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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● Special Elections: We've been keeping an eye on special elections for many years now, and they have a lot to tell us. Six years ago, we were able to start comparing the results of specials to presidential numbers, thanks to our efforts to calculate presidential results for state legislative districts nationwide. Shortly thereafter, we were able to show that these results are closely correlated with the House popular vote and reflect the political environment in a given election cycle.
This week, we're diving deep into the data to show you how well this correlation continues to work in the years since we first identified it.
First, we've updated our Special Elections Index with six more years of data to show that special elections have done a very good job of reading the political mood going back to the 1980s—although the exact relationship can shift in ways that appear linked to changing political coalitions. We also show that comparing specials to presidential results has served as a valuable analytical tool over the past decade.
Next, we show that even data from a partial cycle is highly informative. Here, the presidential results have done particularly well. This means that the current numbers for the 2024 cycle are, indeed, worth paying attention to—and they have nothing but good news for Democrats. And in the past, when there has been disagreement between what the specials are telling us a year ahead of time and other indicators, the specials have generally been right.
Finally, even 2022—when the Dobbs decision dramatically upended the political world late in the cycle—couldn't throw off the relationship between special elections and the broader political environment. Special elections were able to warn us that a massive change had occurred while still forecasting an overall environment tilted to Republicans.
Given the value that special elections have demonstrated, we'll continue to update our tracker throughout the cycle and beyond. And stay tuned next week: We'll be adding a whole new series of data points, since half a dozen specials will coincide with the many regular elections taking place nationwide on Tuesday.
● Redistricting: Mike Johnson doesn't just owe his new House speakership to his fellow extremists. He also owes it to half a dozen gerrymandered districts that courts have deemed illegal—more than the GOP's five-seat margin in the House.
- Five states used GOP maps despite courts ruling against them. Courts have ruled that maps in four Southern states likely discriminated against Black voters, while Ohio's was twice judged an illegal partisan gerrymander. But thanks to Republican delay tactics and their enablers on the Supreme Court, the GOP got to use them anyway in 2022 while they appealed.
- Republicans have repeatedly blocked Democrats from ending gerrymandering nationwide. Republicans in Congress and conservative justices have unanimously opposed Democratic efforts to make gerrymandering illegal. As a result, Republicans were able to draw three times more districts than Democrats after 2020.
- Justice delayed is still justice denied. While Black voters in Alabama will finally get a new district next year, cases in other states are still moving slowly thanks to right-wing appeals courts. And belated victories can't undo the 2022 elections that cost Democrats control of the House.
Read more about how these gerrymanders distorted the national House map last year and why the playing field will likely remain tilted toward the GOP in 2024.
● UT-Sen: Conservative activist Carolyn Phippen, who previously served as an aide to Sen. Mike Lee, has joined the increasingly crowded GOP primary to succeed retiring Sen. Mitt Romney. The Salt Lake Tribune notes that Phippen, a vocal election conspiracy theorist, beat out state Rep. Jeff Stenquist at last year's Republican convention (per Ballotpedia, by a 63-37 margin) but lost to him 52-48 in the primary three months later. Romney himself experienced a journey similar to Stenquist's when he ran for Senate in 2018: Convention delegates backed state Rep. Mike Kennedy 51-49, but Romney crushed him 71-29 when primary voters got to have their say.
● IN-Gov: Sen. Mike Braun, who is one of several Republicans seeking Indiana's open governorship, just received an endorsement from Donald Trump. Braun has long been an outspoken Trump supporter and embraced Trump's false claims that the 2020 election had been stolen, but he abandoned his plans to vote against certifying the results following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The senator still pledged, however, that he would "continue to push for a thorough investigation into the election irregularities many Hoosiers are concerned with."
● NC-Gov: Retired healthcare executive Jesse Thomas has dropped his bid for governor and will instead seek to challenge Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall next year. Limited polling showed Thomas failing to make any impact among the field of Republicans hoping to succeed termed-out Gov. Roy Cooper next year. He'll still have to face several opponents for the GOP nomination to take on Marshall, who has been in office since 1996. Unlike in many other states, the secretary of state does not administer elections in North Carolina.
● AL-02: State Rep. Jeremy Gray announced on Thursday that he'd join the field of Democrats seeking to represent Alabama's brand-new 2nd Congressional District, which will be used for the first time next year. Gray, a fitness instructor and former college football star, rose to prominence a few years ago when he spearheaded a push to lift Alabama's three-decade ban on practicing yoga in public schools. (After Gray's bill was signed into law in 2021, the Montgomery Advertiser's Brian Lyman pronounced that it had finally "close[d] the book on one of the stupidest moral panics in Alabama history, which is really saying a lot.")
