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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● CA-Sen: Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is both the longest-serving senator in California history and the longest-serving Democrat currently in the Senate, put out a statement Tuesday confirming that she would not seek re-election next year, a decision that marks the beginning of the end of a long and influential career in state and national politics.
Feinstein herself expressed surprise at the timing of the release, saying later in the day, “I haven't released anything.” When a staffer told her how her office had released the declaration, she said, “I should have known they put it out.” But while the senator said later in the day she was “not announcing anything” Tuesday, her colleagues, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, still released statements commending the state’s first woman senator. Feinstein’s office went on to say she’d approved the press release, adding, “The senator was out of the office for votes, a meeting, lunch and more votes when the announcement was sent.”
Other Golden State Democrats, meanwhile, have long anticipated that the incumbent, who at 89 is the oldest member of the upper chamber, would not be on the 2024 top-two primary ballot, and they didn't wait for Tuesday's developments before preparing their campaigns to succeed her. Rep. Katie Porter launched her Senate bid over a month ago, while colleague Adam Schiff said weeks later that he was running himself with Feinstein's "blessing."
The Washington Post also reported last week that a third Democratic House member, Barbara Lee, would kick off her own campaign by the end of February. Rep. Ro Khanna, by contrast, said he'd "most likely" defer to Lee, though he didn't rule out running even if she did. However, there's little question that a Democrat will prevail next year in a state that has dramatically swung to the left since Feinstein first won her Senate seat in 1992.
Feinstein began her public service well before that, though, in 1960 when Gov. Pat Brown appointed the 27-year-old to a post on the California Women's Board of Terms and Parole after she impressed him with a paper on the justice system. While Feinstein would eventually become one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, she recounted that as a single mother, this post paid just "enough to get by on." Feinstein won elected office for the first time in 1969 when she earned a spot on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and she didn't need to give up her seat when she waged an unsuccessful 1971 race for mayor.
Feinstein came in third again in the 1975 mayoral contest that was won by George Moscone, but she was re-elected to the Board of Supervisors one more time two years later. She was serving as president of the body in 1978 when former colleague Dan White assassinated Moscone and Harvey Milk, a fellow supervisor who was one of the first gay elected officials in America. Feinstein, who found Milk's body, had just returned to work after recovering from an illness she'd picked up while in the Himalayas: She said in 2008, "I still believe that if I could have been there for that three weeks, I could have stopped it … Now, who knows? Who knows?"
Feinstein was automatically elevated to the mayor's office following Moscone's death, and the city's first woman leader largely impressed residents with her performance during a difficult time for the city. She decided to seek a full term in 1979, saying later that she believed that "as a lame duck, I couldn't hold the city together," but she only outpaced Supervisor Quentin Kopp 47-45 in the first round of voting. Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a longtime Feinstein ally who himself spent decades as one of the most influential politicos in the state, deployed his local political network to help her in the runoff, a contest she won 54-46.
Feinstein was popular during what would be a nine-year tenure, though she very much had her critics. Feinstein, who overall had a good relationship with the city's large LGBTQ community during the AIDS crisis, notably vetoed a domestic partners law: Local gay activist James Haas memorably said of the mayor, who was already developing a moderate reputation, "I honestly think she couldn't care less what we do in bed. It's just that she wants everybody in bed by 11 p.m."
A group called the White Panthers, which identified as "Marxist, Leninist, Maoist, Castroist," forced a recall against Feinstein in 1983, but she beat it back 82-18 months before she easily won a final term. Walter Mondale the following year considered making her his running mate, but he opted for Geraldine Ferraro instead. Feinstein, who was termed-out in 1987, herself once said she wanted to be "the first female chief executive of this country," and in 1990 she campaigned to be the first woman to serve as governor of California.
Feinstein went up against Attorney General John Van de Kamp, who had the important state party endorsement, in a primary where they both argued the other was insufficiently supportive of abortion rights. (California voters wouldn't adopt the current top-two primary system until 2010.) Van de Kamp ran to Feinstein's left and initially looked like the frontrunner, but he was held back by his dull campaign style.
