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.
Subscribe to The Downballot, our weekly podcast
● LA-Gov: In a true surprise, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has opted to seek re-election rather than enter October's all-party primary to succeed term-limited Democrat John Bel Edwards as governor of Louisiana. This development came the same day that another Republican, state Treasurer John Schroder, launched his own gubernatorial bid. Nungesser's decision upends a race that already included Attorney General Jeff Landry, a far-right Republican whom the lieutenant governor is not fond of, and attorney Hunter Lundy, who is running as an independent.
Nungesser, while an ardent conservative, has worked well with Edwards in the past, and he'd intended to win over some of the Democrat's supporters had he sought a promotion. But now that Nungesser isn't running, it remains to be seen whether another Republican will attempt to secure that same type of crossover support by arguing they represent the best chance to keep Landry from winning the governor's mansion in this dark red state. In the likely event that no one secures a majority in October, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to a November runoff.
Local political observers have for years speculated that the Pelican State could host precisely this sort of Republican vs. Republican showdown between Nungesser and Landry. The only thing that seemed likely to deter Nungesser from jumping in was the possible candidacy of yet another prominent Republican, Sen. John Kennedy, but last week Kennedy said that he'd stay out of the governor's race. That move made Nungesser's decision to eschew the contest all the more unexpected, since just last month he telegraphed that he'd get in if Kennedy wouldn't, saying, "If he doesn't, I have to run. Jeff is not a good person."
Nungesser said he'd reveal his plans on his birthday Tuesday, and while he told LaPolitics twice last week that he had a "tough" decision to make, there didn't seem to be much suspense about what that decision would be. On Monday, though, The Advocate published a statement from Nungesser in which he wrote that he would run for re-election because he had "unfinished business" helping the state's tourism sector, which he oversees as lieutenant governor, in its efforts to recover from the pandemic and recent storms. (Why he thinks he couldn't help the tourism industry as governor is unclear.)
Schroder, meanwhile, did kick off his bid for governor Monday, hours before The Advocate published its report, a move that came a few days earlier than the Thursday launch date he'd originally planned. Schroder won his post in a 2017 special election, but he's fared poorly in the few polls we've seen for the race for governor. The most recent numbers came from a December internal for Nungesser that put Schroder at just 2%, though the lieutenant governor's absence could give his would-be rival an opening.
Schroder, however, spent the months leading up to his launch positioning himself as another conservative hardliner rather than a less-extreme Republican in the Nungesser mold. He notably tried to boost his profile by appearing on Fox News last month to brag about his decision to pull nearly $800 million in state funds out of the investment giant BlackRock over its environmental, social, and governance policies, which include taking the effects of global warming into account when making investment decisions. Schroder's self-described "crusade" against BlackRock and other firms predictably earned the treasurer the praise he desired from host Tucker Carlson.
Landry, for his part, unveiled an endorsement from Rep. Mike Johnson, who represents the Shreveport area. Landry previously won the backing of Rep. Clay Higgins even though a third member of the GOP's House delegation, Garret Graves, remains a potential candidate.
Graves is by no means the only Republican we're still watching, though. State Sen. Sharon Hewitt has said she'll decide sometime this month, while state Rep. Richard Nelson said Monday he'll announce if he'll run next week. It's also possible that other GOP politicians will take a new look at this race, especially now that they know they'll be facing neither Kennedy nor Nungesser.
On the Democratic side, state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, who would be the first Black person elected to statewide office since Reconstruction, formed an exploratory committee last month and said Monday he plans to decide "very soon." New Orleans City Council President Helena Moreno and state party chair Katie Bernhardt each haven't ruled out running either, and while East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore sounded like he was unlikely to run in a recent interview, LaPolitics is hinting that he showed more interest in a soon-to-be-published conversation.
But we may be left wondering what the field looks like for a while: Louisiana's filing deadline isn't until August, and it's not uncommon for politicians at all levels to decide whether they'll jump in during the last hours of the qualifying.
● VA State Senate: Voters in Virginia's Seventh Senate District in Virginia Beach go to the polls on Tuesday for the first big election of 2023 in a special key to safeguarding abortion rights in the Old Dominion. Polls close at 7 PM ET, and we'll begin our liveblog then at Daily Kos Elections. You can also follow us on Twitter for blow-by-blow updates.
The contest to succeed Republican Jen Kiggans, who gave up her state Senate seat after unseating Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria in November, pits Democratic Virginia Beach Councilman Aaron Rouse against the Republican nominee, Navy veteran Kevin Adams. Democrats currently hold a 21-18 majority in the upper chamber with this seat vacant, but one of those Democrats is Joe Morrissey, a self-described "unapologetically pro-life" lawmaker.
Progressives fear that, because the GOP controls the state House and Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears can break ties for her party, an Adams win would make Morrissey the pivotal vote in deciding whether Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's proposed 15-week abortion ban becomes law. Adams has indeed declared his support for anti-abortion measures like the 15-week ban, but as the Washington Post notes, he's largely focused his messaging on crime.
Rouse, though, has been emphasizing reproductive rights in his ads, with one spot arguing, "Kevin Adams would be the deciding vote to ban abortion in Virginia. But your vote can stop him before it's too late." The Democrat, a former Virginia Tech football star who briefly played in the NFL, has also aired a spot declaring, "When I was in the NFL, my job was to be the last line of defense. Right now, that's what we need in Richmond. Extreme Republicans are trying to take away the right to choose in Virginia, rolling back women's freedom to make their own personal medical decisions."
The special will take place under the old lines for the 7th District, a Virginia Beach-based constituency that Joe Biden won 54-44 but Youngkin carried 52-48 in the 2021 governor's race. Each candidate raised just shy of $1 million before the end of the year.