Two other legislators, state Rep. Napoleon Bracy of Prichard and state Sen. Kirk Hatcher, are already seeking the Democratic nod for the new-look 2nd, which now includes the cities of Mobile and Montgomery as well as most of the rural Black Belt. Politico also reports that Shomari Figures, who recently stepped down from a post at the Justice Department, will enter the Democratic primary next week. Time is short, though: Alabama's filing deadline for major-party candidates, which is the first in the nation this cycle, is on Nov. 10.
● CA-12: Politico reports that Gov. Gavin Newsom has endorsed Lateefah Simon, a member of the board of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, in her bid to succeed Rep. Barbara Lee, who is running for Senate. Simon is the only Democrat in the race for California's deep blue 12th District who has raised real money, bringing in $262,000 in the third quarter.
Politico also says that Simon is "expected to win" the backing of the state Democratic Party when it convenes in two weeks. While such endorsements don't impact ballot access (as is sometimes the case in other states), they do confer certain advantages. Most notably, endorsees are listed by name in a special section of the official election guide sent to all voters.
● CO-04: Republican Rep. Ken Buck's retirement announcement on Wednesday will likely draw widespread interest from Republicans in running for his safely red district, and conservative talk radio host Deborah Flora joined the primary on Thursday. Flora ran for Senate last year and took second place at the state party's assembly, trailing state Rep. Ron Hanks by 39-29, which was just below the 30% she needed to advance to the primary ballot. (Hanks ultimately lost that primary 54-46 to businessman Joe O'Dea, who in turn lost to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet by 56-41 last fall).
Weld County Council member Trent Leisy, who calls himself a "die-hard" Trump supporter, also launched his own primary campaign against Buck last week just before the congressman called it quits. In an unusual arrangement compared to the vast majority of counties nationwide, Weld County elects both a commission that acts as its head of county government and a council with more limited powers.
Local NBC affiliate KUSA also has a long list of potential candidates, the following of whom have confirmed they're considering:
- Logan County Commissioner Jerry Sonnenberg
- Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon
- Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas
- former state House Minority Leader Patrick Neville
- 2018 attorney general nominee George Brauchler
Former state party chair Kristi Burton Brown didn't fully shut the door on running but said it was "highly unlikely" that she would go for it. She instead said she was "highly likely" to run for the state Board of Education seat that corresponds to this same congressional district so that she could remain in Colorado with her family.
The following Republicans told KUSA they won't run:
Meanwhile, the Republicans below didn't respond to KUSA:
- state House Minority Leader Mike Lynch
- former state Sen. Ted Harvey
- 2020 gubernatorial nominee Heidi Ganahl
However, Colorado Politics reported that Ganahl was considering running, but there's no direct word about her interest. Ganahl won an at-large seat on the University of Colorado's Board of Regents in 2016, making her the last Republican to win a statewide office in the Centennial State, but she lost in a 59-39 landslide when she challenged Democratic Gov. Jared Polis last year.
The only other Republican who had taken steps to run earlier this year is state Rep. Richard Holtorf, who formed an exploratory committee in September after Buck spoke out against his party's drive to impeach Joe Biden.
● IA-03: Army veteran Lanon Baccam, a former official with the Department of Agriculture, says he's exploring a campaign for Iowa's swingy 3rd Congressional District but will wait until after next week's local elections to decide on a bid. If he enters, he'd be the first Democrat to challenge freshman GOP Rep. Zach Nunn, who narrowly ousted Democrat Cindy Axne last year.
The Des Moines Register's Galen Bacharier says that Baccam, who served in Afghanistan in 2004, has worked for many prominent Iowa Democrats, including former Gov. Tom Vilsack (who now heads the USDA) and former Sen. Tom Harkin and also worked on Joe Biden's presidential campaign.
Baccam's parents, members of the Tai Dam ethnic minority, fled Laos as refugees following the communist takeover in 1975. In 1980, they settled in Iowa, where Republican Gov. Robert Ray had set up a refugee resettlement program and where their son was later born. Baccam would be the first person of color to represent Iowa in Congress.
● MD-03: State Sen. Sarah Elfreth and Del. Vanessa Atterbeary both told Maryland Matters that they will run here, making them the first notable Democrats in the primary to succeed retiring Rep. John Sarbanes.
Atterbeary, who chairs the state House's Ways and Means Committee, also drew a geographic distinction between herself and her prospective rivals, arguing that she represented "the heart of the district, which is Howard County." By contrast, Elfreth represents the Annapolis area in neighboring Anne Arundel County.
However, according to Daily Kos Elections' calculations, Anne Arundel makes up 54% of the district's population to just 43% for Howard (the balance is in Carroll County), but the primary electorate would likely be a bit more evenly divided between the two big counties due to Howard's deep blue hue. Of the district's voters who backed Joe Biden in 2020, just over 50% hailed from Howard, while 48% resided in Anne Arundel.