Feinstein, who self-funded part of her effort, also helped turn around what looked like a stalled campaign with an ad campaign emphasizing her leadership in 1978, as well as a commercial declaring, "John Van de Kamp, who still opposes the death penalty and takes contributions from the Hillside Strangler lawyers, finally admits he made a mistake." Feinstein won the nod 52-41, but that effort left her without much money ahead of a difficult general election battle against Republican Sen. Pete Wilson.
The GOP nominee wasted little time using his war chest to attack Feinstein and San Francisco's budget deficit. The Democrat made up ground after she tied Wilson to the unpopular outgoing GOP governor, George Deukmejian, but it wasn't enough: Wilson won 49-46 after a closely watched contest, a race that marked the first and last time Feinstein would lose statewide. Indeed, she bounced back quickly when she entered the 1992 special election to take on Republican John Seymour, whom Wilson had picked to replace him in D.C.
This time, her campaign went smoothly. Feinstein was the primary frontrunner against state Controller Gray Davis, a future governor who tried to turn things around late with an infamous ad comparing her to wealthy tax cheat Leona Helmsley. Feinstein instead turned in a 58-33 victory against Davis, and she benefited in the fall from George H.W. Bush's struggles in the state, as well as Wilson's unpopularity at the time. The Democrat also made sure to remind voters that Seymour had voted to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and against a family-leave bill.
Feinstein unseated Seymour 54-38 as Bill Clinton was becoming the first Democrat to carry the state's electoral votes since 1964. That win came the same night that fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer won a regular six-year term in what the media dubbed the Year of the Woman: However, because Feinstein was sworn in just after Election Day, she was the one who got to make history as the first woman and Jewish person to represent California in the Senate.
Feinstein, though, had another tough fight ahead of her during the 1994 GOP wave against Rep. Michael Huffington, who self-funded $28 million in his quest to deny the new senator a full term. Feinstein accused Huffington of trying to buy the election, but his offensive helped him close what had started out as a yawning gap in the polls. That campaign also took place as conservatives, including Feinstein's old foe Wilson, were promoting Proposition 187, which would have denied services to undocumented immigrants. The rough climate, though, wasn't quite enough to sink Feinstein, who turned back Huffington 47-45.
That close race turned out to be the last time that Feinstein had to worry about a Republican opponent, however. She easily beat Rep. Tom Campbell 56-37 as Al Gore was decisively carrying California, and she didn't face any serious opposition during her next two campaigns. The senator, though, enraged progressives in 2017 when she said of Donald Trump, "I think we have to have some patience … The question is whether he can learn and change. If so, I believe he can be a good president."
Those comments helped earn Feinstein an intra-party challenge from Kevin de León, a former state Senate leader who tried to rally the left against her. However, while de León made it to the general election, he had a tough time raising a serious amount of money in this ultra-expensive state at a time when national Democratic donors had their attention focused elsewhere.
Feinstein won her final term 54-46, with much of de León's support coming from red counties that were used to voting against the senator. (De León was elected to the Los Angeles City Council two years later, and he's refused to resign after being recorded making bigoted remarks in a conversation.) Feinstein herself spent the last year of her tenure dealing with serious questions about her cognitive health, which only increased speculation that this term would indeed be her last.
● NV-Sen: CNN mentions 2022 Senate nominee Adam Laxalt as a possible Republican contender against Democratic incumbent Jacky Rosen, though there’s no word if he’s interested months after his narrow loss to Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Army veteran Sam Brown, who lost last year’s primary to Laxalt 56-34, didn’t rule out another campaign last fall, but we haven’t heard anything from him since then.
● CA-30: Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian's former chief of staff tells the Los Angeles Times that Krekorian is considering running to succeed his fellow Democrat, Senate candidate Adam Schiff. Krekorian's current spokesperson merely told the paper that he is "extremely focused on the business at hand."
● CO-03: Colorado Democrat Adam Frisch, who failed to unseat far-right Rep. Lauren Boebert by just 546 votes last year, announced Tuesday that he would seek a 2024 rematch. Despite Boebert's national infamy and terrible relationship with her party leadership, though, Frisch will be in for another challenging campaign as he tries to flip a western Colorado district that Donald Trump took 53-45.
