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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● MT Redistricting: Montana at last became the 50th state to complete the legislative redistricting process this decade when the state's bipartisan redistricting commission finalized new maps over the weekend. The panel's tie-breaking independent member once again sided with its two Democratic commissioners to approve a plan that largely reflected a preliminary version the commission adopted in December along the same partisan lines. The commission must now file its maps with the secretary of state within 30 days, at which point they'll automatically become law.
They could, however, be challenged in court: Republicans have complained bitterly about not getting their way and have suggested they might file suit. Democrats have argued that the maps should reflect the state's overall political lean, which the commission calculated at 57% Republican and 43% Democratic based on an average of recent statewide races. According to reports released by a Democratic commissioner, these new lines would actually offer Republicans an even greater advantage than that, creating a 31-18 split in favor of the GOP in the 50-member Senate (with one true tossup seat) and a 60-40 divide in the 100-strong House.
Republicans, however, insist they should be entitled to even more seats. "A map will generally and naturally lead to an increase in districts for a majority party," claimed one GOP commissioner. Currently, Republicans enjoy supermajorities in both chambers, with 34 seats in the Senate and 68 in the House, but these maps would likely allow Democrats to roll them back. It also takes 100 votes across both houses combined for lawmakers to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, a power the GOP would probably lose.
So why did Montana wait so long to finish remapping? An arcane provision of the state constitution requires the commission to submit legislative plans to lawmakers at the legislature's "first regular session" after its maps are complete. But since the legislature only meets in odd-numbered years, for 90 working days starting in January, there's no way for the commission to finish its work for the session that starts immediately after a census year—in this case, 2021.
As a result, legislators only got to review these maps at the start of this year. (The delay is also pointless, since their review is purely advisory—only the commission has the power to draw and approve maps.) This state of affairs likely violates the constitution's guarantee of "one person, one vote" because, by the end of each decade, some districts are severely overpopulated while others are badly underpopulated, but no one has challenged it yet.
● MT-Sen: The Political Company, a Republican firm run by a former campaign manager for Gov. Greg Gianforte, has released a survey testing Democratic Sen. Jon Tester against a trio of Republicans:
46-40 vs. Rep. Ryan Zinke
45-40 vs. Rep. Matt Rosendale
45-45 vs. Gov. Greg Gianforte
This is the first survey we've seen from this pollster.
Zinke and Rosendale have both been making noises about running against Tester, who has yet to confirm his own 2024 plans, while Gianforte's name has come up much less often. The governor's spokesperson, though, wouldn't reveal if his boss was looking at the contest when asked just before Thanksgiving, merely saying that Gianforte was focused on the upcoming legislative session.
We haven't heard anything since then about a possible Senate bid for Gianforte, who is also up for re-election in 2024. According to Ballotpedia, the legislative session he was so focused on will end in mid-May.
● VT-Sen: Sen. Bernie Sanders told the New York Times that people wondering about if he'll seek a fourth term next year should "keep wondering." The Democratic-aligned independent, when asked why, merely said, "Because I've just told you, and this is very serious … If you think about my record, I take this job seriously. The purpose of elections is to elect people to do work, not to keep talking about elections."
● WI-Sen: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel takes a look at the Wisconsin Republicans who could take on Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin in this swing state, though only one would-be candidate confirmed he was interested. Wealthy businessman Eric Hovde told the paper, "I'm looking seriously at this race but won't even try to make a decision until this fall." Hovde narrowly lost the 2012 primary to former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who in turn lost to Baldwin; Hovde considered both another try in 2018 and a run for governor last year, but he stayed out of both races.
The paper also notes that Rep. Mike Gallagher continues to be mentioned as a possibility, though the congressman has said little about his interest in public. Gallagher declared in December that a Senate campaign was "not on my mind," which was not a no. A spokesperson for fellow Rep. Tom Tiffany was likewise blithe this month, merely saying, "Congressman Tiffany is focused on serving the people of northern and western Wisconsin." An advisor for a third congressman, Bryan Steil, meanwhile said that Steil "plans on running for reelection in 2024."
The Journal Sentinel also names a few other Republicans as possibilities. One familiar name is businessman Kevin Nicholson, the former College Democrats of America president who lost the 2018 primary to face Baldwin and dropped out of last year's nomination contest for governor. The paper also lists former Rep. Sean Duffy and Rachel Campos-Duffy, his wife and fellow Fox News talking head, but acknowledges that "[n]either is likely to run." The couple lives in New Jersey, though this didn't stop Donald Trump in 2021 from unsuccessfully urging Sean Duffy to challenge Gov. Tony Evers.
