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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● VA State Senate: Virginia Democrats scored a big pickup in the first major special election of 2023 as Virginia Beach Councilman Aaron Rouse beat his Republican opponent, Navy veteran Kevin Adams, 50.4-49.6 in the contest for the state Senate seat that Republican Jen Kiggans gave up after unseating Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria in November. Rouse’s win increases the Democrats’ edge to 22-18 and ends self-described "unapologetically pro-life" Democrat Joe Morrissey’s status as the crucial vote in a chamber where Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears can break ties.
This contest took place under the old lines for the 7th District, a seat that neither party had a firm hold on. While the district moved hard to the left during the last presidential election, veering from a skinny 47.1-46.9 edge for Hillary Clinton to a wide 54-44 win for Joe Biden, Republican Glenn Youngkin took it 52-48 in the 2021 governor's race. Rouse may have an easier time later this year, though, as redistricting not only renumbered this seat (it'll become the 22nd) but also increased Biden’s margin of victory to 59-39. Both Rouse and Adams said last year that they'd seek the 22nd when it first goes before voters in November.
The rest of the state Senate will also be up for a new four-year term this fall, while every member of the GOP-controlled state House, who serve two-year terms, will also go before voters. Morrissey himself faces serious intra-party opposition in the Democratic primary from former Del. Lashrecse Aird. Progressives had feared that an Adams win would position Morrissey to be the key vote in determining whether Youngkin’s proposed 15-week abortion ban became law, but Rouse’s victory very much changes the math, unless Republicans can make further headway in November.
● CA-Sen: California Rep. Katie Porter announced Tuesday that she would enter the 2024 top-two primary for U.S. Senate even though her fellow Democrat, longtime incumbent Dianne Feinstein, has not yet confirmed that she'll retire. Porter said hours later, "If the senator decides to run for another term... I will still be in this race."
Porter, a progressive favorite who has raised massive amounts of money in recent years to defend her competitive Orange County seat, is the first major candidate from either party to launch a bid to replace Feinstein. Almost everyone expects the senator to step aside amid serious questions about her cognitive health, but, because of the vast cost of running statewide in California, Porter may not be the only contender who feels it's better to get started now rather than wait for Feinstein's decision.
Porter, who did not mention Feinstein in her kickoff, also launched her campaign by releasing a November poll from David Binder Research arguing that she's positioned to outpace several of her Democratic colleagues should they run. Under California law all the candidates run on one ballot and the top-two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election:
Rep. Katie Porter (D): 30
Rep. Adam Schiff (D): 29
Rep. Barbara Lee (D): 9
A Republican Candidate: 9
Rep. Ro Khanna (D): 6
The poll also finds Porter defeating Schiff 37-26 in a showdown, while another 19% of respondents say they wouldn't vote; the firm shows that Republicans support Porter 25-5 when forced to choose between the two Democrats, though most of them say they'll sit the race out.
Schiff, who like Porter also has a massive national donor base, has said he's interested in seeking a promotion should Feinstein retire, though he hasn't committed to anything yet. Schiff may be able to wait a while, because he held a giant $20.6 million to $7.7 million cash-on-hand edge over Porter in late November. Lee, who is another prominent progressive, has not yet revealed anything about her own plans, though Politico recently reported that she "intends" to get in.
Khanna, for his part, responded to Porter's launch by saying he was focused on the serious flooding hitting California. (An unnamed Schiff ally also brought up the storms to bash the timing of Porter's launch, telling the Los Angeles Times, "It's f-cking crazy that she would announce in the middle of a natural disaster. There are 15 people dead. I think there potentially could be more.") Khanna said later in the day he planned to make up his mind by the end of March and would take Lee’s decision into account. He told the Washington Post, “I do have a respect for her and the cause of seeing representation for an African American woman, and that is something I would factor in, candidly.”
More names will likely surface soon, especially if Feinstein steps aside. CNN and the Los Angeles Times have already mentioned several other Democrats as possible contenders:
- U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra
- Attorney General Rob Bonta
- Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis
- Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell
- former Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf
- Rep. Eric Swalwell
Porter, for her part, is no stranger to tough races, though this will be the first time she's competed statewide. Porter, who was a law student of future Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and later worked for now-Vice President Kamala Harris, first sought elected office in 2018 when she campaigned to unseat Republican Rep. Mimi Walters.
Walters' Orange County constituency, then numbered California's 45th Congressional District, had backed Hillary Clinton 50-44 after previously supporting Mitt Romney 55-43, but the incumbent very much believed Donald Trump's toxicity wouldn't harm other Republicans in this historically conservative area. Porter got past several Democratic opponents in the top-two primary, and she quickly emerged as a strong fundraiser.
Walters, though, continued to deny she was in trouble: In September, she even asked the NRCC not to spend money on her behalf, a request the committee was happy to honor. Walters proved to be just as oblivious after Election Day when early vote totals showed her ahead and she started calling colleagues to campaign for the NRCC chair position. Porter, though, quickly took the lead as more ballots were processed and won 52-48 when all was said and done.
The new congresswoman quickly became known in D.C. for using a whiteboard to grill Trump administration personnel and corporate executives at hearings, and her prominence and massive fundraising helped deter serious Republicans. Porter won 53-47 as Joe Biden was taking her seat 55-43, but she faced a tougher challenge two years later after redistricting left her with a new constituency, now numbered the 47th, that was largely new to her. Porter in 2022 went through a difficult battle against former Orange County Republican Party chair Scott Baugh, and this time, national GOP groups spent millions to try to sink her.
Republicans bet that the 47th, which had favored Biden 54-43, would snap back to the right with Trump gone, and they were somewhat right: The GOP did considerably better at the top of the ticket here, with Bloomberg's Greg Giroux reporting that Republican Brian Dahle edged out Gov. Gavin Newsom 50.3-49.7 in this seat. Porter, though, hung on and turned in another 52-48 win months before she kicked off her Senate bid.