Boebert, an election denier who called the Jan. 6 committee a "sham witch hunt" and implied that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar was a terrorist, spent her first term infuriating Democrats and even some Republicans. The congresswoman, however, looked secure last cycle after the state's new independent redistricting commission adopted new lines that extended Trump's margin of victory in her already red 3rd District, a map that led her most prominent Democratic foe, state Sen. Kerry Donovan, to end her campaign.
Frisch, who served on the Aspen City Council, consequently looked like a longshot after he won the June primary. While Boebert's national infamy helped Frisch raise about $3 million through mid-October, major outside groups on both sides behaved like Boebert was safe and spent elsewhere. It was therefore a massive surprise when Frisch ended election night with a tiny edge over the incumbent, though later counted ballots ultimately left her with a 50.1-49.9 victory.
Boebert still very nearly paid a price for her extremism, and Team Blue's strong showings at the top of the ballot also made things unexpectedly tough for her. According to preliminary calculations from Daily Kos Elections, Gov. Jared Polis actually carried the 3rd by a 49-47 margin, while Sen. Michael Bennet only lost it by 49-48.
Boebert, however, responded to her near loss by refusing to ever support Kevin McCarthy for speaker. That didn't sit right with Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a fellow far-right icon who nevertheless has had a terrible relationship with Boebert for a while. (Politico reported last year that the two almost got into a physical fight when Boebert went after Greene about the Georgian's appearance at a white supremacist event.) Greene, according to the Daily Beast, confronted her colleague on the first day of the new Congress in a Capitol bathroom, with one source relaying, "Greene questioned Boebert's loyalty to McCarthy, and after a few words were exchanged, Boebert stormed out."
McCarthy took a more diplomatic tact with Boebert, though, and he personally appealed to her on the House floor during the final night of voting. The best he got was for Boebert to vote "present" on the last two ballots rather than for another House member, but that was good enough: McCarthy went on to award Boerbert with a seat on the Oversight and Accountability Committee.
Frisch is once again betting that Boebert's antics will hold her back in an area where Republicans usually do well, declaring in his announcement video that the incumbent is "an election denier who encouraged the attack on the Capitol and wants to make all abortions illegal, even for rape and incest." Frisch continues, "I'll put Colorado first—Colorado energy, Colorado water, and Colorado jobs." The candidate's wife, Katy Frisch, adds, "Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert. Boebert is the only one of the crazies in Congress that can be beaten."
● WI Supreme Court: New campaign finance reports are out ahead of the Feb. 21 nonpartisan primary for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and they show that progressive Janet Protasiewicz once again took in more donations during the first 37 days of the year than her three opponents combined.
The numbers, which cover Jan. 1 to Feb. 6, are below.
- Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz: $725,000 raised, $277,000 cash-on-hand
- Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow: $365,000 raised, $267,000 cash-on-hand
- former Justice Daniel Kelly: $100,000 raised, $202,000 cash-on-hand
- Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell: $70,000 raised, $121,000 cash-on-hand
Mitchell is also a liberal, while Dorow and Kelly are the conservatives.
Wisconsin requires candidates to report any donations of $1,000 or more that these candidates received since the reporting period ended, and Protasiewicz also lapped her rivals in the time between Feb. 7 through the 13th. She hauled in $196,000 of these donations, though Protasiewicz says she raised a total of $363,000 over the last week.
Dorow, by contrast, took in $31,000 in large late donations compared to $12,000 for Mitchell, while Kelly only received a single $1,000 contribution. Kelly, though, is hardly being left to fend for himself, though, as AdImpact reports that Fair Courts America, a super PAC funded by megadonors Dick and Liz Uihlein, has spent $1.8 million on advertising to help him. That's just behind the $1.9 million that the progressive group A Better Wisconsin Together has deployed: The group's spots have accused Dorow of issuing too lenient sentences, a tactic designed to convince the right-wing base to reject her this month.
