The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● OH-09: Ohio Republican J.R. Majewski, a QAnon ally who proved to be one of his party's very worst nominees for any office in 2022, said Monday that he was thinking about seeking a rematch against Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur. Majewski, whom the NRCC abandoned after the Associated Press reported that he'd lied about serving in Afghanistan, wrote, "As I consider, I want to make it clear: my decision will not be made by the DC Swamp or the political establishment … I'm looking forward to making a decision very soon!"
A Majewski reprise would not be welcome news for national Republicans, who will want to target Kaptur once more after their counterparts in the Buckeye State get the chance to gerrymander the state's congressional map all over again. Kaptur, who was first elected to represent the Toledo area in 1982, was a top redistricting target last cycle, and Republicans thought they had her on the ropes after they radically transformed her 9th District from a 59-40 Biden constituency to one that Trump would have taken 51-48.
However, everything changed when Majewski, a conservative activist who attended the Jan. 6 Trump rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol, shocked everyone by defeating two state legislators in the May 2022 primary to face the longest-serving congresswoman in American history. Kaptur and her allies recognized the opportunity that Republican voters had handed them, and they went on to air a litany of ads arguing that Majewski's presence at the riot proved that he was a danger to law enforcement. (Majewski claims he never actually entered the Capitol building.)
Democrats also used footage of the Republican speaking favorably of secession and rapping in a video titled "Let's Go Brandon Save America" to make their case that he shouldn't be in Congress. A Kaptur commercial additionally highlighted Majewski's ties to QAnon, with a narrator saying, "The FBI calls QAnon a domestic terrorist threat … Extremist J. R. Majewski is one of them." Majewski, who said in 2020 he identified himself as a supporter of the conspiracy cult, said during the campaign, "I denounce QAnon. I do not support Q, and I do not subscribe to their conspiracy theories."
National Republicans still stuck with Majewski during all this, and Kevin McCarthy even stumped for him in August. However, they had second thoughts the following month after the AP reported that military documents showed that Majewski, who had previously said he "lost my grandmother when I was in Afghanistan," had never been stationed in the country. Instead, the self-described "combat veteran" spent six months in 2002 loading planes at an Air Force base in Qatar, far from the front lines. That seems to have been it for the NRCC, which yanked its planned spending the next day even as their nominee continued to insist he'd really served in Afghanistan.
Democratic outside groups, though, continued to air ads here even as Majewski found himself on the receiving end of more unflattering stories about his actual military career, including how he'd been unable to enlist in the Air Force after being punished for drunk driving on an air base. (New York Republican George Santos' serial lies, by contrast, weren't widely known until over a month after Election Day.) Kaptur ended up defeating Majewski in a 57-43 landslide, a result that somehow hasn't deterred him from mulling a rematch.
● CA-Sen: While almost no one in California politics seems to think that Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who ended 2022 with a paltry $10,000 on-hand, will run for re-election, the incumbent still says her announcement is a while away. Feinstein said Monday she'd reveal her plans "[i]n the spring sometime," adding, "Not in the winter. I don't announce in the winter." The first day of spring is March 20.
● IN-Sen: Former Gov. Mitch Daniels said Tuesday that he'd stay out of next year's Republican primary for Indiana's open Senate seat, a proclamation that came hours before NRSC chair Steve Daines put out an unexpectedly supportive statement for the one declared major candidate, Rep. Jim Banks. "I'm looking forward to working with one of our top recruits this cycle, Jim Banks, to keep Indiana red in 2024," said Daines, whose committee for over a decade has only intervened in intra-party fights to protect incumbents.
The GOP contest in this conservative state was shaping up to be a far different affair before Tuesday. Banks' allies at the radical anti-tax Club for Growth―a well-funded group that often finds itself at odds with the Republican leadership―had begun airing ads attacking Daniels as "[a]n old guard Republican clinging to the old ways of the bad old days." Donald Trump also had reportedly been trashing the former governor, and Hoosier and national Republicans were preparing for a contest that, in the words of one Daniels advisor, was turning into "ground zero of the Republican Civil War."
Daniels, though, called off the troops this week while insisting he wasn't waving the white flag. "I have never imagined that I would be well-suited to legislative office, particularly where seniority remains a significant factor in one's effectiveness, and I saw nothing in my recent explorations that altered that view," said Daniels, who also decided not to run for president more than a decade ago.
