convention."
That's important because that party gathering, which will take place sometime early next year, is where the important organization line will be awarded. Benson, Fox says, has pledged to continue to campaign in the June primary even if he fails to secure this, which is known as running "off-the-line." Hughes, by contrast, hasn't said what he'd do.
Whoever wins the endorsement of the county Democratic Party will be identified on the primary ballot with the slogan "Regular Democratic Organization" (or under a different slogan the chair picks), which is a big deal in a state where party machines are still powerful. Anyone who earns at least 40% of the delegates' vote will get to appear in the same column on the ballot as the endorsed candidate, though without that important slogan. Contenders who take less than that will be in a different column, which could put them at even more of a disadvantage. (You can see some examples from past ballots.)
Benson has in his corner Sheriff Jack Kemler, six of the seven members of the County Commission, and multiple local mayors and party officials. Hughes, for his part, sports endorsements from Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman and three state legislators.
● Salt Lake City, UT Mayor: Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson not only endorsed incumbent Erin Mendenhall in 2023 in a Thursday op-ed for the Salt Lake Tribune, she also used her piece to share exactly what she thinks of Mendenhall's main opponent, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson.
"Rocky was an unfocused mayor who created chaos at every turn," Wilson wrote, continuing, "He carries arrogance as a core element of his DNA that can't be checked, as evidence of this current foolhardy endeavor of seeking re-election." Both Mendenhall and Wilson are Democrats, while Anderson still belongs to the Justice Party he founded before he challenged President Barack Obama in 2012.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Allegheny County, PA District Attorney: Six-term incumbent Stephen Zappala announced Friday that he would seek re-election in this dark blue county, but CBS Pittsburgh's Jon Delano says that he's likely to face an intra-party challenge in May from Allegheny County Chief Public Defender Matt Dugan. Delano relays that Dugan is "expected to announce in mid-January" that he'll challenge Zappala in the May Democratic primary.
Zappala, as Bolts' Daniel Nichanian recently wrote, has been "a vocal critic of criminal justice reforms amid significant racial disparities in his office." The district attorney in 2019 turned back a primary challenge from his left 59-41, but he's only attracted more criticism from progressives since then.
Last year, for instance, Zappala earned national attention when he forbade his prosecutors from offering any plea deals to clients represented by a prominent Black attorney who called the district attorney's office "systematically racist." Several local elected officials responded by calling for Zappala to leave office: Then-state Rep. Summer Lee, who will soon represent about half of the county in Congress, tweeted, "Stephen Zappala must be removed immediately. Pass it along."
The district attorney did away with that policy after the backlash, but his critics have continued to fault his record. Jerry Dickinson, a law professor who lost this year's congressional primary to Lee, predicted to Delano that progressives looking to beat Zappala will cite how "data shows that a disproportionate number of Black men in the city of Pittsburgh are being arrested and prosecuted and convicted, and far too many unjust plea bargains."
However, Dickinson also argued that Zappala has moved to the left since he was first appointed to this post in 1998. Dickinson said that the incumbent has prosecuted police officers, though he's also highlighted his willingness to charge Black Lives Matter protestors. Zappala himself launched his re-election bid Friday by arguing, "[W]hen other areas of the country are failing, this area has not stepped backward at all."