Meanwhile, Maryland Matters lists several other potential Democratic candidates. Among those who say they're considering running are Del. Jon Cardin, who is retiring Sen. Ben Cardin's nephew; state Department of Planning official Kristin Riggin Fleckenstein; and Anne Arundel County Council Chair Pete Smith, who says he'll decide in the next few weeks.
The site also mentions Del. Terri Hill, who lost the 2020 special primary election for the old 7th District, as potentially interested, though they couldn't reach her for comment. Businessman Juan Dominguez, who is currently running a longshot Senate primary campaign, also declined to comment.
On the GOP side, Maryland Matters mentions former Gov. Robert Ehrlich and former First Lady Kendel Ehrlich, but any Republican would have a very difficult time running for this seat since it supported Biden by 62-36.
● MN-01: State Sen. Nick Frentz, who had been considering a challenge to Republican Rep. Brad Finstad in Minnesota's 1st District, has reportedly told local Democrats that he won't run, according to the newsletter Morning Take. Finstad has yet to land a notable Democratic challenger and may avoid one altogether, given his district's conservative lean (it supported Donald Trump 54-44).
However, until Finstad's reelection in November, the 1st saw four straight elections in which the winner failed to top 51% of the vote, including the special election earlier in August of 2022 that originally sent Finstad to Congress. Last fall, though, Finstad won his rematch with Democrat Jeff Ettinger, whom he'd edged by less than 4 points in the special, by a 54-42 spread.
● NV-04: Former North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee earned an endorsement this week from a former rival when Gov. Joe Lombardo gave his backing to Lee's campaign for Congress. Lee, a conservative Democrat turned Republican, ran for governor last year but took just 8% in the GOP primary, which Lombardo won with 38% before going on to narrowly oust Gov. Steve Sisolak. Last month, Lee announced a challenge to Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, joining Air Force veteran David Flippo in the race.
● OR-03: Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales announced Wednesday that he was running for the safely blue seat held by his fellow Democrat, retiring Rep. Earl Blumenauer. Morales, who is the state party treasurer, narrowly lost the 2020 race for mayor of his community in the Portland suburbs to Travis Stovall.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Bridgeport, CT Mayor: A state judge on Wednesday overturned the results of the Sept. 5 Democratic primary because of election fraud concerns and ordered a new contest, but it's far from clear what will happen next. City attorneys and Mayor Joe Ganim say they may appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, and the order does not call off Tuesday's general election to lead this dark blue city.
Ganim, whose career has survived numerous scandals―including a seven-year prison stint―edged out former city chief administrative officer John Gomes 52-48, but the challenger quickly began contesting that apparent defeat in court. State election officials later announced that they would investigate a surveillance video where a woman appears to be repeatedly inserting documents into a ballot drop box.
Gomes will be on Tuesday's ballot as the nominee of the state Independent Party: The field also includes independent Lamond Daniels, a former city official who failed to collect enough signatures to make the Democratic primary ballot, and Republican David Herz. Gomes' attorney says he'd withdraw his suit if he wins next week.
● IN-AG: The Indiana Supreme Court publicly reprimanded Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita for attorney misconduct and ordered him to pay a $250 fine for comments targeting an Indiana physician, Caitlin Bernard.
Bernard had performed an abortion on a girl from neighboring Ohio who became pregnant after a man named Gerson Fuentes raped her when she was 9 years old. Rokita then opened an investigation into Bernard and soon after accused her of being an "abortion activist acting as a doctor—with a history of failing to report" in an interview on Fox News.
That, said the court, violated ethical rules forbidding lawyers involved in an investigation from making statements that "have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing" the case or that are chiefly designed to "embarrass, delay, or burden" someone. Rokita admitted to the violations but was defiant following the court's ruling.
"[I]t all boiled down to a truthful 16-word answer I gave over a year ago," he said in an official statement, "during an international media storm caused by an abortionist who put her interests above her patient's." The press release also repeated the remarks he originally made on Fox and accused the "media, medical establishment and cancel culture" of wanting to "disenfranchise nearly 2 million voters." Rokita further claimed that he only accepted the court's judgment to "save a lot of taxpayer money and distraction."
Two of the court's five justices dissented from the decision, calling the disciplinary action "too lenient." In May, the Indiana Medical Licensing Board fined Bernard $3,000 for violating her patient's medical privacy but rejected a charge that she had failed to report the rape.
Correction: This piece incorrectly identified Jerry Sonnenberg as a sitting Colorado state senator; he is a Logan County commissioner who previously served in the state Senate.