YouGov’s survey was in the field from Nov. 18-28, which, while still within the 14 day maximum we require for inclusion in the Digest, is still quite a while. The poll was also released a week after it was completed, so it wouldn't capture any developments from the final days of voting.
InsiderAdvantage’s Dec. 4 numbers are fresher, though by only polling for a single day, it reduces its chances of reaching a representative sample of voters. That’s indeed something the firm struggled with ahead of the November elections, as it produced some very overly optimistic numbers for GOP candidates in races across the nation. (Amusingly, InsiderAdvantage Chairman Matt Towery wrote in October, “Incumbents don’t win runoffs in Georgia,” which is not true; Towery now says, “It is also becoming obvious that Democrats are better at focusing on ballot collection in Georgia runoffs.”)
Both parties have poured serious amounts into the second round, but Democrats have enjoyed a truly massive financial advantage over the last four weeks. AdImpact says that Warnock outspent Walker $27.3 million to $11.5 million in advertising, while Democratic outside groups walloped their GOP counterparts $29.9 million to $15.8 million. Warnock had a similarly lopsided $71.1 million to $30.3 million edge in the leadup to the Nov. 8 contest, though GOP organizations back then led Democratic super PACs $89.9 million to $64.3 million.
Warnock is closing out the runoff with an ad touting his humble origins and independence from special interests, as well as an offering where a diverse group of voters say they can’t back Walker. Warnock’s allies at Georgia Honor also launched a spot during Saturday’s SEC Championship Game between Walker’s old University of Georgia team and Louisiana State University bemoaning how far the Republican went from being a “Georgia football legend” to a disgrace.
The commercial goes on to play a clip of Walker’s ex-wife saying, “He held the gun to my temple and said … he was gonna blow my brains out,” as well as a former girlfriend alleging that Walker threatened violence if she didn’t have an abortion.
Walker himself is closing out his campaign with a spot featuring Gov. Brian Kemp praising him. Politico, though, notes that Kemp himself didn’t actually campaign with his party’s nominee during the final week of the runoff.
So why exactly does Georgia require a runoff for general elections where no one earned a majority in November? The Washington Post’s Matthew Brown explains that the idea came about after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Jim Crow-era county unit system, which gave small and predominantly white rural counties disproportionate influence over elections, in 1962.
A new system was successfully promoted in 1964 by segregationist state Rep. Denmark Groover, who had returned to the legislature a few years after losing re-election to an opponent who won with a plurality after consolidating Black support. It was widely understood at the time that Groover’s runoff plan was aimed at hurting Black voters, something he himself acknowledged decades later.
The law, thanks to what Brown calls a “19th century legal quirk,” initially didn’t apply to the governor’s race, where the legislature still was empowered to pick the winner if no one earned a majority. The Democratic-dominated legislature did indeed select segregationist Lester Maddox in 1966 even though Republican Bo Callaway actually earned more votes than him, but a referendum two years later extended the runoff rules to this office.
The Justice Department, citing Groover’s own testimony about his racist intentions, sued in the early 1990s along with the American Civil Liberties Union to abolish the general election runoff system, arguing that it was aimed at hurting Black voters. However, the courts kept it intact: As one expert witness from that case tells Brown, “The judge was willing to believe that while Groover was a racist, he wasn’t responsible for this system.”
This worked out badly for the Democrats in 1992 when Sen. Wyche Fowler was forced into a second round of voting after outpacing Republican Paul Coverdell 49-48 only for Coverdell to prevail 51-49 in overtime. The Democratic legislature, rather than scrap the runoff altogether, changed the law to only require it in races where no one earned at least 45%, a move that allowed Democrat Max Cleland to win the 1996 Senate race outright with a 49-48 plurality.