Banks, a conservative hardliner with a long history of opposing abortion rights and attacking trans people, launched his own campaign two weeks before Daniels made up his mind, and Daines rewarded his head start Tuesday with his laudatory statement. The NRSC has been reluctant to take sides in contested open seat primaries since the 2010 cycle, when it infuriated the emerging tea party with a series of ill-fated endorsements that included, but was not limited to, then-Florida Republican Charlie Crist.
The last NRSC chair, Rick Scott, stubbornly remained neutral last year even as allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spent millions to block weak candidates in primaries. Daines, though, has made it clear he'd adopt a different strategy, saying in December, "We want to make sure we have candidates that can win general elections." It's not clear, though, why Daines felt he had to deter any opponents for Banks in Indiana, a state Trump took 57-41 in 2020 and where no notable Democrats have expressed interest in running for the Senate.
It also remains to be seen if other would-be GOP candidates take the hint. Rep. Victoria Spartz responded to Daniels' decision by telling IndyStar, "I am going to fully concentrate this quarter on getting things done in the House and moving the needle on fixing health care, which I ran on … I will have to make my decision on what I am doing next politically later." Term-limited Gov. Eric Holcomb, a former top aide to Daniels who has his own conflicts with the base, also didn't rule out a Senate run earlier this year, while former Rep. Trey Hollingsworth reportedly has been considering as well.
● MS-Gov: Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said Monday that he would not seek a rematch against Gov. Tate Reeves in this year's Republican primary, a declaration that came just two days before Mississippi's filing deadline. Waller, who lost an ugly 2019 runoff to Reeves 54-46, declared weeks ago that "corruption is so apparent and out of control, and most Mississippians I know are sick of it."
● CA-30: Nick Melvoin, who is a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board, on Tuesday became the latest Democrat to launch a bid to succeed Senate candidate Adam Schiff in this safely blue seat. Melvoin won his current post in 2017 after charter school supporters, including a trio of Wal-Mart heirs, spent an astounding $6.6 million to help him unseat an incumbent, a win that helped put a pro-charter majority in charge of America's second-largest school system.
Melvoin was decisively re-elected last year with financial support from Bill Bloomfield, another wealthy donor who is close to charter supporters. Melvoin kicked off his House campaign by stressing different themes, tweeting, "We need a leader who'll continue to protect reproductive freedom, fight climate change, & secure resources to address the ongoing homelessness crisis."
● NY-22: Cnycentral.com reports that Manlius Town Councilor Katelyn Kriesel, a Democrat who recently filed with the FEC, will announce Thursday that she'll challenge freshman GOP Rep. Brandon Williams.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Dutchess County, NY Executive: New York Democrats are hoping that this will be the year that they take control of the executive's office in Dutchess County, a competitive Hudson Valley community that's home to Franklin Roosevelt's lifetime home of Hyde Park, though it remains to be seen who will step up. This will likely be an open seat race because unelected incumbent Bill O'Neill, who was sworn in after fellow Republican Marc Molinaro resigned to join Congress, says he expects to be only a caretaker.
The GOP field began to take shape this week when former state Sen. Sue Serino kicked off her campaign with the support of several prominent local Republicans, including Sheriff Kirk Imperati. Serino lost re-election last year 53-47 to Democratic colleague Michelle Hinchey after redistricting led the two incumbents to seek the same constituency. Another Republican, East Fishkill Town Supervisor Nick D'Alessandro, has also filed to run but hasn't announced yet.
Dutchess County used to be reliably red turf, so much so that FDR famously didn't carry it in any of his four presidential campaigns, though it's more competitive these days. The county has supported Democrats during each of the last four presidential elections, and Joe Biden took it 54-44 four years after Hillary Clinton won here just 47.5-47.2. Last year, however, local voters favored Republican Lee Zeldin 52-48 over Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Republicans have held the county executive's post since 1991, and they've held off Democratic attempts to flip it. Democrats in 2019 hoped to defeat Molinaro to prevent him from challenging Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado the following year in New York's old 19th Congressional District, but he prevailed by a convincing 58-41.
Molinaro, who sat out that race, eventually got a seat in Congress last year by narrowly winning the new 19th even though it doesn't include any of Dutchess County. Most of his old constituents are instead represented by 18th District Rep. Pat Ryan, a Democrat who'd beaten Molinaro a few months before in a special election conducted under the old lines; the balance of Dutchess County is in the 17th, which is held by freshman GOP Rep. Mike Lawler.