Finally, the conservative super PAC Women Speak Out PAC says it’s spending "six figures" for … Kelly. The group, which is an affiliate of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, is sending out mailers touting the conservative man's opposition to abortion rights.
● WI State Senate: Attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin, the lone Democrat running in the April 4 special election for Wisconsin's 8th Senate District, dominated all of her Republican opponents on the money front in newly filed reports that cover all fundraising activity during the first five weeks of the year as well as large donations received more recently.
Habush Sinykin raised $253,000 and spent $225,000 from Jan. 1 through Feb. 6, leaving her with $59,000 on hand, though that only tells part of the story. Candidates must also submit reports for any contributions of $1,000 or more that they receive in the two weeks between the end of the reporting period and the Feb. 21 primary, so thanks to those filings, we know Habush Sinykin has brought in at least another $82,000.
Those sums exceed the hauls of her three Republican opponents combined. State Rep. Dan Knodl led the GOP pack with $63,000 raised plus another $4,000 in large donations that came in after Feb. 6. Oddly, he hung on to most of his money, spending just $5,000 and banking $107,000, though it's possible that he's focusing his outlays on the final two weeks before the primary.
The other two Republicans are spending more freely. State Rep. Janel Brandtjen took in just $21,000 (along with a single late $1,000 donation), but she spent almost the same amount, $22,000, and had a similar $24,000 left over for the stretch run. Finally, there's Thiensville Village President Van Mobley, who raised just $7,000 from donors but also loaned his campaign $100,000, allowing him to spend $77,000 and still have $29,000 in his coffers.
Habush Sinykin has made extensive use of her financial advantage: According to the New York Times' Reid Epstein, she's spent $166,000 on TV ads so far, many of them seeking to promote Brandtjen, whom Democrats and Republicans both believe would be the weaker option for the GOP. Neither Brandtjen nor Knodl, the two better-known Republicans, have responded with ads of their own, either TV or digital, though outside groups have been boosting Knodl with online spots.
Mobley, the third wheel in this race, actually has run a pair of TV ads, both of them focused on the state income tax, which he wants to abolish. However, he faces a serious name recognition deficit, as both Brandtjen and Knodl each represent a third of the Senate district they're seeking while the town Mobley runs is home to just 3,000 people.
If Habush Sinykin can flip this Republican-held district, she’d roll back the new supermajority the GOP acquired in November thanks to gerrymandered maps. Despite Wisconsin’s perennial swing state status, Republicans currently hold the Senate by a wide 21-11 margin with this seat vacant.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s newest commercial for the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary goes after Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson for the first time, though her allied PAC started running spots against him last week.
Lightfoot’s narrator, after once again linking Rep. Chuy Garcia to “crypto crooks and indicted politicians,” accuses Johnson of pushing “job crushing new taxes and dangerous defunding of police.” Politico recently wrote that the county commissioner says “he would like to see the agency’s resources moved to other areas, especially publicly funded mental health centers,” but he’s avoided saying he wants to “defund” the police department. The ad avoids going after Paul Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO whom Lightfoot says she wants to face in a runoff.
Johnson, who has the backing of the influential Chicago Teachers Union, didn’t attract much support in many polls before mid-January, but several more recent surveys show him in contention for one of the two spots in the likely April runoff. So far no one else appears to have aired any ads against him, though that could change in the final two weeks.
A pair of new polls, however, offer Johnson some of his worst numbers in weeks. A new firm called 1983 Labs, which says it's not affiliated with anyone running, has Lightfoot at 15% as Vallas edges wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson 13-12 for second. Garcia is at 10% while Johnson and activist Ja'Mal Green are deadlocked 7-7. The group’s late January survey had Lightfoot taking 16%, while back then it was Wilson who led Vallas 14-10 as Johnson grabbed fourth with 9%.
Northwestern University, meanwhile, has released its first survey of the race from BSP Research, but it finds quite a different order of candidates. The school shows Vallas taking 23% among likely voters, with Garcia narrowly leading Lightfoot 16-15 for second. Wilson isn’t far behind with 12%, while Johnson is at 8%.