The entire state Senate will be up for new four-year terms in November, and no matter how Tuesday's contest goes, that race 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. Both Rouse and Adams said last year that they'd seek the 22nd when it first goes before voters in November of next year.
● CA-Sen: Politico reported Friday that both Reps. Barbara Lee and Katie Porter are thinking about entering the 2024 top-two primary "in the coming weeks" even before their fellow Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, announces her own plans. An unnamed person close to Lee adds, in the words of Politico, that she "intends" to get in, though she hadn't disclosed anything publicly yet. Another Democratic congressman, Adam Schiff, has said he's interested in seeking a promotion should the incumbent retire.
Feinstein, who has faced serious questions about her cognitive health over the last year, hasn't revealed what she'll do, though Politico adds that "[a]lmost everyone in the Senate expects" her not to run. The incumbent herself said in December she anticipates a decision "probably by spring," while the story writes her announcement is expected "within the next couple months."
● IN-Sen, IN-Gov: Mitch Daniels publicly acknowledged his interest in a Senate bid for the first time in an interview with reporter Dave Bangert, while the Republican also made it clear he wouldn't campaign for his old job as governor. Daniels didn't say much about when he expected to decide other than to tell Bangert, "I don't generally dither too much."
● MI-Sen: Former state Rep. Leslie Love tells Michigan Advance she's considering seeking the nomination to succeed her fellow Democrat, retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow, saying she believes she's the only Black woman who has been mentioned as a possible contender.
Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, though, sounds like she'll be staying put. When NBC asked her Friday about this race, Benson responded, "My eyes are focused actually on 2024, not as a candidate, but as someone who will be working to protect the voice and the vote of every citizen in our state." Abdul El-Sayed, who came in second during the 2018 Democratic primary for governor, himself told Politico he doesn't "have any plans" to campaign, which isn't quite a no.
● NE-Sen-B: Republican Ben Sasse officially resigned from the Senate on Sunday to prepare to assume his new role as president of the University of Florida. Nebraska's new governor, Jim Pillen, will choose a successor, though it would be a real surprise if he didn't select former Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Whoever gets the gig will be up in 2024 for a special election for the remaining two years of Sasse's term at the same time that GOP Sen. Deb Fischer's seat will be on the ballot for the regularly scheduled contest. We'll be referring to this special election as NE-Sen-B, while Fischer's race will be NE-Sen-A.
● DSCC: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Monday that Michigan Sen. Gary Peters would again chair the DSCC after leading it during the 2022 cycle. Peters, who was at the helm as Democrats gained a seat at a time when Republicans were looking to flip the upper chamber, is the first person to lead the DSCC in back-to-back cycles since Schumer himself in 2006 and 2008.
● WI Supreme Court: Retiring Justice Pat Roggensack on Monday endorsed Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow over former Justice Dan Kelly, the other conservative contender and Roggensack's old colleague, ahead of the Feb. 21 nonpartisan primary. Candidate filing closed last week and as expected, the contest for this 10-year term will also include two liberal-aligned candidates: Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell and Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz.
The two contenders with the most votes will advance to the April 4 general election, and, since each side is fielding two candidates apiece, either progressives or conservatives could snag both spots in the second round of voting. Roggensack and her allies currently form a 4-3 right-wing majority, but a win for Mitchell and Protasiewicz would give progressives a huge win in this crucial swing state.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas has earned the backing of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, a police union led by prominent Trump supporter John Catanzara, ahead of the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has a terrible relationship with Catanzara, quickly sought to make his support a liability for Vallas in this dark blue city. A Lightfoot spokesperson responded to the news by saying that Vallas, who like the incumbent is a Democrat, should denounce Catanzara's "history of hate-filled rhetoric" instead of "standing alongside him and (carrying) the shared MAGA values into City Hall."
Almost all of the other candidates competing in this nine-way contest seemed to agree that, in the words of the Chicago Tribune, the FOP's endorsement would at best be a "double-edged sword" for anyone who earned it. Catanzara, who defended the Jan. 6 rioters, said that the only other contender who sought his union's backing was Willie Wilson, a wealthy perennial candidate who backed Trump in 2016 and challenged Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin four years later as the candidate of the "Willie Wilson Party."
● Denver, CO Mayor: Kwame Spearman, who serves as CEO of the local bookstore chain Tattered Cover, announced over the weekend that he was joining what's now a 26-way April nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out Mayor Michael Hancock. Spearman worked on Democrat Mark Udall's successful 2008 Senate campaign, but most of his experience has been in business.
● Jacksonville, FL Mayor: The city's police union announced Monday that it would support Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis, who is one of the three notable Republicans competing in the March nonpartisan primary.
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: Former City Councilmember Allan Domb has launched an opening $590,000 TV ad campaign ahead of the packed May Democratic primary, and his first ad focuses on public safety. The only rival who has beaten Domb to television is businessman Jeff Brown, who has also received air support from a well-funded super PAC.
● West New York, NJ Mayor: Former Rep. Albio Sires, a Democrat who left office last week, announced Monday that he would campaign for his old job as mayor of West New York. As we've noted before, though, there's no direct vote at the ballot box to determine who gets to succeed retiring Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez, who is campaigning for the Democratic nod for an Assembly seat, as leader of this 52,000-person community.
Candidates will instead run on one nonpartisan ballot for a spot on the five-person Town Commission, and the winners will select one of their members for mayor. Anyone who wants the top job, however, will lead a slate of allied commission candidates, something that Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo has already put together; former Mayor Felix Roque will also reportedly announce a rival campaign on Jan. 19. So far Sires, who served as mayor from 1995 until he joined the House in 2006, has not unveiled his own slate.