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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● FL State House: Both parties chose their nominees Tuesday for the Jan. 16 special election for a swingy GOP-held seat in the Florida House that Democrats are working to flip.
Democratic primary voters picked businessman Tom Keen 36-33 over Rishi Bagga, who narrowly beat him last year before losing to GOP incumbent Fred Hawkins. Republicans, meanwhile, opted for Osceola County School Board member Erika Booth, who beat nonprofit consultant Scotty Moore 49-34. (Moore was the GOP's 2022 nominee against Democratic Rep. Darren Soto.)
Joe Biden carried the 35th District 52-47 in 2020, though Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won the same district by an imposing 56-43 spread last year, according to one analysis. Democrats, however, are hoping that victory in this suburban Orlando district would give them another chance to show they're on the rebound heading into next year's elections.
Hawkins decisively won his second term last year by beating Bagga 55-45, but he wasn't content to serve much longer in the 120-member lower chamber. DeSantis, a close ally, tapped Hawkins to serve as president of South Florida State College in June, even though, as many reports noted, Hawkins had no background in higher education.
(The relationship between the two, incidentally, seems to have experienced quite a turnaround from just a few years ago, when DeSantis suspended Hawkins from his post on the Osceola County Commission after he tried to enter a private meeting by pretending to be a sheriff and flashing an honorary "special deputy" badge.")
DeSantis tarried in scheduling a special election to fill Hawkins' seat, acting only after the ACLU sued him for failing to call a different special election in a dark-red district in the Miami area. Republicans currently hold an 83-35 supermajority in the House with only those two seats vacant, but both sides will contest the Keen-Booth showdown, though it won't threaten the GOP's iron grip on the gerrymandered legislature.
Democrats, in particular, are eager to turn the page on a dispiriting decade in this longtime swing state, an era that hit a nadir last year as DeSantis and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio both pulled off landslide victories. But Democrats finally enjoyed some long-awaited good news in May when Donna Deegan pulled off a 52-48 upset in the race for mayor of Jacksonville, which is Florida’s largest city and had voted 55-44 for DeSantis just six months earlier. If Keen can manage a similar swing, Florida Democrats would be able to argue that Deegan's win was no fluke.
National Democrats looking to hold the White House and the Senate will also be keeping an eye on this special as they mull whether to invest massive sums in Florida or send those resources elsewhere.
One person who may be watching particularly closely is former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is the Democratic frontrunner to take on GOP Sen. Rick Scott. Mucarsel-Powell outraised Scott during her opening fundraising quarter but ended September with $1 million banked versus $3 million for her wealthy opponent. A win for Keen could help her convince donors and outside groups that Democrats are once again a rising force in the state.
● Just one word explains why Democrats had such a massive election night on Tuesday: abortion. On the newest episode of The Downballot, co-hosts David Nir and David Beard recap all the top races through the lens of reproductive rights, which continue to motivate Democrats and even win over a key swath of Republican voters. Nowhere was that more evident than in Ohio, which voted to enshrine the right to an abortion into the state constitution by a double-digit margin, despite countless GOP attempts to derail the effort.
Abortion also played a key role in Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won another term by making his Republican opponent answer for his total opposition to the procedure despite the state's deep-red hue. It was central as well in Virginia, where Democrats won complete control of the legislature after GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin dared them to oppose his proposed 15-week ban. And it came up again and again in swingy Pennsylvania, which saw Democrat Dan McCaffery win a key seat on the state Supreme Court over a far-right opponent. Plus: How the suburbs continue to slip away from the GOP's grasp.
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.
● CA-Sen: The super PAC She Speaks for Me has launched what the San Francisco Chronicle says is an opening $1 million buy to support Rep. Barbara Lee, who has trailed fellow Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter in fundraising and polling.
This spot, which is the first pro-Lee TV ad of the March top-two primary, echoes many of the themes from Lee's launch video. The narrator extols her for successfully ending her segregated school's "ban on Black cheerleaders" before commending her for "braving death threats to cast the sole 'no' vote against forever wars."