This lasted until 2005 when Republicans, who controlled both chambers of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, once again required candidates to win a majority of the vote to avert a runoff. And sure enough, Republican candidates for years performed considerably better in the second round: In 2008, most notably, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss initially led by just 3 points before winning his runoff by 15. And further downballot in a 2006 race for state Public Service Commission, Democratic incumbent David Burgess, who is Black, initially won a 49-46 plurality against Republican Chuck Eaton. But Eaton, who is white, won the runoff 52-48.
Things went far differently last cycle, though. While Republican candidates running in the November 2020 special election all-party primary for Senate outpaced the combined Democratic vote 49-48, Warnock himself beat appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler 51-49 the following January. Republican Sen. David Perdue also went from a 49.7-47.9 advantage over Democrat Jon Ossoff in the contest for a full six-year term to a 50.6-49.4 defeat.
Perdue responded by whining that the runoff itself was unfair, carping that Ossoff and Warnock "do not fairly represent most Georgians." Rather than just abolish that system, though, the GOP legislature simply slashed the time between the general election and a runoff from nine weeks to four, which in effect prevented any voters who newly registered after the general election from being able to vote in the runoff.
● CA-Sen: Politico's Jeremy White reports that three prominent House members are privately considering running for the Senate seat held by fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who has faced serious questions about her cognitive health all year and has not yet announced her 2024 plans: Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, and Katie Porter. It would be a surprise if Lee, who will be 78 on Election Day, ran statewide, though White says she'll spend the holidays thinking about what to do.
Rep. Adam Schiff previously confirmed that he's thinking about running in the top-two primary as well; however, the list of potential candidates certainly goes far beyond these four names. Former Sen. Barbara Boxer told White, "They're starting to call me to get ready for what is a massive campaign―truly, massively expensive and hard-fought," adding, "It will be a very crowded field."
Feinstein herself hasn't announced her own plans, and while it would be a surprise if she sought another term, White writes that "people who know her say she bridles at being backed into a corner." So far, he says, Feinstein's would-be successors have "avoided overt positioning," though California political observers predict they'll become far more obvious about their intentions before much longer. Boxer herself acknowledged, "Anyone who's interested in this, with full respect to Sen. Feinstein, should start securing the support they need."
There's also the possibility that Feinstein resigns early and allows Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint her successor. The governor two years ago picked Alex Padilla to replace Vice President Kamala Harris but pledged to choose a Black woman if he got to fill the other Senate seat. White notes that Newsom vetted Lee last time and writes she "has long been seen as a top contender to win an appointment" to succeed Feinstein.
● IN-Sen, MT-Sen, OH-Sen: Politico surveys some of the prospective GOP Senate candidates and gives us some new information about a few.
The story reports that unnamed Republicans in Indiana are "looking at" fielding Jennifer-Ruth Green, an Air Force veteran who was the party's nominee last month for the 1st District, for the open Senate seat. There's no word yet if Green, who lost an expensive contest to Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan 53-47, is interested in a statewide bid herself.
Over in Montana, Rep.-elect Ryan Zinke says of a potential campaign against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, "I'm gonna make the decision after we get this budget through … If it happens, it happens." Zinke didn't say anything more of his timeline except, "There's plenty of time."
Finally, Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson expressed interest in taking on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown by saying, "Once we get our momentum going there [in the House], I do plan to take a look at it." Davidson, a hardliner who was elected in 2016 to replace former Speaker John Boehner, spent months last year flirting with a primary challenge to Gov. Mike DeWine only to eventually pass on the idea.
● TX-Sen: The Dallas Morning News' Gromer Jeffers relays that the idea of Rep. Colin Allred challenging GOP incumbent Ted Cruz "is creating buzz among Democrats," though there's no word on Allred's level of interest.
● IN-Gov: Former state Education Superintendent Jennifer McCormick says she could decide in "early 2023" whether to seek the Democratic nomination for governor. McCormick, a former Republican who left the party in 2021, formed an exploratory committee last month.
