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
● OH-Sen: State Sen. Matt Dolan on Tuesday became the first serious Ohio Republican to announce a bid against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, a move that comes less than a year after the Cleveland Guardians part-owner spent $10.6 million of his own money on a failed primary campaign for the Buckeye State's other seat. As we'll discuss, though, Dolan is far from the only candidate looking to take on Brown, who will be one of the GOP's top Senate targets this cycle.
Dolan, whose family owns Cleveland's Major League Baseball team, last time stood out in the packed primary field to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman both for his vast resources and for being the one major candidate to condemn the Big Lie and call for the party to move on from Donald Trump. The state senator, who campaigned as a conservative who could achieve results, denied he was anti-Trump, but that hardly stopped the GOP's master from making his defeat a priority.
Trump repeatedly trashed Dolan over his team's new name, writing, "Anybody who changes the name of the 'storied' Cleveland Indians (from 1916), an original baseball franchise, to the Cleveland Guardians, is not fit to serve in the United States Senate." (Dolan said he was not involved in the decision.) Politico reported last year that Trump also successfully encouraged one Senate candidate, wealthy businessman Bernie Moreno, to drop out of the primary to make sure the GOP didn't lose the seat to a "Democrat" in the primary or general, a comment that very much seemed to be about the state senator.
Trump went on to endorse venture capitalist J.D. Vance late in the primary, a move that may have allowed him to consolidate enough of the base to stop Dolan from slipping through: Vance beat former state Treasurer Josh Mandel 32-24, while Dolan was just behind with 23%. Dolan, who supported Vance's successful general election campaign even though the nominee had spread lies about the 2020 election, kicked off his new campaign by signaling he'd run an effort similar to last time. "The midterm election showed us nationally that if the Republicans are going to put up folks that are focused on yesterday, running these campaigns of grievances, we're going to lose," he argued.
Dolan, though, will almost certainly be in for another tough primary against opponents looking to portray him as insufficiently conservative. Local observers have anticipated for some time that Secretary of State Frank LaRose will get in, and his team did nothing to tamp down that talk on Tuesday. "Sherrod Brown has been in office for 48 years, and in 2024 there is a one-shot opportunity to take back the U.S. Senate," said a LaRose spokesperson, adding, "Naturally, there is a lot of discussion right now over who is the most qualified candidate to replace him, and Secretary LaRose intends to be a part of that conversation."
Rep. Warren Davidson, a conservative hardliner who was elected to succeed none other than John Boehner in 2016, has publicly expressed interest last month, while venture capitalist Mark Kvamme has also mused about running for office. Cleveland.com additionally wrote in November that Moreno is thinking about giving it another shot, while Attorney General Dave Yost is also privately considering. Neither Republican has said anything publicly about their 2024 plans yet, though Yost made headlines last week after the media reported that he'd briefly retired in order to draw a pension in addition to his salary, a choice that Democrats were quick to attack.
Brown, for his part, made it clear last year that he'd seek a fourth term in a longtime swing state that has lurched hard to the right in recent years. The senator has even been working to convince two of his colleagues, Montana's Jon Tester and West Virginia's Joe Manchin, to run again, noting that their decisions could impact whether or not he's the GOP's top Senate target.
● AZ-Sen: Unnamed sources tell CNN that election conspiracy theorist Kari Lake, the Republican who is still trying to undo her defeat in last year’s gubernatorial race, is indeed thinking about running for the Senate but won’t make up her mind “until after her court case is completed.” Lake’s campaign Twitter account characteristically responded by spreading more lies about last year’s contest before concluding, “It is true that dozens of people have reached out to Kari suggesting she run for US Senate. There have been several polls showing she is the strongest candidate and could win.”
● CA-Sen: While several prominent California Democrats are talking about running for Senate whether or not incumbent Dianne Feinstein retires, the Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey writes that Rep. Eric Swalwell “has no plans” to get in. While that’s not actually a no, it would be difficult for anyone competing in this enormous state to advance out of the top-two primary, which is scheduled for March of 2024, without already doing some planning.
Brodey’s sources also relay that Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and Attorney General Rob Bonta “are not believed to be interested in the seat.”
● IN-Sen: Indiana Rep. Jim Banks on Tuesday became the first prominent candidate to kick off a campaign for the Senate seat that his fellow Republican, Mike Braun, is giving up to run for governor, and the deep-pocketed Club for Growth quickly endorsed its fellow conservative hardliner.