● MO-Sen: The Democratic firm Show Me Victories finds Republican Sen. Josh Hawley leading the Democratic frontrunner, Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, only 46-42 in this dark red state. SMV, which tells us it has no client for this survey, also tested several general election scenarios for governor, but no candidates secure even 40% of the vote because such a large proportion of respondents are undecided.
● CO-04: GOP state Rep. Richard Holtorf tells Colorado Politics' Ernest Lee Luning he has an announcement set for Thursday. Holtorf set up an exploratory committee in September for a potential primary bid against Rep. Ken Buck, who ultimately decided not to seek reelection.
● IN-04: State Rep. Craig Haggard tells the Indiana Capital Chronicle's Leslie Bonilla Muñiz he'll run whenever his fellow Republican, Rep. Jim Baird, retires from this safely red seat, and Haggard adds that he's formed an exploratory committee to support that effort. "My plan is not to challenge the incumbent," Haggard said, a statement that may not quite close the door on a primary challenge.
Baird announced last month that he'd seek reelection, but Haggard doesn't seem convinced that the three-term Republican won't retire ahead of February's deadline. Haggard instead told Muñiz, "The best way for me to put it is: I’m going to run for the Fourth Congressional District, period—when it’s ready to go—whether that’s in a month or two, whether that’s Feb. 9, or after this next term."
Haggard also seems to agree there's something to the rumors that the congressman may time his eventual departure so that his son, state Rep. Beau Baird, could succeed him. Haggard, who said he'd run against his colleague if it comes to it, noted that the incumbent's merchandise now emphasized just the name "Baird."
● MD-03: Del. Terri Hill filed FEC paperwork Monday for a potential campaign to replace her fellow Democrat, retiring Rep. John Sarbanes. Democratic state Sen. Sarah Elfreth, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that she's been endorsed by Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, whose county is home to just over half of the 3rd's denizens.
● MN-05: An unnamed operative for former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels told Jewish Insider on Tuesday that he would wage a Democratic primary rematch against Rep. Ilhan Omar, adding, "We'll be in the race by this time next week." Samuels, however, soon told the Minnesota Reformer that he hadn't yet "fully decided" to run again.
● NC-14: Former state judge Eric Levinson said Monday that he was joining the GOP primary for this newly gerrymandered seat. Levinson ran statewide in 2014 for a seat on the state Supreme Court back when this was still an officially nonpartisan contest, and he lost to Democratic incumbent Robin Hudson 52-48.
● NY-03: Nonprofit founder Zak Malamed announced Wednesday that he was exiting the busy Democratic primary to take on still-Rep. George Santos and endorsing former Rep. Tom Suozzi.
● NY-16: Both News 12 and Jewish Insider report Westchester County Executive George Latimer plans to challenge Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the Democratic primary. Latimer told JI in response, "Speculation but I’ve made no announcement."
● OR-03: State Rep. Travis Nelson said Tuesday that he's decided not to enter the Democratic primary for this safely blue state, but the race to succeed retiring Rep. Earl Blumenauer may still expand soon. Fellow state Rep. Maxine Dexter tells Willamette Weekly that she's interested and plans to make up her mind in the near future. A third state representative, Thuy Tran, didn't return WW's request for a comment, but the paper says she's also thinking about running.
● TX-12: State Rep. Nate Schatzline said Tuesday that he'd seek reelection rather than join the primary to succeed his fellow Republican, retiring Rep. Kay Granger.
● MA State Senate: Bay State Republicans got some rare good news Tuesday when Peter Durant beat fellow state Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik 53-47 in the special election to succeed Anne Gobi, a Democrat who resigned in June to take a post in Gov. Maura Healey's administration. Democrats will maintain a 36-4 supermajority once Durant is sworn in.
