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-08: Will the father take the son down with him? That's the question for Rep. Rob Menendez, whose dad, Sen. Bob Menendez, is headed to trial on federal corruption charges. While the elder Menendez has not announced whether he'll run for another term in Congress, the younger Menendez says he'll seek reelection—and some powerful New Jersey Democrats very much want to see him prevail.
But in order to do so, Rob Menendez may have to publicly turn his back on his father by endorsing the state's first lady, Tammy Murphy, in her bid to succeed the senator. Will Menendez stand by his family? Or will he put his own ambitions first? And even if he does abandon his dad—whose influence is the chief reason Menendez is in the House today—can he actually win again?
Catch up on all the latest twists and turns—including some ugly poll numbers and spicy sniping—in our latest installment on the Menendez family saga.
● MD-Sen: A new Hickman Analytics internal poll from Rep. David Trone finds him leading Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks by a 41-34 margin in next year's Democratic primary for Maryland's open Senate seat. As Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin notes, though, the results likely reflect the wealthy Trone's massive spending advantage: To date, he's spent more than $11 million on the airwaves while Alsobrooks has yet to run a single ad.
Underscoring that edge, Trone recently released his first Spanish-language ad of the race, which emphasizes his background as a businessman and his efforts to reduce healthcare costs. The Washington Post's Erin Cox reports that both candidates are hoping to woo Latino voters, who make up a small but growing share of the state's primary electorate.
● MI-Sen: Republican Rep. Tim Walberg, who is the longest-serving member of Michigan's House delegation, just endorsed former Rep. Mike Rogers in his bid for the state's open Senate seat. Walberg is the first House Republican from Michigan to take sides in the primary, though Reps. Haley Stevens and Hillary Scholten both previously endorsed Rep. Elissa Slotkin for the Democratic nod.
● VA-Gov: Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney kicked off his long-awaited campaign for governor on Monday, setting up a showdown with Rep. Abigail Spanberger in the Democratic primary.
Stoney was a member of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's cabinet before he decided to run for his current post in 2016, when Richmond's mayoralty came open. He narrowly defeated Jack Berry, a local government official, by a 36-34 margin in an officially nonpartisan, eight-way race, making him the youngest person ever elected to the city's top job.
Four years later, he secured a second term more comfortably, turning back workers' rights advocate Alexsis Rodgers 38-26. Both times, Stoney avoided a runoff by also winning a majority of Richmond's nine City Council districts, as required by the city's extremely unusual electoral system.
Stoney's battle with Spanberger is a long way off, though, since Virginia's next gubernatorial election is not until 2025. But while Democrats have gotten a head start, no Republicans have yet announced, though state Attorney General Jason Miyares and Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears are both potential candidates. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin cannot run again because Virginia prohibits its governors from seeking consecutive terms.
● CA-25: Indio Mayor Oscar Ortiz has announced a challenge to Rep. Raul Ruiz, a fellow Democrat who has served in Congress since 2013. Ortiz did not offer any criticism of the incumbent—in a statement, he emphasized that "we respect our current Congressman and his commitment to our community"—but said that "we believe our constituents are ready for new leadership."
Ortiz first won election to the City Council in Indio, the largest city in the Coachella Valley, in 2018 and is wrapping up a one-year stint as mayor on Wednesday. (Councilmembers serve as mayor on a rotating basis.) Last year, because Ortiz was unopposed for a second term, the Council reappointed him instead of holding an election.
Ruiz, meanwhile, first won his seat in the House by defeating Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack in 2012 by a 53-47 margin in what was then the newly created 36th District in Eastern Riverside County. His subsequent victories have all come by more comfortable margins, likely due to the area's growing Latino population. Following the 2020 census, the district was redrawn to include Imperial County and renumbered the 25th, though it remains solidly blue and would have given Joe Biden a 57-41 win.
To have a shot at unseating Ruiz, Ortiz would likely have to make it past the March top-two primary to square off against the congressman in November. All-Democratic general elections in California tend to happen only in much bluer districts, however, and Ruiz has only ever faced Republican opponents in such races.
● CA-31: Politico reports that former Rep. Gil Cisneros is running a "high six-figure" digital and cable ad buy attacking a fellow Democrat, state Sen. Susan Rubio, ahead of the March 5 top-two primary for California's open 31st Congressional District. The spot lambastes Rubio for accepting donations from "Big Oil," "Big Pharma" and the private prison industry. Rubio and Cisneros are two of the top candidates vying for the safely blue 31st in the Los Angeles area, which is open because Rep. Grace Napolitano is retiring.
● FL Redistricting: On Friday, an intermediate state appeals court overturned a lower court ruling that would have required Florida to restore a predominantly Black congressional district in North Florida. Although Republican defendants had already reached a deal with the plaintiffs where they conceded that their map violated the state constitution, the appeals court ruled that prior precedents from the state Supreme Court did not apply.
