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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● 2023 Elections: Daily Kos Elections is pleased to unveil our 2023 elections calendar tracking the important elections taking place this year, including gubernatorial elections, mayoral and prosecutor contests, a variety of special elections, and more.
At the top of the ticket are this fall's races to lead Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi, while Wisconsin will host a statewide race this spring to determine whether progressives will finally gain a majority on the state Supreme Court. There are also numerous races to lead cities and counties, as well as for district attorney and sheriff.
Many of these contests are happening in strongly Democratic communities like Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia, but there are some big partisan battles shaping up elsewhere. In Jacksonville, for example, Democrats are hoping to score an upset win in the race to succeed Florida Republican Lenny Curry, while Republicans are aiming to take back the Board of Commissioners in swingy Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Most of these contests we're tracking are happening in populous communities, but some smaller races are also on tap. In Mississippi, for example, Bolts Magazine writes that 5th Circuit District Attorney Doug Evans is seeking re-election even after he "drew national opprobrium and condemnation from the U.S. Supreme Court for his decades-long effort to prosecute Curtis Flowers six times for the same crime." Evans, who is seeking renomination in the August Democratic primary, is the top prosecutor for a seven-county district in the north-central part of the state with a population of just under 100,000 people. (Bolts also has its own expansive list of prosecutor and sheriff contests.)
Most of the dates for these elections are set, but there are several races, mostly in New York, where the filing deadline has not been scheduled: One clerk tells us the deadline, which is set by the state, will likely be in April. And while Salt Lake City will be electing a mayor on Nov. 7, Utah's largest city has not yet decided if it will use instant-runoff voting or hold a nonpartisan primary earlier in the month. We'll be updating our calendar as this information is finalized, as well as to include any other contests that come on our radar as events develop.
2023 will be a very exciting year across the nation, so check out our calendar to find out which important offices are on the ballot.
● AZ-Sen: Multiple media outlets report that Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego will announce Monday that he’s running for the Senate seat held by Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema. The incumbent herself once again declined to say if she’d seek re-election when she was asked about the news, telling a fill-in radio host, “A never-ending focus on campaign politics is why so many people hate politics.” That fill-in host was former Rep. Matt Salmon, a Republican hardliner who was briefly mentioned as a potential Senate candidate himself but recently told Axios he’s mulling a 2024 bid for mayor of Mesa.
A spokesperson for Jim Lamon, who lost the Republican primary for Arizona’s other seat last year after self-funding $18 million, meanwhile tells NBC, "Jim knows that the right Republican could have beaten [Democratic Sen. Mark] Kelly and will get elected to the US Senate in 2024. If a winning candidate emerges, he will strongly back that person — if not, Jim will run in 2024.” Blake Masters, who beat Lamon 40-28, is considering another Senate bid this cycle, and we’re quite certain Lamon doesn’t think he’s “a winning candidate” this time.
● NY-Sen: A spokesperson for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declined to comment when the New York Times asked if the progressive favorite was interested in waging a Democratic primary bid against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, though reporter Nicholas Fandos says there’s no sign AOC is laying the groundwork for a challenge. Fandos also notes that the congresswoman last cycle “allowed a similar bubble of speculation to build” when asked if she’d go up against Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, though she never signaled she was seriously considering the idea.
On the Republican side, Fandos writes that allies of 2022 gubernatorial nominee Lee Zeldin say they’ve “discounted the chances” he’d take on Gillibrand. Zeldin himself said he was getting calls about “various positions in government” and had no “update on that front to announce at this time.”
● VA-Sen: Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said Friday he'd seek a third term, an announcement that came after much speculation about his plans. Kaine begins as the favorite in a commonwealth that Biden took 54-44 and where Republicans haven't won a single statewide federal race since George W. Bush carried it in 2004. There has been some speculation that Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin could take on Kaine, though he's shown no obvious interest in a Senate bid.
One person who Politico says is considering challenging Kaine, though, is Navy veteran Hung Cao, who was the party's 2022 nominee against Rep. Jennifer Wexton in the 10th Congressional District. Cao raised $3.3 million for a campaign to take back a once-competitive Northern Virginia constituency that supported Biden 58-40 and held her to a 53-47 victory.
● WV-Sen, WV-Gov: The Daily Beast's Sam Brodey writes that, as everyone waits to see if Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin will seek another term, "There seems to be a belief that there's an equal chance he runs for re-election, runs for governor, or retires for good after spending decades in office." This is the first we've heard about the possibility of Manchin, who served as governor from 2005 until he was elected to the Senate in 2010, trying to reclaim his old job next year, though Manchin flirted with the idea for months in both 2015 and 2019.
NBC’s Chuck Todd went on to ask Manchin about his plans Sunday. After the senator deflected questions about whether he’d seek re-election as a Democrat if he ran, this exchange followed:
Todd: “What are―what’s on the table? Is re-election on the table?”
Manchin: “Everything's on the table.”
Todd: “Is running for governor on the table or no?”
Manchin: "No. I've done that.”
