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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● CA-45: Garden Grove City Councilwoman Kim Bernice Nguyen on Wednesday became the first notable Democrat to announce a campaign against Republican Rep. Michelle Steel in California’s 45th Congressional District, a western Orange County constituency that Joe Biden carried 52-46 in 2020.
Nguyen, who used her opening video to tell the audience, “My father is a Vietnamese refugee, my mother a Mexican immigrant,” made history in 2016 when she became the first Latino to ever serve on her City Council. Nguyen four years later challenged Republican County Supervisor Andrew Do only to take fourth place in the nonpartisan primary, but she ran for another seat in 2022 when redistricting created the first majority-Latino Board seat in Orange County history.
Nguyen’s opponent this time was a fellow Democrat, Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento, and both contenders had some prominent supporters in their corner. Nguyen’s backers included Rep. Katie Porter, a prominent progressive who was successfully running for the 47th District; the sheriff deputies union; and even her old opponent Do. Sarmiento, meanwhile, sported endorsements from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the county Democratic Party, and he ended up beating Nguyen 52-48 in an election that saw their party take its first majority on the Board of Supervisors since 1976.
Steel herself has pulled off two close congressional wins in Orange County, an area where plenty of voters still back Republicans down the ballot even as they’ve become more open to supporting Democrats overall. Steel won a promotion from the Board to the House in 2020 when she unseated Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda 51-49 even as Biden was taking the old 48th District 50-48. (Rouda is now running to succeed Porter, who is campaigning for the Senate.)
Redistricting completely scrambled the map the following cycle and led Steel to campaign for the new 45th District, a constituency that was almost 85% new to her and a bit bluer than her existing seat. Steel responded to the challenge by embracing the old Orange County GOP strategy of accusing her Democratic opponent of being linked to communists, a tactic that local Republicans had long used in areas with large Vietnamese American electorates like western Orange County.
Steel generated national attention late in the campaign when she sent out a mailer declaring that her Democratic opponent, local school board trustee Jay Chen, had "invited China into our children's classes." Chen's campaign responded to the offensive by highlighting the fact that his grandmother fled China after the Communist Party took power and his own service in the U.S. Navy Reserves, though that very much didn’t deter Steel’s allies from airing TV ads accusing him of having "led efforts to bring Chinese communist propaganda to schools.”
The DCCC and House Majority PAC largely focused their resources elsewhere in a pessimistic sign for Chen’s prospects, while their Republican counterparts spent a hefty $5 million. Steel did win, though her 52-48 margin may have been smaller than national Democrats predicted before Election Day; according to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, the Republican candidates for governor and Senate each carried the 45th District 51-49 last year as well. Politico wrote in December that some Democrats hoped Chen would run again, though he doesn’t appear to have publicly said anything about his 2024 plans.
● We've got more developments in the 2024 Arizona Senate race now that Rep. Ruben Gallego has officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. David Beard and guest host Joe Sudbay discuss his chances in the race and how Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema's decision on whether to run for re-election will impact Gallego's support from national Democrats. Then we discuss the upcoming Chicago mayor's race and the recent flurry of polls that have shown incumbent Lori Lightfoot anywhere from leading the pack to missing out on a runoff entirely. Lastly, we touch on Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine's decision to run for re-election and the importance of the Old Dominion’s 2023 state elections.
After the break we're joined by Victoria McGroary, the executive director of BOLD PAC, which serves as the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. She breaks down how Democrats prevented losses among Hispanic voters in 2022 despite pundit predictions otherwise. We also discuss the ongoing problem of disinformation in Spanish-language media and how BOLD PAC has fought back against it. And we discuss the memorable Democratic primary for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District from last year where BOLD PAC's endorsed candidate, now-Rep. Andrea Salinas, managed to overcome a 12-1 spending disparity to defeat a crypto-backed candidate.
New episodes of The Downballot come out every Thursday morning. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show. You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time.
● NY Redistricting: On Tuesday, a state appellate court upheld a lower court decision that had ordered New York's bipartisan redistricting commission to draw a new district map for the Assembly to be used in the 2024 elections. The new map will replace the districts drawn by Democratic lawmakers that had previously been struck down as unconstitutional last year but were temporarily used last fall because it was too close to the elections to implement different districts. The court's ruling rejected a request by the GOP plaintiffs for a court-appointed special master to draw the new map instead of the commissioners.
Last month, the redistricting commissioners advanced a draft map of the new Assembly districts, and they have until April 28 to approve a new plan and submit it to the Democratic-run legislature for their approval. If lawmakers reject the eventual map or if commissioners fail to approve one at all, a court would likely once again step in to draw one instead.
● PA-Sen: Democratic Sen. Bob Casey tells the Washington Post that he’s focusing on his battle with prostate cancer before he makes a final decision about seeking re-election, saying, "I just want to get through this." Casey told Politico back in October before his diagnosis that running again was "my goal," adding, "We try not to talk about it 'til it starts."
