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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● MI-Sen: Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced Thursday that she would not seek a fifth term in 2024 in Michigan, a move that sets off an open seat race in a state that swung from Trump to Biden. Stabenow, whose 2000 win made her the first, and to date only, woman to represent the Wolverine State in the upper chamber, hinted she wanted another woman to succeed her in her statement. "But I have always believed it's not enough to be the 'first' unless there is a 'second' and a 'third," she said.
While Stabenow’s decision came as a surprise, it took very little time for news outlets to report that several politicians from each party were eying the contest. On the Democratic side, the New York Times relays that Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who represents the competitive 7th District, “called allies in the state on Thursday saying she was preparing to announce her candidacy for the Senate as soon as next week.” Multiple publications also say that fellow Rep. Haley Stevens is considering the idea.
Another congresswoman, Debbie Dingell, told the Times she wanted to wait to see whom she’d back or if she’d even jump in herself. While Dingell didn’t indicate how interested she was in campaigning to succeed Stabenow, though, Politico says that she’s indeed “seriously considering” the idea. An unnamed source also tells NBC that Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist isn’t ruling out a campaign.
As for U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who moved to Michigan last year, many media outlets concluded he was a “no” when he said early on Thursday that he was “fully focused on serving the president in my role as secretary of transportation and not seeking any other job.” But in an appearance on Fox News later in the day, when host Bret Baier repeatedly pressed Buttigieg on his intentions, the former South Bend, Indiana mayor declined to rule out a bid, twice saying he’s “completely focused” on his present job. He did add, “I'm not planning to run for anything,” but that’s very different from saying, “I’m not running for anything.”
Meanwhile, newly-elected Rep. Shri Thanedar says he has “no plans” to seek a promotion, which, again, may not be quite a no; a spokesperson for former Rep. Andy Levin, who lost last year’s primary to Stevens, said the same thing about his boss.
NBC and Politico have also named several other potential candidates as possibilities, though we’re still waiting to hear if any are thinking about it:
- Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson
- State Sen. Mallory McMorrow
- Attorney General Dana Nessel
- Rep. Rashida Tlaib
In the no column are:
- Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan
- Rep. Dan Kildee
- Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
For the Republicans, there was also immediate talk that John James, who came close to beating Sen. Gary Peters in 2020 two years after falling short against Stabenow, could wage a third bid for the Senate. James, who won an unexpectedly tight House race last year, didn’t dismiss the idea, saying, “Look, I haven’t even been sworn into Congress, yet! So here’s my plan: Get sworn in and get to work serving the people of Michigan’s 10th district.” Former Rep. Peter Meijer, who will not be getting sworn in, responded with a mere, “No comment” when asked about his interest.
Another possibility is Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, a former congresswoman who disappointed Republicans by turning down the chance to run for governor last cycle. Miller’s former chief of staff, though, says she is “seriously considering” a Senate bid.
There are also several people who did run for governor last time who could get in. A spokesperson for Tudor Dixon, who lost to Whitmer 54-44 last year after a disastrous campaign, tells the AP she isn’t ruling out a Senate bid. The Times, meanwhile, says that wealthy businessman Kevin Rinke, whom plenty of Republicans probably wish had beaten Dixon in last year’s primary, is telling allies he’s interested.
We could also see the return of real estate agent Ryan Kelley, who was arrested in June on misdemeanor charges related to his role in the Jan. 6 riot as he was running for governor. Kelley, who responded to his fourth-place primary showing by making evidence-free allegations against the state party and Dixon, said last year he was thinking about campaigning against Stabenow.
Media outlets also named plenty of other possibilities:
Inside Elections’ Nathan Gonzales also lists former Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Libertarian, as a potential contender.
Stabenow's departure ends a long political career. The future senator, who paid her way through Michigan State University by working as a folk singer, first sought elected office in 1974 at the age of 24 when she campaigned for a seat on the Ingham County Commission. Stabenow, who was a graduate student at MSU at the time, recounted that she decided to run after she learned that Republican incumbent Gordon Swix, who had fended off her husband by 200 votes two years before, wanted to close the one nursing home in Lansing that accepted Medicaid patients.
