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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● AZ-Sen: Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego on Monday became the first major candidate to announce a 2024 campaign for the Arizona Senate seat held by Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat-turned-independent who has yet to reveal her own plans.
Gallego, who would be the Grand Canyon State’s first Latino senator, uses his kickoff video to talk about how his single mother struggled to raise her four children. The congressman goes on to describe his experience serving with the Marines in Iraq, where his unit suffered heavy casualties.
"You never fully come back from the war," says Gallego, "Fighting through PTSD. There were some very low moments in my life. But I still didn't give up hope and pushed forward." He finishes by going after Sinema and her extensive ties to special interests, declaring, "If you're more likely to be meeting with the powerful than the powerless, you're doing this job incorrectly."
Sinema bolted the Democratic Party last month, and while some observers have speculated that she’d give Republicans a huge boost should she run again by siphoning off Democratic voters, it remains to be seen just how she’d impact the general election. The Democratic firm Civiqs released numbers the day she became an independent that showed that Democrats already gave her a horrific 5-82 score even before she jumped ship: Republicans and independents, by contrast, gave her 25-45 and 25-56 ratings.
Gallego himself also publicized an internal from Public Policy Polling soon afterward arguing that, while a Sinema campaign could make his task more difficult, she’d hardly ensure an automatic Republican pickup. The survey found Republican Kari Lake, an election conspiracy theorist who is still waging a court battle to overturn her defeat in last year’s race for governor, edging out Gallego 41-40 in a hypothetical contest, with Sinema grabbing 13%; when the incumbent was left out, however, Gallego led Lake 48-47.
The Democratic firm Blueprint Polling, which did not poll for a client, also found Lake leading Gallego 36-32 as Sinema took 14%, but it did not release numbers testing a matchup without the senator.
Gallego had been preparing to challenge Sinema for renomination before she became an independent, though it remains to be seen if he'll have the field to himself now. An unnamed ally of Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone told NBC Monday that "a lot of people have approached him" about seeking the Democratic nod, though the source adds that Penzone right now is focused on his re-election bid in Arizona's largest county.
No other notable names have shown an interest in running here so far, however. Fellow Rep. Greg Stanton announced last week that he’d stay out of the Senate race, and while some political observers have mentioned Tucson Mayor Regina Romero as a possible contender, she hasn’t said anything about taking on Sinema. Axios also writes that Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who used to be married to the congressman, says “she does not intend to run for the Arizona Senate seat or for Ruben's House seat.”
Things are far more volatile on the Republican side, where Lake has so far attracted more attention than any other potential contender. Unnamed sources told CNN last week that Lake, who continues to pretend that she beat now-Gov. Katie Hobbs, won’t make up her mind about a Senate run “until after her court case is completed.” Gallego responded by sarcastically tweeting, “Arizona has a very strict resign to run law. It’s not possible for her to be Arizona’s shadow governor and a Senate candidate at the same time.”
One of Lake’s allies and fellow far-right politicians, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, has also been mulling over a Senate bid, and his team recently said he’d “make a decision in early 2023.” Another Republican who has expressed interest is Blake Masters, who last year waged a widely-panned campaign for Arizona’s other Senate seat that ended in a 51-45 defeat against Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly. Wealthy businessman Jim Lamon, who lost the primary to Masters, also has expressed interest in another try, though a person close to him said, in NBC’s words, he “has no intention, at this time, of running again for Senate.”
Former state Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, who narrowly lost her own primary to Lake last year despite having outgoing Gov. Doug Ducey's endorsement, has not ruled out a Senate campaign, and a source tells NBC she's indeed thinking about it. Ducey unequivocally said just before Christmas he was "not running for the United States Senate" and that "it's not something I'm considering," though Utah Sen. Mitt Romney didn’t give up on trying to persuade him otherwise. Last week, however, the Washington Post reported that Ducey “has not changed his mind on the matter.”
● IN-Sen: Columnist Ken de la Bastide writes in The Herald Bulletin that Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz "plans to announce her decision by the end of February," though there's no quote from the congresswoman.