On the Republican side, Politico relays that Attorney General Todd Rokita is indeed thinking about running to succeed termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb in addition to the Senate seat that Mike Braun is giving up to run for governor. We've gotten some decidedly mixed signals about what Rokita is leaning toward doing over the last few weeks: Unnamed insiders predicted to the Indianapolis Star that Rokita would just seek re-election rather than seek a promotion, while Howey Politics' sources suggested that the attorney general was interested in campaigning to succeed Braun.
We still haven't heard anything from Rokita himself, though, to shed some light on his thinking. Rokita, who previously served four terms in the House, ran for the Senate in 2018 but took second to Braun in the primary.
● WV-Gov: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito has endorsed Del. Moore Capito, who just happens to be her son and namesake, in the 2024 Republican primary to succeed termed-out Gov. Jim Justice.
● WI State Senate: State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, an election conspiracy theorist who was recently banned from attending the GOP caucus' private meetings after she supported an unsuccessful primary challenge to Speaker Robin Vos, announced Monday that she would compete in the special election to succeed former Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling.
Brandtjen will take on fellow state Rep. Dan Knodl, who also represents one-third of this constituency (Wisconsin "nests" three Assembly districts in each Senate district), in the Feb. 21 partisan primary. The Democrat who serves the balance of Darling's old 8th District, state Rep. Deb Andraca, is not running, though prospective contenders have until Jan. 3 to submit their paperwork. The general election will be April 4, which is the same day as the statewide contest for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Dallas, TX Mayor: Although former Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa has been talked about for almost a year as a potential opponent for Mayor Eric Johnson, he announced Sunday that he'd stay out of the May nonpartisan race. It remains to be seen if Johnson, who is one of the more prominent Democrats in Texas, will face any serious opposition.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: Metro Council member Sharon Hurt, who holds an at-large seat on Nashville's legislative body, announced Monday that she'd challenge Mayor John Cooper in the August nonpartisan contest. The Nashville Post previously described Hurt as "one of the higher-profile" Black elected officials in the city, and she'd be the first African American to lead this solidly blue community.
Hurt joins fellow Council member Freddie O'Connell, who represents downtown Nashville, and former economic development chief Matt Wiltshire ahead of the May filing deadline. Cooper, who is the brother of outgoing Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, has not yet announced if he'll seek re-election, but he's been raising money to prepare a campaign. A runoff would take place in September should no one earn a majority of the vote.
Cooper won this post in 2019 when he scored a 69-30 landslide against incumbent David Briley, which made Briley the first incumbent mayor to lose re-election since the city of Nashville and Davidson County consolidated to form what's known as the "Metro" government in 1962. Cooper positioned himself as a pragmatist who would "work for all Nashvillians" and support policies that would promote growth in all of the city's neighborhoods, but his opponents are arguing he hasn't kept that promise.
Hurt kicked off her bid by declaring, "I will fight for all people, and no one can be left behind as Nashville experiences astronomical growth and a lack of affordable housing." O'Connell, meanwhile, launched his campaign back in April by faulting the Cooper administration for failing to do enough to help the unhoused and improve public transportation, while Wiltshire said in July that he was running because "I have heard from people across the county on their concerns about the cost of living, the strains of growth on our infrastructure and transit, education and public safety."
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: State Rep. Amen Brown revealed Friday that he'd enter the May Democratic primary for mayor of Philadelphia … at a New York City cigar bar full of several prominent Republicans. Brown's announcement was actually made by prominent developer Marty Burger, who has reportedly predicted the state representative will have $5 million in super PAC support, at the Pennsylvania Society's annual Manhattan gathering.
Brown himself delivered his pitch to an actual smoke-filled room alongside Burger to a gathering that the Philadelphia Inquirer writes included George Bochetto, a failed 2020 U.S. Senate candidate who next month will serve as the state House Republicans' attorney as they try to remove Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner from office; former state GOP chair Val DiGiorgio; and former GOP state House Speaker John Perzel. The paper notes that the informal kickoff was also attended by former Democratic state Sen. Vince Fumo who, like Perzel, served time in prison after being convicted of corruption charges.
