The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
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● VA-Gov, VA-07: Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger announced her long-awaited bid for governor of Virginia on Monday while also confirming that she would not seek reelection to the House next year.
Spanberger's move likely sets up a primary showdown with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who reportedly plans to launch his own campaign for governor by the end of the year. Republicans, who are still smarting after last week's defeats in Virginia's legislative elections, have yet to land a candidate, though Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares have both been mentioned as possible contenders.
Democrats are especially eager to retake the governorship after losing it two years ago to Republican Glenn Youngkin, who had enjoyed high approval ratings throughout his tenure but is now bearing the brunt of intra-party criticism following the GOP's loss of the state House and failure to flip the state Senate. Youngkin, however, won't be on the ballot in 2025, since Virginia is the only state in the nation where the governor cannot run for a second consecutive term.
While Spanberger's decision not to run for a fourth term in Congress could make it more difficult for Democrats to hold her competitive 7th District in 2024, her choice might be preferable to the alternative. Were she to instead win another term in the House and then win the governor's race the following year, Democrats would be looking at a mid-winter special election in early 2026. This way, they have the chance to defend her seat in a high-turnout presidential year, when Joe Biden is more likely than not to carry the 7th again. (Under the current boundaries, Biden would have won the district 53-46 in 2020.)
Spanberger, a former CIA officer, first won office in 2018, when she defeated GOP Rep. Dave Brat to flip the prior version of the 7th. That iteration of the district, which was anchored in the Richmond suburbs, looked very different from its present incarnation, which is based in the southern exurbs of Washington, D.C. It was also considerably more conservative, voting for Biden by just a 50-49 margin in 2020 and 50-44 for Donald Trump in 2016.
But despite a smear campaign by the Congressional Leadership Fund, which used an improperly obtained security application to run TV ads attacking Spanberger for working as a substitute teacher at an Islamic high school years earlier, she beat Brat 50-48.
A cycle later, she survived a similarly close battle with state Rep. Nick Freitas, holding him off 51-49. After a court redrew Virginia's map following the 2020 census, however, Spanberger's district became friendlier for Democrats, which likely helped her turn back Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega by a more comfortable 52-46 margin. In Congress, Spanberger cultivated a reputation as a moderate, making waves after Democrats lost seats in the House in 2020 when she blamed colleagues who embraced the "socialist" label or calls to "defund the police" for opening up the whole party to attack.
She's also proven to be a heavyweight fundraiser, with $1.4 million in her House campaign account at the end of September. According to Ballotpedia, Virginia does not prohibit candidates from transferring federal funds to state campaigns. Those sums would give her a head start on Stoney, who controls a PAC that had $340,000 banked as of last month.
● LA Redistricting: A panel of three judges on the conservative-dominated 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has given Louisiana's heavily Republican legislature until Jan. 15 to draw a new congressional map with a second district where Black voters could elect their preferred candidate, who would almost certainly be a Black Democrat.
The appellate judges agreed with a lower court that Republican mapmakers likely violated the Voting Rights Act when they enacted a congressional map after the 2020 census with just one majority-Black district instead of two. However, Republicans are unlikely to draw a compliant map, since they're claiming that the relevant part of the VRA is unconstitutional in a separate lawsuit challenging their legislative maps.
Aware of this possibility, the 5th Circuit said that if lawmakers fail to act, the lower court should proceed with a trial in time to implement a new map ahead of the 2024 elections. Although it didn't set a firm timeline, the panel referenced the defense counsel's suggestion of a Feb. 15 start date for a trial and a May 30 deadline for a new map to be adopted to allow sufficient time before the July 19 candidate filing deadline.
Months before the 2022 elections, a federal district court had temporarily blocked the GOP's map, but the Supreme Court put that ruling on hold while Republicans appealed. However, in a landmark decision in June, the Supreme Court upheld a similar ruling requiring a second Black district in Alabama, where a lower court just implemented a new map for 2024. If the justices follow their own precedent as laid down in the Alabama case, Louisiana's map should ultimately face a similar fate.
However, a trial would give the Republicans more opportunities to delay since they could appeal any subsequent ruling. Further delays could provide a pretext for the Supreme Court's right-wing majority to once again say it's too close to the next election to adopt a new map, which would let Louisiana Republicans get away with an illegal gerrymander for a second of the decade's five elections.