Stabenow ended up scoring a landslide win over Swix, who disparaged her as "that young broad," and she went on to serve in both the state House and Senate. The state senator sought a promotion in 1994 when she hoped to challenge Republican Gov. John Engler, but Stabenow lost the primary 35-30 to former Rep. Howard Wolpe. Wolpe soon selected her to be his running mate, but their ticket lost in a 61-38 landslide during that Republican wave year.
Stabenow, though, got a chance to return to elected office in 1996 when she went up against freshman Rep. Dick Chrysler, who was an ally of hard-right Speaker Newt Gingrich, in what was then numbered the 8th Congressional District. Labor groups made this contest a major priority, while Chrysler and his allies urged Lansing area voters to reject what one ad characterized as, "The big labor bosses. Big money. Big Lies. Big liberals."
Chrysler's loyalty to Gingrich, though, proved to be a major obstacle. As political analyst William Ballenger put it at the time, "It takes a person with great political skills and finely tuned political antennae to take a seat like this. Chrysler is not that sort of person." Stabenow, who retained a deep political base in the area, was a far better campaigner than the incumbent, whom the Washington Post described as someone who "often appears stiff and self-conscious on the campaign trail."
Chrysler got an endorsement late in the race from Ross Perot's Reform Party, but it was far from enough. While observers anticipated a close race, Stabenow scored a 54-44 victory. According to analyst Kiernan Park-Egan, Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole 50-41 in this seat, with the balance going to Perot.
Stabenow, who was decisively re-elected two years later, soon set her sights on a 2000 campaign against Sen. Spencer Abraham, another Republican who was swept in during the 1994 wave. Abraham made use of his considerable financial resources to attack the congresswoman early and promote an endorsement from John McCain, and he posted what the Chicago Tribune characterized as a "steady but not overwhelming lead" in the polls through early October. Stabenow, who did not face any primary opposition, went on the air during the final month of the campaign and emphasized lowering the cost of pharmaceuticals.
And in a development that would be unimaginable today, the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform ran commercials against the Republican: One infamous spring newspaper ad accused Abraham, who was one of the most prominent Arab American politicians in the country, of "trying to make it easy for Osama bin Laden to export terrorism to the U.S." Stabenow, for her part, disavowed the messaging. The challenger ended up winning a cliffhanger race 49-48 as Al Gore was taking Michigan 51-46.
Stabenow had a far easier time in 2006 when the blue wave helped lift her to a 57-41 victory over Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, a Republican who never led in a single released poll. The senator initially seemed to be in for a tougher 2012 contest against former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, but he made news for all the wrong reasons when he deployed a flagrantly racist ad during the Super Bowl starring a woman of Asian descent speaking in broken English, featuring bon mots like, "Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie Spend-it-now." Backlash to the spot torpedoed Hoekstra's campaign, and Stabenow beat him by a punishing 59-38 margin.
Stabenow's final campaign in 2018 pitted her against John James, then a well-funded Army veteran backed by Donald Trump. While Trump had narrowly carried Michigan two years earlier in a shocker, his unpopularity helped establish Stabenow as the favorite in what was shaping up to be another good year for Democrats. However, while the senator posted huge leads going into October, James held her to a surprisingly modest 52-46 victory.
● AZ-Sen: While an unnamed Kari Lake ally told NBC last month that the 2022 Republican nominee for governor wanted Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb to run for Senate and that she was "pretty disillusioned right now," Politico's Holly Otterbein reported Thursday that Lake had "recently fielded calls from supporters encouraging her to run" against independent incumbent Kyrsten Sinema. There's no word what Lake is telling these callers in private, but in public she's continuing to spread conspiracy theories about her loss to now-Gov. Katie Hobbs and dubbing herself "the duly elected governor."
Otterbein also mentions two other Republicans, state Treasurer Kimberly Yee and former Rep. Matt Salmon, as possible Senate contenders, though neither has shown any interest. Both Republicans ran abortive campaigns last cycle for governor: Yee turned around and won re-election 56-44, while Salmon dropped out and endorsed Karrin Taylor Robson in a failed attempt to block Lake.