● MO-Gov: The political tip-sheet Missouri Scout is out with a survey of the 2024 Republican primary from its usual pollster, the GOP firm Remington Research Group, that gives Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft a 28-9 edge over Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe as state Sen. Bill Eigel clocks in at 4%. This is quite a plunge for Ashcroft from the 44% he posted in Remington's November poll even though nothing appears to have happened between the two surveys to explain this sort of a shift; Kehoe and Eigel, respectively, grabbed 10% and 4% back then.
The only member of this trio who has actually announced a bid to succeed termed-out Gov. Mike Parson is Kehoe, who launched his campaign all the way back in March of 2021. Eigel went on to form an exploratory committee back in September, though he hasn't committed to anything. Ashcroft himself has not said he's in either, though local political observers have long expected him to run: The secretary of state is the son of John Ashcroft, a former governor and senator who was George W. Bush's first attorney general.
● MS-Gov: The Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund has conducted a late-January survey from the Democratic firm Tulchin Research that included a question on the race for governor, and it showed Democrat Brandon Presley with a 47-43 lead over Republican incumbent Tate Reeves. The only other survey we've seen here was a Siena College poll for Mississippi Today, and it put Reeves up 43-39 in this dark red state. Neither of those polls included Gwendolyn Gray, an independent who could keep either Reeves or Pressley from taking the majority they'd need to avert a runoff.
● CA-13: Democrat Adam Gray has filed paperwork with the FEC for a potential rematch against freshman Rep. John Duarte, the Republican who beat him 50.2-49.8 last year. Joe Biden took this Central Valley constituency 54-43, and Democrats are hoping they'll have a better shot with presidential turnout here. Financial adviser Phil Arballo, a fellow Democrat who lost the top-two primary to Gray, last week announced his own campaign to take on Duarte.
● TX-AG: Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton has reached a tentative settlement in the whistleblower lawsuit that four of his top aides brought against him, but it's contingent on the legislature approving $3.3 million in state funds for the quartet. State Rep. Jeff Leach, who chairs the committee that oversees the attorney general's office, made it clear he still needs to be persuaded, saying Friday, "I've spoken with the Attorney General directly this morning and communicated in no uncertain terms that, on behalf of our constituents, legislators will have questions and legislators will expect answers."
These four aides previously accused Paxton of retaliating after they told the FBI in the fall of 2020 that their boss had used his office to aid a wealthy ally named Nate Paul in exchange for favors. Among other things, they alleged that Paul hired a woman Paxton was having an affair with upon the attorney general's recommendation. (Paxton's wife is state Sen. Angela Paxton, who would have a vote in whether the legislature approves the financial part of the settlement.)
Under this agreement, the attorney general "accepts that plaintiffs acted in a manner that they thought was right and apologizes for referring to them as 'rogue employees,'" though neither side would admit fault or liability. The FBI has not charged Paxton in the Paul matter, and it's not clear if the investigation is active. Paxton was charged with securities fraud all the way back in 2015 in a separate case, but the trial still hasn't even been scheduled and he's won re-election twice while under indictment.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: With two weeks to go before the nonpartisan primary, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson has released an internal from Lake Research Partners that shows him locked in a tight battle with Mayor Lori Lightfoot for the second place spot in the all-but-assured April runoff. Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas is in first with 24% as Lightfoot edges out Johnson 16-15 for second; just behind are Rep. Chuy Garcia and wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson with 11% and 10%, respectively.
● Houston, TX Mayor: State Sen. John Whitmire on Monday publicized an endorsement from Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a fellow Democrat who is one of Houston's most prominent Latino elected officials, for the November nonpartisan primary. Garcia backed her old state Senate colleague Whitmire days after one of her former aides, City Councilmember Robert Gallegos, joined the race; her decision also comes at a time when Garcia's colleague, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, is also reportedly testing the waters for a potential mayoral campaign of her own.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: The chair of the Tennessee Republican Party has endorsed a proposed bill in the GOP-dominated legislature that would forbid cities from holding runoffs in local elections―a plan that could give Republicans a much stronger chance to win this year's officially nonpartisan race to lead the solidly Democratic city of Nashville. The plan comes one year after the legislature passed a law banning ranked-choice voting in the state.