● FL-Sen: Wealthy former healthcare executive Stanley Campbell, a former Navy pilot and rocket scientist, has confirmed that he'll seek the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Sen. Rick Scott next year. Campbell, who had reportedly been considering a bid, is also the brother of 2 Live Crew rapper Luther Campbell and is one of just a handful of Black Americans who owns a golf course. Campbell, however, would first have to get past former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who launched a campaign over the summer and has already earned a number of endorsements from prominent Democrats.
● MT-Sen: A late October poll commissioned by a pro-Tim Sheehy super PAC finds Sheehy edging past Rep. Matt Rosendale in a hypothetical Republican primary by a 38-35 margin. The survey, from Fabrizio Lee, contrasts sharply with the other polls we've seen, all of which have shown Rosendale (who has yet to enter the race) with wide leads. It's not clear why this poll is at odds with other data, though the PAC behind it, called More Jobs, Less Government, has already spent more than $500,000 on various forms of voter outreach on behalf of Sheehy.
● NJ-Sen: Just a day after saying that "few expect" Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez to run for another term, the New Jersey Globe's David Wildstein published a very different piece arguing that the indicted incumbent is "[i]ncreasingly looking like he plans to seek re-election." New Jersey's primary is on June 4, with the candidate filing deadline likely to be in early April.
● NC-Gov: A new poll from Meredith College of North Carolina's gubernatorial primaries finds state Attorney General Josh Stein leading former state Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan 38-11 for the Democratic nod, a slightly larger margin for Stein than the 33-11 advantage Meredith gave him in September. On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson continues to far outpace the field, taking 41% of the vote, with his nearest opponent, attorney Bill Graham, nabbing just 5%. A general election matchup shows lots of voters are undecided, with Stein holding a skinny 38-36 lead over Robinson. The same poll shows Joe Biden edging out Donald Trump 40-39.
● AL-01: Eh, those endorsements were sour anyway. The Hotline reports that Rep. Barry Moore claims he won't "accept support" from the Club for Growth in his redistricting-induced primary against fellow Rep. Jerry Carl, despite the fact that the deep-pocketed group has backed him in the past. It appears that Moore might be making this public disavowal to stay on the good side of Donald Trump, who has long feuded with the Club and has lately been the target of attack ads by a PAC linked to the group.
● CA-20: Kevin McCarthy now says he's considering whether or not to seek reelection next year, despite insisting just days after getting ousted as House speaker that he'd run for another term. McCarthy told CNN that he'd discuss his future with his family over "the holidays" (though it wasn't clear whether he meant Thanksgiving or the winter holidays), but he doesn't sound quite as enthusiastic about remaining in Congress as he did just last month. "Well, there's so many ways you can do that to make sure you're getting the job done," he said in the same interview. "And I'm going to look at all options." Unnamed McCarthy staffers also tell CNN their boss will not resign early.
● CO-04: Former Fort Collins City Councilman Gino Campana is reportedly considering a bid for Colorado's newly open 4th Congressional District, according to Colorado Politics, but there's no quote from the potential candidate. Campana, a real estate developer, ran for Senate last year but failed to make the primary ballot after taking just 11% among delegates at the state GOP's convention.
● MN-05: Former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, who nearly unseated Rep. Ilhan Omar in last year's Democratic primary, announced on Sunday that he'd try again. Samuels accused the incumbent of having "a predilection to divisiveness and conflict" in an interview with the Associated Press and told the Star Tribune that she had "minimized the assault on Israel and exacerbated divisions in the way she frames the problem in Palestine."
Omar responded by criticizing Samuels for past support he's gotten from conservatives. "Right-wing donors have targeted me since I first entered public life, so I am not surprised that my challenger previously received contributions from Harlan Crow, the same far-right billionaire who bankrolled Clarence Thomas," she said in a statement.
In their previous matchup, Samuels faulted Omar for supporting an unsuccessful local ballot measure in 2021 that would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new department of public safety, a drive he linked to the "defund the police" movement. Omar, meanwhile, declined to run any TV ads at all, apparently believing her base consisted of younger votes who wouldn't be receptive to the medium. While she survived Samuels' challenge, her historically close 50-48 margin came as a shock.
One key difference this time, as Samuels noted, is that he's getting a much earlier start. Last year, he launched his campaign in February, while this cycle, he has nine months until the Aug. 13 primary. On the flipside, Samuels enjoyed essentially a one-on-one matchup in 2022, but the field could be much more crowded next year. Two other little-known Democrats are already running, but two prominent names, state Senate President Bobby Joe Champion and City Council member LaTrisha Vetaw, have ruled out bids of their own.