GBH writes that Democrats had held the Worcester & Hampshire District in the central part of the state for more than five decades, though this seat hasn't been so friendly to the party at the top of the ticket. Joe Biden, according to data from Dave's Redistricting App, won 52-45 here four years after Donald Trump took it 46-45.
● MI State House: Two Democratic state representatives, Kevin Coleman of Westland and Lori Stone of Warren, were elected mayor of their respective communities, and their departure will temporarily reduce their party's 56-54 majority to a tie. Democrats, though, will be favored to keep both their seats in special elections: According to data from Dave's Redistricting App, Joe Biden carried Coleman's 25th House District 59-40, while he racked up an even larger 64-35 margin in Stone's HD-13.
● VA State Senate, VA State House: Just one race in the Virginia legislature remains unsettled after Democratic state Sen. Monty Mason conceded to Republican Danny Diggs, a former sheriff, in the 24th District, following an AP call of the race on Wednesday afternoon. With all precincts reporting, Diggs wound up defeating Mason by a 51-49 margin. As a result, Democrats will hold a 21-19 majority in the Senate, one seat narrower than the 22-18 edge they took into election night.
The final outcome in the state House, however, remains uncertain. In the 82nd District, Republican Del. Kim Taylor holds a 50.3 to 49.5 lead over Democratic challenger Kimberly Pope Adams, a difference of 233 votes. (Taylor’s lead expanded from 173 votes Wednesday evening after election officials corrected tabulation errors.)
That's outside the 0.5 margin that would allow Adams to request a recount that would be paid for by the state, but Bill Atkinson of the Petersburg Progress-Index reports that there are approximately 187 provisional ballots that will be counted on Monday. In addition, absentee ballots that were postmarked by Election Day are valid as long as they arrive by Monday.
Taylor declared victory on Tuesday night, but Adams has not conceded. However, she faces difficult odds given the size of the gap she must make up and the comparatively small number of ballots left outstanding, many of which will be found invalid. If the results hold, Democrats will have a 51-49 advantage in the next session of the legislature, a turnabout from the GOP’s current 52-48 majority.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Bridgeport, CT Mayor: Mayor Joe Ganim outpaced John Gomes 41-40 in Tuesday's general election, but the Associated Press won't call the race due to the ongoing legal battle over their September Democratic primary. A state judge last week overturned those results, which showed Ganim beating Gomes 52-48, and ordered a new contest because of election fraud concerns. However, Ganim says he's still deciding whether to appeal.
The two faced off again Tuesday because Gomes was the nominee of the state Independent Party. Gomes said he'd drop his lawsuit over the Democratic primary if he won the general election, but that did not happen.
● Dauphin County, PA Board of Commissioners: Democrats say they've won their first-ever majority on the board of commissioners for Dauphin County, which includes the state capital of Harrisburg and nearby communities. (PennLive.com says relevant records tracking party affiliation only go back to 1919.) Commissioners have a great deal of influence over how their county's elections are conducted, so an upset win may resonate well outside central Pennsylvania.
In Dauphin County, like in many of the state's counties, each party may nominate only two candidates for the three-member body. Two incumbents, Democrat George Hartwick and Republican Mike Pries, secured the first two spots, but Democrat Justin Douglas holds a 42-vote edge over GOP Commissioner Chad Saylor for third.
Douglas, who is a pastor and first-time candidate, and the Dauphin County Democratic Committee have claimed victory, though there are 250 provisional ballots that must be processed by Monday. Reporter Michael Gorsegner of CBS21 writes that the result was so unexpected that neither Pries nor Saylor would answer his questions Wednesday.
Dauphin County favored Joe Biden 53-45 after supporting Hillary Clinton by a smaller 49-46, but the GOP has long benefited from off-year turnout to stay in power. Both parties seemed to anticipate that 2023 would be another strong year for the GOP, as Republican incumbents faced no opposition Tuesday in the races for district attorney, sheriff, register of wills, or controller. The GOP also successfully defended the offices of treasurer and recorder of deeds and held local judgeships, though Democrats flipped the clerk of courts.