● UT-Sen: In an interview with Insider, state GOP chair Carson Jorgensen names former Rep. Jason Chaffetz and state House Speaker Brad Wilson as potential Republican primary foes for Sen. Mitt Romney, though there's no word if either man is considering. Attorney General Sean Reyes reportedly has spent the last year preparing to take on the incumbent, though he's also yet to confirm that he'll be seeking the GOP nod. Romney, for his part, says he hasn't decided if he'll run for re-election.
● KY-Gov: Former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, who continues to have the airwaves to herself, is running a new commercial on fentanyl ahead of the May Republican primary, though her last ad on that subject is getting her some coverage she may not have planned on.
Craft told her audience for that earlier spot that the drug crisis has "stolen our loved ones away" before declaring, "As a mother this is personal to me because I've experienced that empty chair at my table." The candidate didn't elaborate, which led to days of questions from reporters asking if she'd herself lost a family member to fentanyl: On Sunday she said, "That person has not passed away, we were so fortunate. It was a very difficult chapter in our lives and I thank God every day that we were able to come through this."
● LA-Gov: LAPolitics broke the news Friday that a group called Team Louisiana PAC is running a $300,000 TV ad campaign starring state Democratic Party chair Katie Bernhardt at a time when she's considering a bid for governor. The minute-long spot touts Bernhardt as "someone who remembers a time when our future was brighter than our past" and "someone with common sense" before it shows her skeet shooting.
The spot doesn't mention Bernhardt as a prospective candidate for office, though as the Lafayette Daily Advertiser's Greg Hilburn notes, "the video clearly is intended to introduce her to voters." Developer AP Marullo, who funded the pro-Bernhardt spot, did nothing to tamp down the chatter himself when he responded, "When something causes a stir, I believe that it leads to the types of real conversations that lay the groundwork for change." (Marullo himself was briefly talked about as a potential Democratic candidate himself, though there was never any indication he was interested in putting his name on the ballot.)
● FL-17: Republican Rep. Greg Steube was released from the hospital Saturday days after he was admitted for the injuries he sustained from a fall while doing yard work.
● IN-06, IN-LG, IN-Sen: Politico's Adam Wren relays that Indiana political watchers have "widely gossiped" about the idea that Republican Rep. Greg Pence, who is Mike Pence's older brother, could forgo a re-election campaign in 2024 and instead serve as Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch's running mate as she seeks the governorship. Pence himself doesn't appear to have said anything publicly about the idea he might give up his safely red 6th District to run for lieutenant governor.
To complicate things, the nominee for lieutenant governor of Indiana is chosen by party delegates, rather than primary voters or the candidate for governor. Crouch herself also has a tough primary ahead of her against Sen. Mike Braun and wealthy businessman Eric Doden as she seeks to succeed termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb, so she may not be in a position to urge delegates next year to select Pence or anyone else as her running mate. The eventual nominees for governor and lieutenant governor will run together as a ticket in the general election.
It's possible, though, that Pence would hedge his bets and seek re-election to the House while holding out hope he'll be nominated for lieutenant governor later. Indeed, then-Gov. Mike Pence won his 2016 primary for another term only to withdraw his name right ahead of the July deadline when Donald Trump chose him to be his own running mate: Indiana party leaders soon selected Holcomb to be their new nominee for governor.
This potential career switch isn't the only way that Greg Pence has made news in the last few days. While Pence backed his colleague Jim Banks' Senate bid on Tuesday, Wren says he's since retracted his endorsement over what his allies call "unwarranted attacks" against former Gov. Mitch Daniels from both Donald Trump Jr. and the Club for Growth. Daniels himself hasn't yet decided whether or not to run for the Senate seat that Braun is giving up to campaign for governor.
P.S. Pence's former Democratic colleague, New York's Antonio Delgado, last year did leave the lower chamber to become his state's lieutenant governor, though the circumstances were different. Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed Delgado, who was facing a tough campaign, to become her second-in-command after her first choice, Brian Benjamin, resigned after being arrested on bribery charges. Delgado went on to win his primary and win a full term along with Hochul.
● NY-03: Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, who took third in last year's Democratic primary, has filed paperwork with the FEC to raise money for a potential bid for the seat that's now held by the globally infamous George Santos, though he hasn't publicly committed to anything yet.