Should a crowded race develop, that could benefit Omar: If a single challenger can't consolidate the anti-incumbent vote, the congresswoman could win renomination with just a plurality of the vote, since Minnesota does not require primary runoffs. But whoever wins the Democratic nomination will easily prevail in the general election, since the Minneapolis-based 5th District voted for Joe Biden by an overwhelming 81-17 margin.
● NJ-08: The New Jersey Globe reports that Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who has been considering a possible primary challenge to Democratic Rep. Rob Menendez, has raised more than $500,000 over the last month. Menendez has stood by his father, Sen. Bob Menendez, following his indictment on federal corruption charges, making him the only member of the state's congressional delegation to do so. The younger Menendez has not been implicated in the case, but he won the open 8th District last year in large part because of the senator's sway.
● NY-18: Republican Alison Esposito, a former New York City police officer seeking to challenge Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan, is touting a new endorsement from Rep. Elise Stefanik, the most senior New York Republican in the House.
● NY-26: Longtime Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins announced on Sunday that he would step down from Congress in the first week of February, confirming earlier reports that he would resign. In an interview with the Buffalo News' Jerry Zremski, he declined to say whether he'd become president of Shea's Performing Arts Center, as multiple outlets had reported, but he did offer a grim assessment of the institution he's leaving behind.
"Congress is not the institution that I came to 19 years ago," Higgins told the News. "And, you know, it's in a very, very bad place right now. I am hopeful, as I always am, that it gets better. But unfortunately, I think we're at the beginning phases of a deterioration of the prestige of the institution."
Two decades ago, Higgins, then a member of the state Assembly, jumped into the race for what was then the 27th District to succeed Rep. Jack Quinn, a moderate Republican who had unexpectedly said he'd retire in 2004. Higgins handily won the Democratic primary but he faced a difficult general election against Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples. Though John Kerry carried the Buffalo-area 27th 53-45, Higgins turned aside Naples by just a 51-49 margin to win the seat, one of just five that Democrats flipped that year.
While in Congress, Higgins made a name for himself as a congressman singularly focused on his district. “When I went to Congress 19 years ago, I didn’t go to change the world,” Higgins told Zremski. “I went with the plan of changing my community." Zremski observed that the congressman "won't be remembered for any major legislation that bears his name as chief sponsor" but rather for a 2007 deal in which he secured $279 million to redevelop Buffalo's waterfront.
Following that first close campaign, Higgins never again struggled at the ballot box. Even during the GOP wave of 2010, the closest reelection of his career, he still prevailed by more than 20 points. A key reason was the transformation of his district, which came about due to continued population loss in upstate New York. Following the 2010 census, his seat was renumbered the 26th and was made much more compact, centering on the city of Buffalo rather than adjacent areas. That made the new district considerably bluer, and it remains a Democratic stronghold today: Joe Biden carried it by a wide 61-37 spread.
That should put it out of reach for Republicans in the special election that will follow Higgins' departure. But that also means that voters will have little say in selecting their new representative, since there are no primaries in New York ahead of special elections. Rather, local party leaders will choose nominees. We also don't know when a special might be, since Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul cannot call one until Higgins actually departs.
● OR-03: Willamette Week reports that state Reps. Maxine Dexter and Thuy Tran are both "considering" bids for Oregon's newly open 3rd Congressional District, though neither Democrat is quoted. Two notable Democrats are already running for the dark blue seat being left open by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales and former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.
● TX-04: Rep. Pat Fallon was one of two Texas Republicans representing neighboring districts north of Dallas who announced their departures from Congress on Monday. But while Rep. Michael Burgess (more on him just below) is leaving elective office altogether, Fallon hopes to continue his political career in a very unusual way: by running for his old seat in the Texas state Senate.
It’s not unheard of for members of the House to seek local office. In 2020, for instance, California Rep. Paul Cook ran for and won a seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors rather than seek reelection. And sometimes former members try to resurrect their political fortunes by running for a spot in the state legislature, especially if they served there previously. Ohio Republican Jean Schmidt is a recent example: She won a race for the state House in 2020, where her career first began in 2001.
But typically, a comeback like Schmidt’s follows a loss (she was defeated in the 2012 primary by Brad Wenstrup, who incidentally just announced his own retirement days ago), and usually after a period of years has elapsed. A direct descent from Congress to the statehouse isn’t completely unknown, though, but there’s almost always a specific reason.