● NY-03: Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday that the House would expel his scandal-a-minute colleague, Rep. George Santos, if the House Ethics Committee determines "he has broken the law." The Hill notes that it remains to be seen if the Ethics Committee is probing the freshman Republican, though we know that he's under investigation at the local, state, federal, and international levels.
Santos himself made news once again Tuesday when the Daily Beast reported he'd updated his FEC reports to say that he hadn't actually used personal funds to finance $500,000 that he'd loaned his campaign, though he didn't say where the money had come from. Elections lawyer Brett Kappel told the New York Times that, if the money didn't come from Santos himself, "The only other permissible source would be a bank, and they would require collateral for a loan of this size. If a bank wasn't the source of the funds, then the only alternatives are illegal sources."
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Rep. Chuy Garcia, who has spent weeks on the receiving end of negative ads from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, debuted his first TV commercial Tuesday, while the incumbent is continuing to try to knock her fellow Democrat out of the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary. Lightfoot herself recently made it clear she wants to face former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas in an April runoff, and she's betting she can get this matchup with another spot tying Garcia to two scandal-ridden men, former crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried and former Illinois state House Speaker Michael Madigan.
We'll start with Garcia's opening ad which, like the messaging coming from Lightfoot and the other major candidates, focuses on crime. The congressman tells the audience, "It's time to get back to a safer Chicago now by getting more cops on our streets and illegal guns off of them," before he calls for "[e]xpanding community-based violence prevention programs and tackling the root causes of crime by investing in left behind neighborhoods." Politico says that Garcia, who had to briefly take down and edit the commercial because it initially featured him speaking to uniformed police officers, is spending $167,000 this week on commercials.
Lightfoot, though, is continuing her pricey campaign against her main opponent with a new offering that shows an animated version of Garcia seated next to Bankman-Fried and Madigan as the narrator proclaims, "Chuy Garcia cozies up to crypto crooks, indicted politicians, and now his name has surfaced in the Madigan ComEd federal corruption investigation. He'd take us back to the bad old days, a rigged system that only works for the connected and corrupt." The rest of the ad promotes Lightfoot as a reformer who is "delivering so we never go back."
Madigan, whose nearly four-decade tenure as speaker of the state House came to an involuntary end two years ago, is scheduled to go on trial in March for racketeering and bribery. Among other things, Madigan and one of his associates, Michael McClain, are accused of working to place a Garcia ally named Juan Ochoa on the board of directors for the utility giant Commonwealth Edison, and multiple media outlets reported Friday that Garcia's name came up in a secretly recorded 2019 call between Madigan and McClain about what prosecutors call an "unrelated matter." Illinois Capitol Fax's Rich Miller says the "unrelated subject" was about a PAC that Garcia and Ochoa were forming.
The Chicago Sun-Times writes that Madigan was recorded telling McClain, "Okay, so you see there's a request from Ochoa, and Ochoa being Ochoa, the message reads, 'Ochoa and Congressman Garcia.' So I called Chuy, and Chuy really didn't know anything about it." Garcia has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and he quickly denied that he had any knowledge of Madigan's machinations or had been contacted by investigators. Chicago Business' Greg Hinz also argued, "I've seen no proof Garcia did anything to advance the Ochoa appointment, just as his campaign told the Tribune." Miller adds that the meeting Madigan tried to set up with Garcia never took place.
Lightfoot sees things differently, however, and her ad features a Chicago Tribune headline reading, "GARCIA REFERENCED IN FEDERAL CONSPIRACY DOCUMENTS." The mayor was already working to connect Garcia to Madigan even before this story broke by highlighting how they'd supported one another's political interests for years.
Lightfoot also has gone after the congressman over the $2,900 his House campaign received from Bankman-Fried last June, as well as the $151,000 that Bankman-Fried's PAC spent on fliers for that uncontested 2022 primary. Garcia's spokesperson said he donated the $2,900 to charity and argued he "has been a strong advocate for the regulation of speculative industries, including the crypto industry."
Lightfoot's offensive comes as AdImpact reports she spent a total of $3.5 million on ads through Tuesday, which was considerably more than the $2.2 million that her nearest opponent, wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson, deployed; Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and Vallas have spent $1.6 million and $1.5 million so far, respectively.
But while Lightfoot has outpaced her foes on the airwaves, she didn't have the largest war chest at the end of 2022. The deep-pocketed Wilson had about $4.1 million available compared to $1.8 million for both Vallas and Johnson; Lightfoot was just behind with $1.5 million as Garcia had $1.3 million available.
Politico, though, says the mayor took in $300,000 this week from a pair of backers after she released an internal from GBAO giving her the lead with 25% as Vallas edged out Garcia 22-18 for second. Lightfoot has made it clear she wants to face Vallas, who accepted an endorsement from the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police and its Trump-supporting leader, in April, though other polls have shown the incumbent in danger of not even making it to the second round.