The plaintiffs have appealed to the state's high court, but while state constitutional law expert Quinn Yeargain explains why this latest ruling is flawed and should be overturned, that court now leans far to the right thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantis' appointees.
● GA-07: Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, whose House district has been targeted for demolition by Republicans for the second cycle in a row, says through a spokesperson that she'll wait on the outcome of pending litigation before announcing her reelection plans. Under the GOP proposal that's pending before the legislature, McBath's current 7th District, which is safely blue, would be transformed into a solidly red seat.
● MI-08: Former Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who previously said she was considering a bid for Michigan's open 8th District, now says she will decide "by the end of the year," according to ABC12 News' Kevin Craft. So far, the only other Democrat to announce a campaign for this swingy seat is Michigan Board of Education President Pamela Pugh.
● NY-03: A spokesperson for the Nassau County GOP tells CNN's Gregory Krieg that Republicans now plan to select a candidate "towards the end of [the] week" for the forthcoming special election to fill former Rep. George Santos' seat. Previously, Jewish Insider's Matthew Kassel reported that Nassau Republicans were likely to wait until after Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul sets a date for the election; Hochul has until Monday to do so.
Democrats, by contrast, are slowing things down rather than speeding them up. Jay Jacobs, who chairs both the state Democratic Party and its Nassau branch, said immediately after Santos' expulsion on Friday that Democrats would announce their pick on Tuesday.
But on Monday, the Daily News’ Dave Goldiner relayed that Jacobs and his fellow power brokers “want to spend a couple more days” deliberating. It’s a possible sign of behind-the-scenes pushback against former Rep. Tom Suozzi, who appeared to have the inside track by virtue of his prior service but has come under fire for his wobbly record on abortion rights.
● NY-16: Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who's been considering a primary challenge to Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman, filed paperwork to create a campaign account with the FEC on Monday and will reportedly launch a bid on Tuesday, according to News 12's Tara Rosenblum.
● OR-03: State Rep. Maxine Dexter, who'd reportedly been considering a bid for Oregon's open 3rd District, now says she'll decide whether to join the Democratic primary this week. So far, just two notable Democrats are seeking to replace retiring Rep. Earl Blumenauer in this safely blue district in the Portland area, Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales and former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.
● TX-26: Donald Trump has endorsed far-right media website founder Brandon Gill, an apparent first-time candidate whose main selling point for Trump seems to be his ties to MAGA-world sycophants. Gill's father-in-law is political commentator Dinesh D'Souza, a far-right provocateur who was pardoned by Trump for a campaign finance-related felony conviction last decade and has more recently been a leading peddler of voter fraud conspiracy theories.
In an unfortunate bit of timing for Southlake Mayor John Huffman, he announced he was joining the GOP primary for this open seat just days before Trump endorsed Gill. The primary field also includes former Denton County chief executive Scott Armey and businesswoman Luisa del Rosal.
● Los Angeles, CA Ballot: Last week, the City Council in heavily Democratic Los Angeles voted unanimously to put a charter amendment on the November 2024 ballot that, if approved by voters, would establish an independent redistricting commission and remove the Council's control in future redistricting cycles. However, a Council committee postponed a vote on a separate proposal to expand its membership, which is just 15 councilors for a city of 3.9 million.
These reform efforts come just over a year after a major scandal rocked the City Council that centered on redistricting. Last year, an audio recording from 2021 surfaced that showed Council President Nury Martinez, Council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, and labor leader Ron Herrera discussing how to use redistricting to strengthen Latino representation and weaken their opponents. Martinez also made bigoted remarks about Jews, Armenian Americans, African Americans, and Oaxacans.
Those four city leaders drew widespread condemnation, which prompted Martinez and Herrera to resign, while Cedillo had already lost his reelection bid just months before. However, De León has defied calls to resign from President Joe Biden and many other prominent Democrats, and he's seeking reelection next year.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Houston, TX Mayor: With just a week to go before the Dec. 9 runoff for Houston mayor, Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee began airing what appeared to be her first TV ad following the Nov. 7 first round, but the spot had one glaring problem: It told viewers the wrong election date, Dec. 7.
Jackson Lee's campaign blamed the ad agency it had used and said it would run a corrected version. The ad itself touted her record of fighting to protect abortion rights, reduce gun violence, and secure funding for police, schools, and small businesses.
Compounding Jackson Lee's problems is that she continues to badly trail in fundraising compared to Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire, who led her 43-36 in the first round last month. The latest financial reports covering Oct. 29 through Nov. 29 showed that Whitmire raised $2.4 million, spent $3.6 million, and had $3.5 million in cash on hand on Nov. 30. By contrast, Jackson Lee raised just $498,000, spent $342,000, and had only $235,000 on hand by the end of last month.
Jackson Lee did get one bit of good news, though, when she earned an endorsement from former Mayor Kathy Whitmire, who from 1982 to 1991 was the first woman to serve as Houston's mayor and had appointed Jackson Lee to a local judgeship in 1987. Kathy Whitmire's late first husband was the brother of John Whitmire.