Lafazan recently said he was focused on his re-election campaign this year, a response that very much didn't rule anything out for 2024. However, as we've noted before, these super-early filings from defeated candidates often have more to do with resolving financial matters from their last campaign than they do about the future and don't necessarily mean that they're planning another effort.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: While Mayor John Cooper has yet to announce that he'll seek re-election this year, the local police and firefighters unions have both endorsed him. Cooper, who is the brother of former Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, faces opposition from Metro Council members Sharon Hurt and Freddie O'Connell along with former economic development chief Matt Wiltshire in the August nonpartisan primary.
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: Former Councilmember Helen Gym on Monday earned the backing of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for the May Democratic primary, an endorsement that the Philadelphia Inquirer's Anna Orso writes "typically comes with a substantial get-out-the-vote apparatus." Orso adds that the only other major union that's taken sides so far is AFSCME District Council 33, which is for businessman Jeff Brown.
● Suffolk County, NY Executive: New York Republicans are looking to win this fall's race to succeed termed-out Democratic incumbent Steve Bellone as executive of Suffolk County, and Newsday's Vera Chinese reports that some party members are still hoping that former Rep. Lee Zeldin will campaign to lead this populous Long Island community.
Zeldin, who carried the county 58-42 last November in his unsuccessful quest to oust Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, responded with a statement very similar to the one he supplied to the New York Times when it asked him about his interest in taking on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. "Since Election Day, I have fielded many calls from people with their thoughts of various positions in government they would like me to pursue and I am very grateful to everyone for their passionate outreach," said Zeldin, "But I don't have any update on that front to announce at this time."
There’s no other word on how likely he is to run, though longtime political observer Lawrence Levy tells Chinese, “Republicans and even some Democrats are waiting for Lee Zeldin to make up his mind.” Several other local Republicans, though, explicitly said they were thinking about running to replace Bellone:
- County Legislator Trish Bergin
- Brookhaven Town Councilman Neil Foley
- County Comptroller John Kennedy
- County Legislator Kevin McCaffrey
- Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine
On the Democratic side, venture capitalist Dave Calone has had the field to himself since July and enjoys the backing of powerful county chair Rich Schaffer and several prominent party leaders; Calone also says he now has $1.7 million on-hand. Calone previously competed in the 2016 primary to take on Zeldin in the 1st District but lost to Anna Throne-Holst in a 51-49 squeaker; Zeldin went on to easily turn back Throne-Holst 58-42.
Suffolk County, a community of 1.5 million people that takes up the eastern half of Long Island, has long been competitive turf, though Republicans have done well here in recent years. Donald Trump's 51-45 victory in 2016 made him the first Republican presidential nominee to carry the county since 1992: Trump four years later took it 49.30-49.27―a tiny 232-vote margin that still made it the largest county in America to back the GOP ticket.
Local Republicans had a strong 2021, a year where they did everything they could to portray their opponents as weak on crime. Republican prosecutor Ray Tierney overcame a huge fundraising disadvantage to unseat Democratic District Attorney Timothy Sini 55-45: Tierney had campaigned on his opposition to bail reform, which Sini also said he opposed. The GOP that same night also took control of the Suffolk County Legislature for the first time since 2005. Zeldin and the rest of the 2022 Republican statewide ticket went on to each carry the county even as they lost their respective races.
Democrats, meanwhile, have won every race for county executive from 2003 on, though they haven't enjoyed an unbroken string of control during that time. Executive Steve Levy defected to the GOP in 2010 to run for governor, though he failed to even make the primary ballot. Bellone took back this post for his party the next year, and he earned his third and final term in 2019 by beating Kennedy 56-43.
Party primaries will take place in June, though the candidates for countywide office here are usually selected months before. Suffolk County GOP Jesse Garcia says his organization will interview candidates later in the month while local Conservative Party chairman Mike Torres adds his organization, which usually allies with the GOP, will likely pick its contender in early February.
Any candidate who is endorsed by both the county GOP and Conservative Party rarely has anything to worry about in the primary, though things don't always go according to plan. In 2017, for instance, both groups threw their support behind state Sen. Phil Boyle's bid for sheriff, but he lost the GOP nod to Larry Zacarese in a 55-45 shocker. "This has been the epitome of an outsider grass-roots campaign against a big machine," said Zacarese, who was an assistant police chief for Stony Brook University. Zacarese, though, himself lost in a tight November upset to Democrat Errol Toulon.