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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● NJ-Sen: Former financier Tammy Murphy, who had reportedly been preparing a Senate bid, kicked off her campaign on Wednesday, and she's already earned some important establishment support. But Murphy, the wife of Gov. Phil Murphy, was also greeted by a new poll that shows her trailing her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Rep. Andy Kim.
That survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Kim campaign, finds the congressman beating Murphy 40-21 among primary voters, with indicted Sen. Bob Menendez scraping together just 5%. While Menendez has recently sounded as though he wants to run again, his share of the vote is one of the lowest we've ever seen for an incumbent—apart from a similar PPP poll taken last month that also had him at 5%.
Menendez also sports an atrocious favorability rating, with just 10% of respondents saying they have a positive view of the senator, compared to 68% who see him negatively. Murphy and Kim, by contrast, are both well-liked though not universally known, with scores of 50-9 and 45-5, respectively. If Menendez does seek reelection after all, he could plumb new depths at the ballot box, especially since his trial on federal corruption charges is set for May 6—just a month before the primary.
Whatever Menendez decides, the battle for his seat is likely to come down to Murphy and Kim. In a new interview with the New Jersey Globe, Murphy suggested that she doesn't have many ideological differences with Kim ("I suspect that Andy and I stand for a lot of the same policies"), but the two cut very different profiles politically.
Kim, who is the son of Korean immigrants and went on to work at the State Department, first won office in 2018 with the support of Joe Biden and Barack Obama but has portrayed himself as an outsider in this race—and is largely getting treated like one. Murphy, a former banker at Goldman Sachs, is a consummate insider.
And insiders have almost always had the advantage when seeking office in the Garden State, due in large part to its unique approach to ballot design. In 19 of the state's 21 counties, leaders of both parties can award special placement on the ballot to their preferred candidates, known as the "county line." These candidates appear together in a single column of the ballot, often the first one, that has a name on every line (you can see an example in column 1 of this sample ballot). Other hopefuls are relegated to more distant columns amid a sea of blank space.
Research has shown that the county line can confer a major benefit—often an enormous one: One forthcoming study finds that candidates with the line run on average 38 points ahead of those without it. Immediately after launching her bid, Murphy secured the county line in populous Hudson County, which also happens to be Menendez's home base. (Menendez slammed Hudson leaders in response. "At the end of the day, I don't need the party line to win in Hudson," he insisted, while also warning, "I know where all the skeletons in closets are.")
She also won the backing of the party chair in Somerset County, which doesn't guarantee she'll get the line there but is a strong signal that it'll go to her. Other counties are likely to follow suit. (Politico reported last month that "the state party establishment" was "miffed" by Kim's decision to jump into the race prior to the state's legislative elections, which concluded last week.) Kim, though, could potentially earn the line in the South Jersey counties that make up his district, even though he's said he thinks the practice should be abolished.
But the county line might not play as potent a role in this contest as it so often does in others. In many races further down the ballot, candidates tend to be little-known. In those less salient elections, voters have less incentive to go hunting across and down their ballot to find alternatives who lack official party blessing. In this high-profile showdown for the Senate, though, both Kim and Murphy will head into the primary with wide name recognition, and their supporters will know to look for those names wherever they might appear.
● We talk about North Carolina non-stop on "The Downballot," so it's only natural that our guest on this week's episode is Anderson Clayton, the new chair of the state Democratic Party. Clayton made headlines when she became the youngest state party chair anywhere in the country at the age of 25, and the story of how she got there is an inspiring one. But what she's doing—and plans to do—is even more compelling. Her focus is on rebuilding the party infrastructure from the county level up, with the aim of reconnecting with rural Black voters who've too often been sidelined and making young voters feel like they have a political home. Plus: her long-term plan to win back the state Supreme Court.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard, meanwhile, turn to the avalanche of political developments that have followed last week's off-year elections, with big new candidate announcements in New Jersey's Senate race and Virginia's 2025 contest for governor. They also finally get to discuss the unusual Democratic primary unfolding in the nation's newest Black-majority House seat in Alabama. And then there are all the retirements to recap! So, so many retirements.
Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show—new episodes every Thursday! You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern time.
● NJ-Gov, NJ-05: Politico reports that Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer has launched a "six-figure" digital ad buy that could serve as a prelude to a 2025 campaign for governor, which he's previously said he's considering. Gottheimer has no notable GOP challenger for 2024 in his 56-43 Biden district, but he did have an enormous $15.8 million in his campaign account at the end of September. It's unclear how much of that he could transfer to a state campaign, but spending it on what is nominally his House race is one way he could use those funds to increase his name recognition ahead of 2025.