● Colorado Springs, CO Mayor: Candidate filing closed Monday for the April 4 nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers as leader of this longtime conservative bastion, and the 11-person field includes two familiar Colorado Republicans of yesteryear. One of those names belongs to former El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, who briefly became a right-wing star during his 2016 bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, while the other is the state's former secretary of state, City Councilman Wayne Williams.
Glenn, who had spent the first year of his Senate bid struggling to raise money or attract attention, galvanized delegates with a speech at the state convention before winning the primary without the help of a single paid staffer. Glenn, who is Black, went on to address the Republican National Convention where he modified an old applause line from months before and declared, "Someone with a nice tan needs to say this: 'All lives matter.'" National Republicans, though, did little to help the perpetually cash-strapped Glenn in the general election, and he lost to Bennet 50-44.
The commissioner set his sights lower in 2018 when he tried to unseat Rep. Doug Lamborn in the primary, but the candidacy of state Sen. Owen Hill made it difficult for either challenger to establish himself as the congressman's main foe: Lamborn went on to beat Glenn 52-20, with Hill just behind with 18%. There was some brief speculation last cycle that Glenn could seek a rematch with Bennet, but he instead announced in December of 2021 that he'd run for mayor.
Williams, for his part, is a longtime local politician who won a promotion from El Paso County clerk to secretary of state during the 2014 red wave by beating Democratic foe Joe Neguse 47-45. (Neguse now represents the Boulder area in Congress.) Things didn't go so well for the Republican four years later during a very different political climate, however: Jena Griswold unseated Williams 53-45, a result that made her the first Democrat to win this post since Dwight Eisenhower was president in 1958.
Williams quickly resurrected his career the next year by winning a citywide seat on the City Council, and he launched a mayoral bid in 2022. However, he earned some grief from his own party in the leadup to the fall elections when he starred in an ad with Griswold where the two former rivals told viewers that the state's "elections are safe and secure" but that "voters should be alert to election disinformation." Williams, who was backing Pam Anderson's unsuccessful bid to unseat Griswold, went on to call for the secretary of state to take the ads off TV.
One of the Republicans who trashed Williams is El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez, a mayoral rival who accused the city councilmember of lying when he said he didn't know the spots would appear on TV. Another notable name is Sallie Clark, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1999 and 2003 and who later served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Trump administration.
The field also includes City Council President Tom Strand, a former Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton even after he changed his party registration to Republican. Strand also briefly took part in the 2018 primary against Lamborn but dropped out; Strand, who called himself a "sort of moderate in my views," said at the time he'd be changing his voter registration again to independent, though it's not clear how he identifies now.
Another contender is businessman Yemi Mobolade, a "political independent" who, like Glenn, would be the first African American elected to lead Colorado Springs. (The late Leon Young served as interim mayor in 1997.) Former information technology consultant Andrew Dalby, who calls himself an "anti-corruption" candidate," and four others will be on the ballot as well, while one more has until Friday to cure problems with his petitions. In the likely event that no one wins a majority, the top two vote-getters will compete in the May 16 general election.
● Jacksonville, FL Mayor: Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis on Tuesday picked up the endorsement of Sheriff T.K. Waters, a fellow Republican who holds one of the most prominent posts in local government (the sheriff runs the Jacksonville police), ahead of the seven-person March 21 nonpartisan primary. Unless one candidate wins a majority, the top two vote-getters will advance to a May general election to succeed termed-out Mayor Lenny Curry in the largest GOP-led city in the entire country.
Davis' best-funded opponent is another Republican, City Council member LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber, and the two sides have been running ads attacking one another. The GOP side also includes City Council member Al Ferraro, who has attracted considerably less attention, and underfunded attorney Frank Keasler. The Democratic contenders are former local TV anchor Donna Deegan, who was the 2020 nominee against Republican Rep. John Rutherford, and state Sen. Audrey Gibson. Rounding out the contest is perennial candidate Omega Allen, who does not identify with a party.
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: State Sen. Vincent Hughes said Wednesday he'd stay out of the May Democratic primary, an announcement that should relieve the author of the recent Philadelphia Magazine article, "Please, No More Philadelphia Mayor Candidates!" Nine prominent Democrats are currently campaigning to succeed termed-out incumbent Jim Kenney, while former Lt. Gov. Mike Stack appears to be the only notable person still considering joining in.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Lehigh County, PA District Attorney: Gavin Holihan, who serves as the top deputy to retiring Republican incumbent Jim Martin, announced his campaign for the GOP nod Monday with his boss' endorsement. Democrats are hoping that Martin's departure in this Lehigh Valley county, which backed Biden 53-45, will give them a good chance to flip a post this year that the Republicans have held since 1960, but there are no obvious contenders yet. Indeed, the county party chair said just last week that she'd wanted Holihan to run as a Democrat and "[w]e hadn't really thought about anybody else."