Club president David McIntosh, a former Indiana congressman who is trying to deter former Gov. Mitch Daniels from entering the primary, told Politico that his group was willing to spend at least $10 million on this contest. Banks also launched his bid with the backing of fellow Reps. Larry Bucshon and Greg Pence, who is the older brother of Mike Pence.
Daniels isn’t the only fellow Republican that Banks, a four-term Northeastern Indiana congressman who previously served with the Army in Afghanistan, may need to go through, though one potential contender seems to be backing away. Rep. Victoria Spartz, who like Banks went from the state Senate to the U.S. House after winning a primary with Club support, tells Politico, “I am not inclined to do it at this time, but many of my supporters would like me to still consider it.” She added, “I do not worry about who is in the race.”
Former Rep. Trey Hollingsworth reportedly has been considering while termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb, the man that Braun is hoping to replace, has not ruled anything out. Attorney General Todd Rokita, meanwhile, is keeping the Hoosier State guessing about his plans; Air Force veteran Jennifer-Ruth Green, who failed to unseat Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan, continues to be mentioned even though she’s yet to say if she’s thinking about running for Senate. There’s also plenty of time for other Republicans to campaign to succeed Braun in this red state.
Banks, though, is so far focused on contrasting himself just with Daniels, who described Banks as the future of the GOP a decade ago when they were each serving in state government. The congressman referenced the 2010 comments where Daniels, who was considering a White House bid at the time, said the next GOP president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues” so they could concentrate on solving fiscal issues like the deficit. “I’ll never be calling for a truce on social issues or cultural issues,” Banks instead told Politico in an interview where he argued that they “matter more than at any point in my lifetime.”
Indeed, Banks has stood out even within the GOP caucus for his record of anti-trans rhetoric: In 2021 he intentionally misgendered Rachel Levine after she became the highest-ranking trans official in U.S. history, and he used his announcement video to brag that he’d fought to keep trans girls from playing in the sport that corresponds with their gender identity. Banks also reiterated his opposition to abortion rights in that message.
Banks additionally voted to overturn Joe Biden’s win hours after the Jan. 6 attack, and while he initially called for a bipartisan commission to investigate the riot, he quickly reversed himself and told colleagues to oppose the plan. A few months later, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy picked Banks and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan as two of his nominees for the Jan. 6 committee. Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected them both, saying their “statements and actions” disqualified them; Banks made sure to use headlines about this story in his launch video as he said that Pelosi and Joe Biden “have tried to block me before.”
However, some of Banks’ current House colleagues have also interfered with his advancement in the lower chamber, most notably in an incident last year that sucked in Fox blowhard Tucker Carlson. Banks’ allies started a super PAC late in the midterm campaign to elect like-minded candidates, a move that very much seemed to be about helping his bid to become House majority whip. NRCC chair Tom Emmer, who also wanted the whip’s job, was not happy, and his supporters told the Daily Beast that Banks wasn’t actually the ardent anti-establishment conservative he presented himself as.
“Deep down, he dies to be liked by the Establishment. He hires Tucker Carlson’s son, a 24-year-old kid, to be his communications director,” said one strategist in comments that the elder Carlson unsurprisingly saw. Emmer’s people also made sure to dig up a 2016 tweet where Banks responded to Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape by writing, “This election's low bar hit the floor today with the revelation of Trump's crude comments. America and my daughters deserve much better.”
But all of this drama, as well as Carlson’s private fury at Emmer, wasn’t enough to stop the Minnesotan from narrowly beating Banks a few weeks later in the whip race. A short time after that rejection, Banks began making it clear he’d likely run for the Senate.
● MI-Sen: The Daily Beast's Jake Lahut takes a deep look at the Michigan Senate race and reports that former Rep. Justin Amash is very much considering running to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow even though his party affiliation is still very much up in the air. An unnamed source close to the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Libertarian says that Amash could rejoin the GOP or try to strike it out as an independent. Lahut adds that the former congressman has also mulled over "perhaps just serving as an independent in the Senate if he were elected."
On the Democratic side, Lahut relays that state Sen. Mallory McMorrow is also thinking about seeking this seat. McMorrow earned a national following last year for her response after Republican colleague Lana Theis used QAnon-like language in a lie-infused anti-LGBTQ fundraising email that smeared the Democrat as someone who wants to "groom and sexualize kindergartners." McMorrow took to the state Senate floor and declared, "I am the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme. Because you can't claim that you are targeting marginalized kids in the name of 'parental rights' if another parent is standing up to say no."