● VA-Gov: Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who launched her campaign for governor earlier this week, just secured an endorsement from the last Democrat who held the post, Ralph Northam.
● AK-AL: Following Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom's Tuesday announcement that she will challenge Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola next year, national Republican groups have already signaled that they view her favorably. The NRCC's press secretary called Dahlstrom "a top-tier recruit," while the president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is the House GOP's main allied super PAC, called her candidacy a "recruiting coup" and a "[g]ame changer in Alaska."
Dahlstrom is competing to be the GOP's standard-bearer with businessman Nick Begich, who unsuccessfully ran for this seat last year. All candidates regardless of party will run on the same primary ballot, and the top four finishers will advance to a general election using ranked-choice voting.
● IL-07: The Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday that the city's Board of Ethics found "probable cause" that city Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin committed ethics violations by firing two aides who had accused her of abusing her powers. The Tribune writes that the board may not make a final decision for months, which could result in a fine, though the matter threatens to derail her challenge to longtime Rep. Danny Davis just four months before the March 19 Democratic primary in this dark blue district.
The allegations against Conyears-Ervin surfaced earlier this year when the city released a 2020 letter where two of her former top aides—Ashley Evans and Tiffany Harper—accused the treasurer of misusing government money and personnel. The pair claimed Conyears-Ervin hired an unqualified employee "for personal services;" used official resources for electoral matters, including sending money to religious organizations that supported her; and threatened to retaliate against any subordinates who wouldn't help her. Evans and Harper later received a total of $100,000 in a 2021 settlement after arguing they were fired in just such an act of illegal retaliation.
While that settlement was public knowledge, then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was a Conyears-Ervin ally, spent years trying to keep this letter from becoming public. However, new Mayor Brandon Johnson, a fellow Democrat who defeated Lightfoot and other challengers in elections earlier this year, released the letter earlier this month.
● ME-02: Mortgage broker Rob Cross, who announced a campaign in April but reported raising just $20,000 in the third quarter of the year, has dropped out of the GOP primary to take on Democratic Rep. Jared Golden. National Republicans won't be displeased, though: Just before the end of the quarter, they landed state Rep. Austin Thierault, who is reportedly their preferred choice.
● NJ-03: State Senate Majority Whip Troy Singleton, a Democrat, has announced he won't run here to succeed Democratic Senate candidate Andy Kim next year.
● NY-18: In a recent Digest, we incorrectly described a poll commissioned by the Congressional Leadership Fund, the top Republican super PAC involved in House races. That survey, conducted by the Republican pollster Cyngal, did not test Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan against Republican challenger Alison Esposito. Rather, it 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, Daily Kos Elections seldom reports such polls, since they do not meet our standard for inclusion. We regret the error.
● VA-05: Del. John McGuire, a Republican who just won a solidly red seat in the state Senate last week, has announced that he'll wage a primary challenge against far-right Rep. Bob Good in the 5th District. Although Good is a hard-liner and was one of the eight Republicans who voted to remove Kevin McCarthy from the speakership last month, McGuire appears to be challenging him from the right. In announcing his campaign, McGuire attacked Good for having insufficient fealty to Trump; the incumbent endorsed Ron DeSantis for president earlier this year.
● VA-07: Semafor reported Wednesday that former National Security Council adviser Eugene Vindman, who is a retired Army colonel, will join the Democratic primary to succeed Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger and has already set up a fundraising page, though he had yet to officially declare he was running.
Vindman gained national attention in 2019 when he and his identical twin brother, former National Security Council official Alexander Vindman, helped blow the whistle on Donald Trump's attempt to extort Ukraine's government into undermining Joe Biden's presidential campaign. Alexander Vindman testified before Congress about Trump's abuse of power, which helped lead to his first impeachment by the House that year.
Eugene Vindman and his brother were both born in Ukraine in 1975 when it was under Soviet control, but they immigrated to the United States as young children and later served as career military officers. While the Washington Post described Vindman as a "newcomer to Virginia politics," his role in Trump's impeachment, along with growing hostility from congressional Republicans to providing funding for Ukraine's resistance against Russia's invasion, could give him the prominence needed to run a strong race.
● VA-10: Del. Dan Helmer became the latest Democrat to announce he's running in the crowded primary to succeed retiring Rep. Jennifer Wexton next year. Helmer served as the campaign chair for the state House's Democratic caucus this year, which saw his party regain a majority last week.
Helmer ran for the previous version of the 10th District in 2018 but took a distant fourth place in the primary behind Wexton, who went on to oust Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock that fall. However, his political career bounced back the next year when he flipped a GOP-held state House seat, and Helmer won a third term by 59-41 last week.