● MI-Sen: Republican state Sen. Ruth Johnson, who is a former two-term secretary of state, tells the Detroit News that she's considering a bid to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Rep. Lisa McClain also didn't rule anything out, saying, "I will not close the door on opportunities to serve the entire state." MLive.com relays that former Rep. Peter Meijer, who lost renomination last year, hasn't closed the door on a Senate bid either.
Meanwhile, journalist Tim Skubick says that former Attorney General Bill Schuette, who was the GOP party's 2018 nominee for governor, is "likely" to get in, though there's no other information about his deliberations. Schuette was the nominee for Senate all the way back in 1990 against Democratic incumbent Carl Levin, a campaign he lost 57-41. Wealthy businessman Kevin Rinke, who took second in the 2022 primary for governor, additionally confirmed last week's reports that he's thinking about this campaign, and he says he'll make up his mind within a month.
On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who would be Michigan's first Black senator, publicly expressed interest for the first time on Tuesday. The Detroit News also mentions former Rep. Brenda Lawrence, who just completed her stint in Congress, as a possible contender.
● LA-Gov: Republican state Sen. Sharon Hewitt tells the Louisiana Illuminator's Julie O'Donoghue that she'll announce if she'll run for governor within the week; O'Donoghue tweets, "I suspect she's running, though she didn't tell me that directly." Another Republican legislator, state Rep. Richard Nelson, recently said that he was planning to get in himself but would reveal his final decision next week.
● MS-Gov: While the local media reported in October that state Auditor Shad White was considering challenging Gov. Tate Reeves in this year's Republican primary, White announced this week that he would instead seek re-election.
● CA-47: The contest to replace Democratic Rep. Katie Porter began to take shape just hours after her Senate campaign announcement when her 2022 opponent, former Orange County Republican Party chair Scott Baugh, announced that he'd run again. Joe Biden carried this seat, which includes the longtime GOP bastions of coastal Orange County as well as Irvine, 54-43, while Porter fended off Baugh 52-48 last year.
On the Democratic side, Punchbowl News' Andrew Desiderio reported Tuesday afternoon that former Rep. Harley Rouda had decided to run in the top-two primary and his announcement would come "possibly within the next 24 hours." Rouda, who lost re-election in 2020 to Republican Michelle Steel in the old 48th District, himself said later in the day that he was considering and would reveal his plans "in the near future."
A spokesperson for state Sen. Josh Newman, though, said that his boss didn't plan to run for Congress, while colleague Dave Min didn't initially respond. The two Democrats both announced last month that they would campaign for re-election in the same constituency after redistricting placed them in the same seat (only half of the California state Senate is up each cycle), but observers have speculated for a while that one of them could run for Congress instead if Porter sought a promotion.
Min, for his part, competed against Porter in the 2018 top-two primary to take on GOP Rep. Mimi Walters in the old 45th District, but Porter outpaced him 20-18 for the crucial second general election spot. Min two years later won his spot in the state Senate by unseating another Republican incumbent, John Moorlach, 51-49.
● NY-03: ABC7NY reported last week that serial liar George Santos told Republican leaders he wouldn't run again before he was even sworn in, though the congressman doesn't appear to have committed to anything publicly. Santos is the last person anyone should believe for anything, of course, though given how many different investigations he's facing, he'll be lucky if he's even in a position where he can choose to retire.
Nassau Republican Party Chair Joe Cairo, whose county forms about three-quarters of the new 3rd (the balance is in Queens), said late last year that his organization "will not support George Santos in 2024," and talk has already begun about which Republicans could run instead. City & State mentions state Sen. Jack Martins, Nassau County Comptroller Elaine Phillips, and former Assemblyman Mike LiPetri as possibilities, though none appear to have said anything publicly. Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, though, said he wouldn't run.
On the Democratic side, much of the talk has concerned people who ran in last year's primary to replace Democrat Tom Suozzi, who gave up this seat to unsuccessfully challenge Gov. Kathy Hochul in the primary. Jon Kaiman, a former Suffolk County deputy executive who lost to Robert Zimmerman 36-26, says he's thinking about giving it another shot, though he also said he might run for local office.
Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, who came in third with 20%, tells City & State the only election he was concentrating on was his re-election bid this fall, which isn't a no. Activist Melanie D'Arrigo, who finished just behind with 16%, likewise said she hadn't thought about whether to run again. The story also says that Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, who did not run for Congress last year, is considering, though there's no quote from him.
Zimmerman, who lost to Santos 54-46, doesn't appear to have addressed the possibility of running again, though plenty of Democrats would prefer a new face after what happened last time: Zimmerman's spokesperson told City & State that their boss was focused on "holding Santos accountable." Finally, Suozzi hasn't said anything about a comeback, though he let the world know exactly what he thought about Santos just before he left office when he published a New York Times op-ed titled, "A Con Man Is Succeeding Me in Congress Today."
● WI Supreme Court: Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, who is one of the two liberals running in the Feb. 21 nonpartisan primary, revealed she'd raised $924,000 during 2022, which is about $100,000 more than the fundraising record that former Justice Shirley Abrahamson set back in 2008. Protasiewicz, who is the first contender to announce her totals ahead of the Jan. 17 deadline, says that $756,000 of that came from the second half of the year, and she finished Dec. 31 with $730,000 on-hand.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Jacksonville, FL Mayor: Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis has earned the backing of Rep. John Rutherford, a fellow Republican who previously served as Jacksonville's sheriff, ahead of the March nonpartisan primary. Rutherford currently represents 54% of the city; the balance is served by Aaron Bean, a freshman Republican who has not taken sides in the mayoral race.