All the candidates looking to succeed retiring Nashville Mayor John Cooper will run on one ballot in August: The current law requires a September runoff between the top two vote-getters unless one contender wins a majority of the vote, something that's unlikely to happen in what's shaping up to be a crowded field.
This Republican plan, though, would give the mayor's office to whoever won the most votes even if they fell far short of 50%. Nashville, which is consolidated with the rest of Davidson County, backed Biden 64-32, and The Nashville Banner notes that this idea "would seemingly create the only path for a Republican to have a shot at winning the race" for mayor.
The proposal comes at a time when the GOP is looking to punish the local legislative body, the 40-member Metro Council, for effectively killing the legislature's plan to land the 2024 Republican National Convention. One proposal would cut the Metro Council in half, while others would deprive the city's convention center of funding and allow lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bill Lee to appoint a majority of members to the boards that run major Nashville sites. Republicans last year also infamously passed a congressional map that split the city between three different conservative seats, a gerrymander that led Cooper's brother, Rep. Jim Cooper, to retire.
Republicans, though, insist they're trying to eliminate a second round of voting because, in the words of state Sen. Brent Taylor, "Runoffs are a relic of the Jim Crow South." Political scientist Sekou Franklin, however, told the Banner that, while runoffs were originally a way to keep African Americans from winning elections, "Over time that narrative of runoffs [being] against African American candidates has disappeared, that's the best way I can describe it … [Black voters] became normalized into the process and have experienced success in runoff election systems."
Two Republicans, meanwhile, have expressed interest in campaigning to replace Mayor Cooper. One potential contender is Alice Rolli, who served in then-Gov. Bill Haslam's administration and was also Sen. Lamar Alexander's campaign manager during his final race in 2014; Rolli's treasurer for her potential bid is David Fox, a Republican who lost the 2015 runoff to Democrat Megan Barry 55-45. The other is conservative commentator Carol Swain, a former Vanderbilt professor who competed in the 2018 special election to succeed Barry after she resigned following a scandal. Swain lost that contest 54-23 to new Mayor David Briley, and she took 22% in the regular contest the following year. (Cooper went on to unseat Briley in the runoff.)
This year's field currently consists of Metro Council members Sharon Hurt and Freddie O'Connell along with former economic development chief Matt Wiltshire and Jim Gingrich, the former chief operating officer of the global asset management giant AllianceBernstein. Wiltshire, who has been self-funding part of his bid, made use of his large war chest to debut his opening TV ad "during the Puppy Bowl and the Super Bowl pregame show." The commercial touts his local roots and argues, "We should focus on improving all of our neighborhoods, not just attracting more tourists."
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: Former City Councilmember Allan Domb, a self-funder who finished 2022 with more money than the rest of the Democratic primary field combined, is airing a TV ad arguing he represents badly needed change from termed-out Mayor Jim Kenney. The spot, which aired on Fox just before the Super Bowl, opens with footage of the incumbent saying he'll "be happy when I'm not mayor and I can enjoy some stuff," comments that came right after two police officers were wounded in a Fourth of July shooting. Domb interjects, "How can you lead a city when you don't really want the job?"
Meanwhile, David Oh announced Monday that he was giving up his own City Council seat in order to try to become the first Republican to the mayor's office since 1947. Oh has been elected citywide three times, though that's not necessarily a sign of extensive crossover support in a place where each party can only nominate five candidates for the seven at-large constituencies. Oh himself finished seventh in 2019 just behind Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks in the first election where Republicans failed to win at least two citywide seats since Philadelphia's Home Rule Charter went into effect in the 1950s.
● Suffolk County, NY Executive: The leaders of the county Republican and Conservative parties have announced that they're supporting Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine in this year's contest to succeed termed-out Democratic incumbent Steve Bellone, a decision they'll ratify at their respective conventions later this month. (Because Romaine is trying to flip this office, he probably won't use the slogan "Lettuce continue.")
The GOP-endorsed candidate usually, though not always, wins the party primary without much trouble, and there's no indication yet that Romaine will face any serious intra-party opposition. Indeed, two prospective candidates, County Comptroller John Kennedy and Suffolk Legislative Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey, both say they're for Romaine. Democrats have consolidated behind businessman Dave Calone, who said last month he had $1.7 million on-hand. Romaine predicted that, while he "won't raise as much money as David Calone," he would still "raise enough to be competitive."