As the Washington Examiner’s David Mark notes, New Hampshire Republican Gordon Humphrey—who served in the Senate, not the House—opted to run for the state Senate in 1990 instead of seeking a third term. Humphrey, however, was making good on a term-limits pledge. In another example cited by Mark, Rep. Jim Barcia decided to return to his old seat in the Michigan Senate in 2002 rather than go up against fellow Democrat Bart Stupak after Republicans threw them together in redistricting.
Fallon faces no similar circumstances. In fact, he’s been in the House less than three years, and he scarcely had to break a sweat to get there. Because his predecessor, John Ratcliffe, resigned after winning the 2020 GOP primary in order to become Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence, local party leaders got to select a replacement and chose Fallon. In the deep red 4th District, those 82 votes from GOP power-brokers were, in essence, all he needed to secure a spot in Congress.
Fallon did not offer much in the way of explanation for his choice. "At the end of the day, the decision came down to, if we lose Texas, we lose the nation," he told the Texas Tribune, which first reported his retirement. But Texas Republicans are in little danger of losing their gerrymandered majorities in the legislature, and the extremely conservative Senate seat he’s seeking will easily remain in GOP hands.
His move does, however, follow a decision by his successor in the legislature, fellow Republican Drew Springer, not to seek reelection after just a single term in the Senate. If Fallon winds up in turn succeeding Springer, he will at least no longer have to make a weekly commute to Washington, D.C.
● TX-26: Republican Rep. Michael Burgess announced on Monday that he won’t seek reelection next year, leaving open his 59-40 Trump district that is located mainly in the Denton County suburbs north of Fort Worth. Republicans gerrymandered the district in an attempt to ensure it remains safely red despite the suburban trend against the party, so the action to replace Burgess is likely to be concentrated on the Republican side.
Burgess first won election to Congress in 2002 to succeed retiring Majority Leader Dick Armey. Denton County Judge Scott Armey, the incumbent’s son, took 45% in the GOP primary that year, while Burgess just barely advanced to the runoff by taking second place 22.5-22.2 against Keith Self (who got elected in the neighboring 3rd District last year). Burgess then won the nomination 55-45 and never faced another close primary or general election again.
● VA-10: Former state Secretary of Education Atif Qarni kicked off a bid for Virginia's open 10th Congressional District on Saturday, joining a race that already includes two high-profile Democrats. Qarni has run for office twice before, narrowly losing to Republican Del. Bob Marshall in 2013 by a 51-48 margin, then falling to Jeremy McPike 43-36 in the 2015 Democratic primary for an open state Senate seat. (McPike went on to win the general election and has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for the newly open 7th; see above.) In the last month, state Sen. Jennifer Boysko and former state House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn both announced they'd seek the Democratic nod in the 10th.
● WA-06: Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who dropped down from the governor's race to the newly open 6th District on Friday following Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer's retirement, has also received Kilmer's backing for her new venture. Franz so far is the only notable Democrat running for the 6th, which is based around Tacoma and the Olympic peninsula and supported Joe Biden 57-40.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Dauphin County, PA Board of Commissioners: In a historic victory, Democrats have gained their first majority on the Board of Commissioners since at least 1919 in Dauphin County, which contains the state capital of Harrisburg and nearby suburbs, after Republican Chad Saylor conceded to Democrat Justin Douglas on Monday.
Combined with Democratic wins around the state, every county that Joe Biden won in 2020 will now have a Democratic-led county government, which covers 56% of the state's population. As Bolts Magazine's Daniel Nichanian has detailed, Pennsylvania's county governments play an important role in administering elections, determining access to voting, and certifying election results in this major swing state.
● Spokane, WA Mayor: Former state Commerce Director Lisa Brown has defeated Republican Mayor Nadine Woodward by 52-48, which will make Brown the city's first Democratic mayor in 12 years and hand her party full control over this 56-40 Biden city, whose roughly 230,000 residents make it the largest in Eastern Washington. Brown previously served as state Senate majority leader and the chancellor of Washington State University Spokane, and she later waged a high-profile House campaign in 2018 against GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Correction: A reference to a poll of the race in New York’s 18th Congressional District has been removed because it incorrectly described that survey as testing Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan against Republican challenger Alison Esposito. The poll instead pitted Ryan against an unnamed Republican candidate. Such matchups do not reflect what voters will see when they cast their ballots and are therefore of limited analytical value. For that reason, the poll did not meet Daily Kos Elections’ standard for inclusion.
Correction: Incorrect figures were given for the Montana Senate poll. Tim Sheehy led Matt Rosendale 38-35, not 48-35.