Todd: “Okay, that you've ruled out?”
Manchin: “I've done that.”
Todd: “So everything on the table, there's basically only one other thing: the presidency. Is that something you would do outside the Democratic Party if you could?”
Manchin: “The only thing I can tell you is what I will do is whatever I can when I make my decision, what I think is the best that I can support and represent the people of West Virginia, but also be true to this country and the Constitution of this country.”
No matter what, we may have a lot of uncertainty left ahead of us: One of Manchin's former top aides, Jonathan Kott, tells Brodey, "He'll talk to West Virginians and his family and make up his mind next year." We may find out well before then if Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, whom Manchin beat 50-46, will seek a rematch, run for governor, or campaign for re-election. Morrisey tells Politico he "will decide on a pathway" by April.
● KY-Gov: Meeting Street, working on behalf of Attorney General Daniel Cameron, has released the first poll we've seen in months of the May Republican primary to take on Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, and it unsurprisingly has him well ahead. Cameron takes 39% while two rivals, former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft and state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, are far back with 8% each.
● NC-Gov: Attorney General Josh Stein, who so far has the Democratic primary to himself, has unveiled endorsements from Reps. Valerie Foushee and Kathy Manning since he launched his campaign on Wednesday.
● WV-Gov: Huntington Mayor Steve Williams on Friday expressed interest in seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, saying, "It's on the table for active consideration." Williams campaigned for the now-defunct 3rd Congressional District during the 2018 cycle but dropped out before the primary.
● NY-03: Another day, another set of Republicans who could campaign to succeed GOP Rep. George Santos whenever his seat is next on the ballot. JTA's Ron Kampeas interviews Nassau County Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip, who says, "I'm not going to lie to you, people are definitely asking me to run … That doesn't mean nothing." Pilip was airlifted from Ethiopia to Israel as a child, and Kampeas titled his article, "Meet the real Jewish Republican of color being floated to replace George Santos, the fake one."
Brookville Mayor Daniel Serota, meanwhile, tells Newsday's Michael Gormley that he knows he's been mentioned as a possible contender, but he won't say more until there actually is a vacancy on the GOP ticket. Gormley also reports that Alison Esposito, who was the party's 2022 nominee for lieutenant governor, has met with state and national Republicans, but Esposito hasn't said anything publicly. State Sen. Jack Martins, finally, said he plans to stay where he is, though he doesn't appear to have ruled anything out.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Two firms are out with the first polls we've seen from 2023 of the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary for mayor of Chicago, but they agree on little about the state of the race other than that incumbent Lori Lightfoot is in rough shape.
We'll start with the survey from Lester & Associates for one of the candidates, Alderman Sophia King, that was conducted Jan. 9-14:
Rep. Chuy Garcia: 21
Mayor Lori Lightfoot: 15
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas: 10
Alderman Sophia King: 8
Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson: 8
Wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson: 5
Activist Ja'Mal Green: 5
State Rep. Kam Buckner: 5
In the likely event that no one takes a majority, the top two vote-getters would advance to the April 4 runoff. The memo says the remaining candidates took less than 1%, though the only other contender on the ballot is Alderman Roderick Sawyer.
Next up is a survey that began days later from M3 Strategies for Americans for a Safer and Better Tomorrow, though it's not clear who the sponsor is rooting for. The numbers from the firm's December poll are in parentheses:
Vallas: 26 (19)
Garcia: 19 (28)
Johnson: 12 (3)
Lightfoot: 10 (15)
Wilson: 9 (13)
Bucker: 2 (1)
Green: 1 (N/A)
King: 1 (2)
Sawyer: 0 (N/A)
Lightfoot got some better news Friday when she earned the backing of EMILY's List, but there's little question she's in a tough spot four years after she won this office in a 74-26 landslide. Politico's Shia Kapos recently took a look at why so much seems to be going wrong for the mayor. Kapos explains that not only has Lightfoot had to deal with the perception that crime has risen on her watch, but "There's also an elephant in the room: her personality."
Lightfoot's supporters, write Kapos, argue that she's been held to a "double standard" that her recent predecessors weren't subject to. "When former Mayors Rahm Emanuel or Richard M. Daley cursed, for example, onlookers seemed amused or even proud of the tough Chicago mayor's aggressiveness. When Lightfoot does it, people have taken offense — unless it's been aimed at former President Donald Trump."
Some of Lightfoot's former allies, though, have a different take on things. Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza said last year she wouldn't back the incumbent again by declaring, "I have never met anybody who has managed to piss off every single person they come in contact with—police, fire, teachers, aldermen, businesses, manufacturing."
This month another alderman, Derrick Curtis, also had some choice words for Lightfoot for failing to contact him after he was wounded when the gun he was cleaning accidentally discharged. "I felt myself being a very, very close friend and ally to her. I really was a No. 1 cheerleader," said Curtis, "But, she never called when I shot myself … I wouldn't treat my friends that way."