Lahut also writes that party operatives are also still thinking that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson could get in even though she sounded unlikely in the days following Stabenow's retirement announcement. However, Lahut's sources doubt U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who declined to rule out a campaign even after being repeatedly pressed, will actually seek this seat.
● LA-Gov: State Republican Party chairman Louis Gurvich used Sunday to publish an essay saying that GOP Rep. Garret Graves "would be making a terrible mistake" by competing in this year's race to succeed Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards even though the "word on the street is that" Graves "will declare for the race this week," Gurvich, whose State Central Committee endorsed Attorney General Jeff Landry last fall, went so far as to raise the specter of Edwards running and winning the special election to replace Graves before using the House seat as a springboard to challenge GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy in 2026.
Edwards, who has shown no obvious interest in running for another office, would have a challenging time flipping Graves' 6th District, a Baton Rouge-area constituency that Donald Trump took 64-34. Republican legislators, who passed their new map over Edwards' veto, once again did everything they could to keep this seat solidly red by placing the capital city's heavily Black areas in Democratic Rep. Troy Carter's 2nd District.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Aurora, CO Mayor & City Council: City Councilmember Juan Marcano, who is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, announced Sunday that he would challenge Republican Mayor Mike Coffman as part of a Democratic slate that is also aiming to flip the Aurora City Council this November.
Coffman, who served five terms in the U.S. House before losing to Democrat Jason Crow in 2018, has confirmed he'll be seeking re-election as head of Colorado's third-most populous city, which backed Biden roughly 64-33 in 2020 according to Dave's Redistricting App. There is no primary or runoff in this nonpartisan contest: Coffman himself won the 2019 mayor's race 35.7-35.4 against Democrat Omar Montgomery.
That same election did see Democrats achieve a historic 5-5 edge on the City Council, an 11-person body that includes the mayor and 10 council members and has long been dominated by Republicans; the final seat is held by Angela Lawson, an independent who often voted with the Democrats before that election. However, Republicans regained a 7-3 majority in 2021, with Lawson now part of the conservative bloc. Marcano, who called the results a "gut punch," added, "Aurora has been dominated by conservatives for at least a half-century and unfortunately, that will continue for at least another two years." (This item has been updated to reflect that the mayor is a member of the City Council.)
Marcano and his allies, though, are hoping that 2023 will finally be the year that progressives take power in a community that Bolts Magazine's Alex Burness wrote last year has "greater racial and ethnic diversity than any other city in the state." Half of the City Council is up every two years, and Marcano's slate includes a candidate for each of the five seats on the ballot. The mayor is tasked with breaking any ties: Coffman used this power last year to pass a bill to ban anyone from camping on public property unless they have permission, a policy Marcano predicted "will not get people off the streets."
Marcano also told Burness last November that if Democrats prevail at the ballot box, he'd like to advance a referendum to move municipal elections to even-numbered years and make them officially partisan contests. "They know that if we had the opportunity to actually have more attention shown to municipal elections, coinciding with when more people are turning out, that they would likely not prevail, to put it politely," he said of conservatives. "They're relying on low turnout and the disproportionate white, wealthy and conservative voters that turn out for municipal elections."
One of his Republican colleagues, Dustin Zvonek, acknowledged that Democrats would win if Marcano had his way. Zvonek, who opposes the plan, said, "If you're just about getting partisan majorities, I understand why you'd want to do this." He continued, "You can say there are more people that vote overall, so that's better. But I guess it depends on what you're looking for."
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Freshman Rep. Jonathan Jackson announced Monday that he was supporting Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson at the same Chicago Teachers Union rally where another new member of Congress, Delia Ramirez, also reiterated her December endorsement for the commissioner in the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary.
Jackson and Ramirez, who together represent about 30% of Chicago, chose Johnson even though one of his rivals, Rep. Chuy Garcia, backed each of them in their 2022 primaries. Jackson explained that, while Garcia was "a dear friend," his colleague's decision to enter the race after the CTU had already endorsed Johnson played a big factor in his decision.
Jackson had far less generous things to say about another Johnson opponent, Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The new congressman accused her of misleading voters during her successful 2019 campaign, declaring, "Shame on anyone that will copy and paste and take advantage of a movement, only to get elected off that movement and then to renege on everything you promised."