The paper previously noted that Brown, who was first elected in 2020, "angered progressives as a rookie by introducing legislation for new mandatory-minimum jail sentences for some gun crimes." The state representative's re-election campaign faced a big obstacle this year when a trio of voters tried to get him thrown off the ballot for failing to meet residence requirements and not disclosing mandatory information about his finances, but a court ruled that Brown could remain listed because he "merely committed a mistake resulting from the lackadaisical attitude he routinely displays toward serious matters."
Brown went on to win renomination just 40-38 after he received support from a super PAC funded by conservative mega donor Jeff Yass. Brown said last month that, while "many people have reached out to me about my political aspirations and future in government and city politics," Yass isn't one of them.
Brown is the ninth notable Democrat to join the primary to succeed termed-out Mayor Jim Kenney, and it's possible he'll be the last. That's because, as we recently wrote, campaign donation limits reset at the start of each calendar year, so anyone who jumps in after Dec. 31 would miss out on the chance to take in contributions in 2022. It only takes a simple plurality to win the Democratic nod in a dark blue city that last elected a Republican mayor in 1947.
● Jim Kolbe: Former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe, who is one of the few gay Republicans to ever serve in Congress, died Saturday at the age of 80. Kolbe, who came out in 1996 about halfway through his 22-year tenure, stood out for opposing his party’s increasingly conservative stances on abortion, LGBTQ rights, and immigration, and he backed Joe Biden in 2020 two years after becoming an independent.
Kolbe began his life in politics as a teenager when he served as a page for Republican Barry Goldwater, his home state senator and the 1964 presidential nominee, and he later earned a congressional medal for valor for his service with the Navy in Vietnam. Kolbe won a state Senate seat in 1976 and sought a promotion six years later in the newly created 5th Congressional District around Tucson. He lost that contest 50-48 to Democrat Jim McNulty but prevailed 51-48 in a 1984 rematch that coincided with Ronald Reagan’s national landslide, a victory that made Kolbe the first Republican to ever represent a southern Arizona House seat.
Kolbe was mostly known nationally for his advocacy for NAFTA until 1996, when he revealed he was gay shortly after LGBTQ groups threatened to out him following his vote for the Defense of Marriage Act. He also defended DOMA as reflecting the view of his constituents and said, “That I am a gay person has never affected the way that I legislate.” Kolbe soon told the Tucson Citizen of his announcement, “Others made the decision for me. They decided this was the time. I decided that I would prefer to make this public on my own terms, rather than have others do it for me.”
Kolbe’s declaration came two years after Wisconsin Rep. Steve Gunderson won re-election after being outed by a fellow Republican. Gunderson and Massachusetts Rep. Gerry Studds, a Democrat who was the first member of Congress to publicly identify as gay, both retired that year, which briefly left just Kolbe and Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank as the only two openly LGBTQ members in the body until Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin won in 1998. (Another colleague of Kolbe's, Florida Republican Mark Foley, would come out after resigning in disgrace in 2006.)
Kolbe, who easily won his primary and the general election in 1996 against weak opponents, largely played down the historic nature of his service, telling a GOP LGBTQ group the next year, “Being gay was not—and is not today—my defining persona.” Kolbe in 1998 faced the first serious re-election fight of his career when he went up against former Tucson Mayor Tom Volgy, a Democrat who portrayed the incumbent as too close to special interests, but he won 52-45.
Kolbe, who would publicly regret his vote for DOMA, broke with his party by co-sponsoring bills to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the military and by opposing a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In 2004 he faced one final competitive race when state Rep. Randy Graf ran against him in the GOP primary in what was now numbered the 8th District. Graf notably opposed same-sex marriage, but the challenger largely emphasized his hardline anti-immigration positions during their campaign.
Kolbe prevailed 57-43 ahead of one more easy general election contest, and he announced his retirement the next year. Graf went on to win the open seat primary, but he badly lost to Democrat Gabby Giffords after Kolbe refused to back his old primary foe.
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