● Dallas, TX Mayor: Developer Mike Ablon, who took fourth in the 2019 nonpartisan primary, said Thursday that he would not seek a rematch this year against Mayor Eric Johnson. No notable opponents have stepped up to take on Johnson, who is one of the more prominent Democrats in Texas, ahead of the Feb. 17 filing deadline.
● Denver, CO Mayor: Filing closed Thursday for this April's nonpartisan primary to succeed Democratic Mayor Michael Hancock, who cannot seek a fourth term because of term limits, but it may be a while before we know just how crowded the ballot will be. The Denver Post reports that election officials as of Friday have certified that 10 candidates had collected enough signatures, while another 14 were still waiting to learn their status. The deadline to complete certification is Feb. 3.
● Erie County, NY Executive: The Buffalo News' Robert J. McCarthy writes that Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz appears "widely viewed as planning for an unprecedented fourth term" even though he's acknowledged the speculation that he could take a job in New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's administration, but Poloncarz could face opposition in the June Democratic primary from a familiar name.
Nate McMurray, who came unexpectedly close to flipping the now-defunct 27th Congressional District in 2018 and a 2020 special election, says he's "considering" taking on Poloncarz should the incumbent run again. McMurray, who is a former supervisor of the town of Grand Island, faulted Poloncarz's handling of the Christmas blizzard that left at least 47 people dead. Poloncarz, for his part, faulted the city of Buffalo for what he called its "embarrassing" response to the crisis, comments he apologized for days later.
The big thing that Poloncarz and McMurray, as well as Hochul, have in common is that they've each gone up against Republican Chris Collins in a competitive general election. Poloncarz in 2011 broke the GOP's 12-year-hold on the executive's office by denying Collins a second term by a 52-46 margin. The defeated Republican executive, though, turned right around the next year and narrowly beat then-Rep. Hochul in the 27th District.
Collins' grasp on his red constituency was threatened after he was accused of insider trading, and he was indicted in August of 2018. McMurray ran a strong campaign against the scandal-ridden congressman in a seat that Trump had taken 60-35 two years before, but Collins held on 49.1-48.7 after he ran a xenophobic campaign showing footage of the Democrat speaking in Korean.
Collins resigned the following year as part of a plea deal with prosecutors: The GOP selected Chris Jacobs as its nominee for the June 2020 special, and he beat McMurray by an underwhelming 51-46 margin. Their November rematch, though, ended with a 60-39 victory for Jacobs as Trump was taking his district 57-41. Collins, meanwhile, soon received a pardon from Trump after serving just two months of what was supposed to be a 26-month prison sentence.
A few local politicians are also eyeing seeking the Republican nod to lead Erie County, and Jacobs himself again didn't rule out the idea right before his term in Congress ended early this month even as he said he planned to return to his business.
However, while McCarthy writes that Jacobs is "viewed in many Republican circles as the strongest candidate to challenge Poloncarz or another Democrat," he might have a tough time getting the GOP nod if he wants it. That's because Jacobs aborted his planned re-election campaign last year to avoid a tough primary over his newfound support for an assault weapons ban and related gun safety measures in the wake of recent mass shootings, including one in Buffalo.
County Clerk Michael Kearns sounds more interested in seeking the Republican nod to take on Poloncarz even though he's a registered Democrat. Kearns, though, has long taken advantage of New York's fusion voting rules to run as the GOP nominee while still technically remaining a Democrat.
Last year, Kearns sought the Democratic nomination for the first time in years but lost the primary 62-36 to Eden Supervisor Melissa Hartman. The clerk, though, said even before that beat down that he'd also once again pursue the Republican and Conservative Party nominations, which he received: In November, Kearns defeated Hartman 54-46 even as Hochul, who is herself a former Erie County Clerk, carried her home county 53-47.
Another interested Republican is former state Sen. Edward Rath, though he lost re-election last year 57-43 to Democratic colleague Sean Ryan. West Seneca Supervisor Gary Dickson, however, tells the Buffalo News he likely won't go for it himself even though McCarthy writes "he was receiving prominent mention among many GOP supporters."
P.S. The Erie County government made news in a very different way on Wednesday when another Buffalo News reporter, Sandra Tan, reported that the new map for the County Legislature included legal descriptions with so many errors that "they send some district lines into Antarctica." Ralph Mohr, who is the GOP's member on the County Board of Elections, recently filed a lawsuit to prevent these boundaries from being used this year.
So how did this happen? Daily Kos Elections' David Jarman tweets, "This redistricting failure story makes more sense if you're familiar with the Census Bureau's Geocoder site: if you input an address, it outputs longitude (the x axis) before latitude (the y axis), so you need to switch them back."
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: While former Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, who badly lost renomination to now-Sen. John Fetterman in the 2018 Democratic primary, said in November that he may campaign as an independent, he recently made an appeal to the Democratic City Committee as he mulls a bid.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the former lieutenant governor said he'd decide by mid-February if he'd enter the race, though party chair Bob Brady went further by telling the media, "Stack announced." Brady continued, "He didn't announce it to the public but he announced to us [party ward leaders and committee people], he said he's running for mayor."