However, Democrats are hoping their unexpectedly strong performance for the board of commissioners will foreshadow success next year in statewide races and in their quest to unseat one of America's most prominent election deniers. Dauphin County is entirely located in GOP Rep. Scott Perry's 10th District, and several Democrats are already challenging him.
● Des Moines, IA Mayor: City Councilmember Connie Boesen beat colleague Josh Mandelbaum 48-46 in the nonpartisan contest to succeed retiring Mayor Frank Cownie, a 20-year incumbent who endorsed the victorious candidate. Mandelbaum emphasized his support for abortion rights as Boesen argued that, while she shared this stance, it was outside the control of the city government. Boesen, who campaigned as a public official who can unite people, will be the first woman to lead Iowa's capital and largest city.
● Houston, TX Mayor: Termed-out Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday endorsed Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee on the first day of her Dec. 9 runoff campaign against their fellow Democrat, state Sen. John Whitmire.
● Philadelphia, PA City Council: The progressive Working Families Party won both of the at-large seats on the Philadelphia City Council that, until recently, had been effectively reserved for Republicans, though one prominent Democratic leader isn't at all happy about this. Democratic City Committee Chairman Bob Brady, a former congressman who runs what was once a powerful city political machine, said just before the election that he'd expel any committee members who continued to back City Councilmember Kendra Brooks and WFP ticketmate Nicolas O'Rourke.
The 17-member City Council contains seven citywide seats (the other 10 are single-member districts), but each party can nominate only five candidates. This allowed Republicans to control at least two at-large seats in the decades after the city's Home Rule Charter went into effect in the 1950s even as their influence declined in citywide politics.
However, things began to change in 2019 when Brooks cost Republicans one of those seats, a victory that also came after Brady suggested that any party committee members or ward leaders who supported a non-Democratic contender could be expelled from the committee. The one Republican to win citywide was David Oh, who resigned this year to run for mayor and lost to Democrat Cherelle Parker 75-25.
Brooks and O'Rourke both won Tuesday along with the five Democrats: One of those victorious candidates was Rue Landau, who will be the first open LGBTQ+ member in city history. (Landau used her victory speech to pay tribute to past members who didn't publicly identify as LGBTQ+ while in office, saying, "They remind us of the progress we've made and the work that remains.") The only Republican member of the next council will be Brian O'Neill, who has represented Northeast Philadelphia for 44 years.
● Spokane, WA Mayor: Former state Commerce Director Lisa Brown leads GOP Mayor Nadine Woodward 52-48 with 45,000 ballots tabulated for Tuesday's nonpartisan contest, and her victory would make Brown the city's first Democratic mayor in 12 years. Brown is a former state Senate majority leader and chancellor of the Washington State University Spokane, and she later waged a high-profile 2018 campaign against GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Joe Biden carried the city 56-40.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Dutchess County, NY District Attorney: The Daily Freeman says that local prosecutor Anthony Parisi will be the first Democratic district attorney here in decades following his 52-48 victory over Republican Matthew Weishaupt. Both candidates are senior officials in the office of Republican incumbent Matthew Weishaupt, who is retiring after 40 years as the top prosecutor for this competitive Hudson Valley community.
● Loudoun County, VA Commonwealth's Attorney: Democratic incumbent Buta Biberaj unexpectedly trails Robert Anderson, a Republican who held this post from 1996 to 2003, 50-49 with most votes counted. Anderson insists that his 1,021-vote lead cannot be overcome and has claimed victory, but the Associated Press has not called the race. Biberaj also argued to the Washington Post on Wednesday that untabulated ballots could still make the difference.
Biberaj campaigned as a criminal justice reformer in her successful 2019 race to serve as the top prosecutor for an affluent Northern Virginia county that favored Joe Biden 62-37 the next year. Biberaj seemed to be on a glide path to a second term following her 56-44 victory in June against a primary foe challenging her from the right, but Anderson argued her office was in "chaos."