● Montgomery County, PA Board of Commissioners: Jamila Winder will become the first Black woman to serve on the three-person Board of Commissioners for this populous county now that the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas has appointed her to succeed Val Arkoosh, a fellow Democrat who resigned to join Gov. Josh Shapiro's administration. Winder, who chairs the East Norriton Township Board of Supervisors, will be up for a full four-year term this year.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: Nashville Mayor John Cooper unexpectedly announced Tuesday that he would not seek re-election this summer, a proclamation that comes a month after his brother and fellow Tennessee Democrat, longtime Rep. Jim Cooper, left the House.
However, while Jim Cooper retired after the GOP legislature gerrymandered his seat, the mayor insisted he was calling it a career because he'd accomplished the goals he'd run on in 2019. Cooper also acknowledged, though, how difficult his tenure had been, saying, "In many respects, 2020 was itself a full term in office." Cooper's decision could set off a crowded August nonpartisan primary to lead Nashville, which has been consolidated with the rest of Davidson County since 1962, though three candidates already said last year they were running no matter what the incumbent did.
The field already includes former economic development chief Matt Wiltshire as well as two members of the Metro Council, which is the 40-person local legislative body: Sharon Hurt, an at-large member who would be Nashville's first Black mayor, and Freddie O'Connell, who represents downtown. The filing deadline is in May, and a September runoff would take place if no one earned a majority of the vote in the first round.
Whoever wins the top job in this blue city will be taking over at a time when Tennessee Republicans are looking to punish Nashville the year after the Metro Council effectively killed the legislature's plan to land the 2024 Republican National Convention. (The event was later awarded to Milwaukee.) State House Majority Leader William Lamberth responded to that rejection by tweeting, "The people of TN will remember this vote for a long time and so will I," and he recently introduced a bill to cut the Metro Council in half. Lamberth denied his plan was about the RNC, though local voters decisively voted down a 2015 referendum that would have shrunk the body.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, who leads the state Senate, also is spearheading a bill that would dramatically deprive the city's convention center of funding. "Over the last year, Metro has made it clear they are no longer interested in aggressively recruiting top-tier conventions to Nashville," McNally said, ominously adding, "That message has been received loud and clear by the General Assembly."
● David Durenberger: Former Minnesota Sen. David Durenberger, a Republican who served from 1978 to 1995 and was censured by his colleagues during his final term, died Tuesday at the age of 88. Durenberger, who championed expanding Medicare benefits and the Americans with Disabilities Act, had a moderate image during his 16 years in office, and he went on to back Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.
Durenberger won all three of his campaigns convincingly, but he retired years after his colleagues officially admonished him in 1990 for evading ethics rules to collect $100,000 in speaking fees and scheming to get $40,000 in travel reimbursements while staying in the Minneapolis condo he co-owned. Months after leaving office, Durenberger accepted a plea deal where he pleaded guilty to misusing public funds, which resulted in one year of probation.
Durenberger was a well-connected attorney and GOP fundraiser who served on several prominent charitable boards when he first sought office in 1978 by campaigning in the special election to succeed Sen. Hubert Humphrey, the former vice president and 1968 Democratic presidential nominee who had died in office early in the year. Humphrey’s widow, Muriel Humphrey, was appointed to the seat but did not run.
Democrats ended up nominating former Texas Rangers owner Robert Short, an anti-abortion self-funder who urged Republicans to vote for him in the primary but struggled to win over liberals. Durenberger, by contrast, had little trouble winning the GOP nomination, and he beat Short in a 61-35 landslide. However, the senator had a more difficult contest for a full term in 1982 against Democrat Mark Dayton, an heir of the company now known as Target.
The Democrat, who was also married to a Rockefeller, poured millions of his own money into his campaign while campaigning “to close tax loopholes for the rich and the corporations—and if you think that includes the Daytons, you're right.” Durenberger, for his part, portrayed his foe as an aimless rich guy while distancing himself from Ronald Reagan during a time when the president wasn’t especially popular, with the New York Times writing that the incumbent “often suggests that Mr. Reagan is not very bright.” Durenberger ultimately won their expensive fight 53-47; Dayton later went on to win this seat in 2000 and later be elected governor in 2010 and 2014.
Durenberger faced another prominent name in 1988 when he went up against Attorney General Skip Humphrey, the son of his two predecessors. What followed was a nasty contest in a state that prided itself for “Minnesota nice”: Humphrey accused Durenberger of thinking that “pulling the plug” on seniors and ill people would help save Medicare money, while the incumbent went after his opponent on crime. However, Durenberger won by a convincing 56-41 even as Michael Dukakis was carrying the state.