Meanwhile, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall, a Democrat, has announced she won't run for Congress next year following her reelection victory last week. Several other Democrats had previously announced they were running, including former state House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, state Sen. Jennifer Boysko, Del. David Reid, and former state Education Secretary Atif Qarni.
● NE Ballot: Abortion rights supporters have launched a ballot initiative effort to put a constitutional amendment before voters next year that would protect abortion rights in a state where Republicans this year enacted a ban on the procedure after 12 weeks of pregnancy. To get onto the ballot, supporters will need to gather signatures from 10% of registered voters, which is roughly 125,000 at present. However, the exact requirement won't be known until the July 5, 2024 filing deadline because it's based on the registration numbers at the time.
Importantly, supporters will also need to gather signatures from 5% of registered voters in at least two-fifths of the state's 93 counties. This requirement significantly hinders progressives—but not conservatives—because the “bluest” two-fifths of counties include ones that Donald Trump won by landslide margins of up to 78-19. However, abortion rights advocates were able to overcome a similar requirement this year in Ohio, where voters approved an abortion rights amendment by 57-43 earlier this month.
● MI State House: Michigan Democrats, who just won control of the state House last year for the first time in more than a decade, have now lost their majority—and it will likely be some time before they get it back.
That's because two incumbents are about to depart after winning mayoral races in their hometowns in last week's local elections. As a result, the chamber will be tied at 54 seats for each party, and the prospect of quick special elections to fill the two vacancies appears to have faded, according to a new report from Bridge Michigan's Jonathan Oosting.
While Democrats would have liked to hold primaries in January and then general elections on Feb. 27, when the state will conduct its presidential primary, state House Speaker Joe Tate said this week that such a timetable would not be "feasible." It's not clear what the schedule will ultimately look like, though Tate says he's discussing a "spring timeframe" with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose responsibility it is to call the elections.
Whenever those specials do finally happen, both Democratic seats should remain blue. According to Dave's Redistricting App, Joe Biden carried Kevin Coleman's 25th District 59-40 and won Lori Stone's 13th District 64-35. One thing that won't happen in the interim, said Tate, is any sort of power-sharing agreement, pointing out that the chamber's rules for addressing ties only apply when there's a 55-55 split and all seats are filled.
● NJ State Assembly: The New Jersey Globe reports that Democrat Anna Katz has ousted GOP Assemblyman Brandon Umbra in the 8th Legislative District following the counting of provisional ballots and mail ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but didn't arrive until days later. With Katz's victory, Assembly Democrats have flipped six seats and expanded their majority to 52-28.
● VA State House: The race for Virginia's 82nd District in the state House may go to a recount after final tallies cut Republican Rep. Kim Taylor's lead over Democrat Kimberly Pope Adams to 74 votes. Including write-ins, the difference between the two candidates stands at 0.27%, which is below the 0.5% threshold that would allow Adams to request a recount paid for by the state. Adams, however, has not yet decided whether to ask for one, and despite the seemingly small margin, a recount would be unlikely to change the outcome.
In the 41st District, meanwhile, the spread between Republican Chris Obenshain and Democrat Lily Franklin tightened considerably, but the final margin of 0.74% left the race just outside of state-paid recount territory. That prompted Franklin to concede, though the result was much closer than most analysts had expected, particularly given Obenshain's name recognition as the cousin of state Sen. Mark Obenshain.
If the result in the 82nd District holds, Democrats would have a 51-49 majority in the House to go along with their 21-19 advantage in the state Senate when the legislature reconvenes in January.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Loudoun County, VA Commonwealth's Attorney: Final results of last week's elections confirm that Democrat Buta Biberaj, the top prosecutor in Virginia's third-largest county, has lost her bid for a second term to Republican Bob Anderson, who reclaimed the post he last held two decades ago. Anderson's 300-vote margin, equal to 0.2% of the vote, would have allowed Biberaj to seek a recount, but she said on Wednesday that she would not.
Biberaj had been attacked by conservatives for her reformist approach to certain criminal prosecutions, as many progressive prosecutors have. However, she had also come under fire for her day-to-day management of her office and had clashed with Loudoun County's Board of Supervisors, which is controlled by Democrats. Those conflicts helped spur a primary challenge from defense attorney Elizabeth Lancaster, who earned an endorsement from the Washington Post (an influential outlet in the area) and held the incumbent to a 55-45 win.
Biberaj was also likely hampered by the timing of her election and the lack of party labels on the ballot. Loudoun, which is home to more than 400,000 people in the highly educated Washington, D.C., suburbs, has been a key driver of Virginia's transformation from a red state to a blue one. Just two decades ago, it twice voted for George W. Bush by double digits. By 2020, however, it was supporting Joe Biden by a 62-37 margin. In off years, though, it's usually been much more favorable to Republicans.