On the Democratic side, Otterbein lists Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, who is up for re-election this year, as a possibility, but there's also no indication she's considering. Rep. Ruben Gallego, for his part, is continuing to staff up for a likely Senate campaign, while colleague Greg Stanton has also expressed interest.
● PA-Sen: Democratic Sen. Bob Casey announced Thursday that he would undergo treatment for prostate cancer, saying, "While the news came as a shock, I can report that I have an excellent prognosis, as well as the benefit of exceptional medical care and the unwavering support of my family." Casey, who is up for re-election in 2024, added, "In the coming months I will undergo surgery, after which I am expected to make a full recovery."
● LA-Gov: News broke Wednesday that an unreleased poll included state Democratic Party chair Katie Bernhardt, who had not previously been mentioned as a possible contender, as an option, and she didn't rule out anything when reporters asked her about it. Bernhardt instead put out a statement saying, "It's flattering to be included as a potential candidate but my primary objective is to utilize all the information available to ensure we run the best candidate."
● Super PACs: In an entirely unsuccessful effort to persuade Kevin McCarthy's intra-party enemies to lay down arms, two of the biggest Republican super PACs announced a bizarre agreement on Wednesday evening. The terms of the deal—between the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is closely linked to McCarthy and House GOP leadership, and the Club for Growth, which typically butts heads with the establishment—are as follows: CLF says it "will not spend in any open-seat primaries in safe Republican districts" or fund any other groups that would, while the Club agreed to endorse McCarthy's speakership bid.
Not a single anti-McCarthy rebel switched sides in several more humiliating rounds of voting on Thursday as a result, but what remains to be seen is how CLF interprets the pact. Many far-right Republicans deeply resent the influence that CLF, which spends more money on House races than any other GOP group, wields over primaries. In fact, some of these malcontents expressly raised this issue in a letter to their colleagues last month, arguing, "While organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Club for Growth have a role to play in primaries, Republican leadership does not."
But CLF seldom plays in safely red seats in the first place (a rare case came in Texas’ 8th District last year). When it does get involved in primaries, it's almost always desperately trying to save Republicans from themselves by encouraging voters not to nominate fringe candidates who will cough up competitive seats. (A perfect example would be their unsuccessful efforts in North Carolina's 1st District to thwart Sandy Smith, who was accused of physical abuse by her daughter and not one but two ex-husbands; Smith went on to lose to Democrat Don Davis 52-48.)
Indeed, the PAC emphasized in a joint press release with the Club that it would "continue to support incumbents in primaries as well as challengers in districts that affect the Majority," which is to say, competitive districts. This deal, therefore, can't alter CLF's overall approach all that much—and who gets to determine what a "safe" seat is? Would Colorado's 3rd count, for instance? This is a district that Donald Trump would have carried by a comfortable 53-45 margin, but the GOP only held on to it by 0.2% in November … all because of a woman named Lauren Boebert. In other words, a safe seat can quickly become unsafe with a disaster candidate on the ballot—a reality CLF understands all too well but one the Club and their ilk refuse to acknowledge.
But if there’s one thing Republicans are supremely good at, it's clawing one another's eyes out. We can expect CLF to intervene in reddish seats to avoid future Boebert-type situations, and we can expect the Club to react furiously. There won't be anything they can do about it, though, and McCarthy will still have racked up yet another nasty string of losses.
● PA State House: Democrats and a minority of Republicans on Tuesday made moderate Democrat Mark Rozzi speaker just before he announced he'd preside as an independent, but at least one Democratic member wants to swap him out before long. State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta on Thursday took to Twitter to predict that, once the party wins a trio of special elections in Democratic-held seats in the Pittsburgh area, Democratic leader Joanna McClinton "will become Speaker Joanna McClinton."
Rozzi, for his part, has signed a writ scheduling all of those contests for Feb. 7, which is the date that McClinton picked in December. Both parties agree that the contest for the 32nd District will be that date, but Republicans are suing to force the other two to occur in May to coincide with the statewide primary.