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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● Senate: The Electoral College and congressional gerrymandering have gotten lots of attention in recent years for their anti-democratic tendency to allow one of our two major parties to win power even when the other party wins more votes. But new data from Stephen Wolf shows that this problem of minority rule has, over the last three decades, grown deeply entrenched in the U.S. Senate as well.
- Senate Republicans last won more votes than Democrats in 1998 but have won the chamber half the time since 2000 anyway. The results are similar when looking at how many people each party represents: Republicans last represented more Americans than Democrats in 1996 but still won the Senate in seven of the next 13 elections. And it could get even worse after 2024.
- Minority rule in the Senate has led to minority rule in the Supreme Court—with profound consequences. Five of the six conservative justices on the court were confirmed by senates where the GOP majority was elected with fewer votes than Democrats. These justices have restricted abortion rights, shredded voting rights, and preserved Republican gerrymanders, with no end in sight.
- Statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico could help mitigate the problem. It's also the right thing to do. But Democratic efforts to make D.C. a state failed in 2021 when Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema refused to curtail the filibuster. The issue isn't going away, though, especially if Sinema gets replaced by a pro-reform Democrat.
Read more about the Senate popular vote and dig in to our data.
● Yes, electing the president by popular vote is possible! Joining us on this week's episode of The Downballot is former Vermont legislator Christopher Pearson, an official with National Popular Vote, the organization advocating for states to adopt a compact that would award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who gets the most votes nationwide. Pearson walks us through the mechanics of the compact, debunks some common misconceptions, and lays out future steps toward hitting the required 270 electoral votes for the agreement to come into force.
Co-hosts David Beard and David Nir also mark The Downballot's one-year anniversary (if you can believe it) by unwrapping a present from the New York Senate, which just shot down Gov. Kathy Hochul's unacceptably conservative pick for the state's top court in epic fashion. In addition, the Davids preview key races coming up next week in Wisconsin and New Hampshire and dive into a brand-new data set from Daily Kos Elections' Stephen Wolf showing just how out of balance the Senate is: Republicans haven't won the popular vote since 1998 but have still controlled the chamber half the time since then.
New episodes of The Downballot come out every Thursday morning. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show. You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time.
● CA-Sen: Rep. Barbara Lee has filed FEC paperwork for a potential campaign to succeed her fellow Democrat, retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Her team said Wednesday, "The campaign is taking the necessary steps to prepare and the Congresswoman will have more to say by the end of the month."
● FL-Sen: The hardline Club for Growth on Wednesday endorsed Republican Sen. Rick Scott and used the occasion to attack the incumbent's main intra-party enemy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Club backed Scott weeks after Florida Politics reported that wealthy businessman Keith Gross was interested in challenging him in the primary, but there have been no public developments since then.
McConnell probably wouldn't be upset if Scott has to sweat renomination, though. Last week the leader generated headlines when he castigated Scott's proposal to sunset all federal legislation, including Medicare and Social Security, as "just a bad idea." McConnell predicted, "I think it will be a challenge for him to deal with this in his own re-election in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any state in America."
● PA-Sen: Democratic Sen. Bob Casey's office said Tuesday that his surgery for prostate cancer went well, and that he "should not require further treatment." The statement added that the senator "looks forward to getting back to a normal schedule after a period of rest and recovery."
● TX-Sen: Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro generated some buzz recently when he put out a fundraising email lacerating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz for seeking a third term even as he pushes a bill limiting senators to just two, with the congressman writing, "Senator Cruz should stick to his own rules and back out of the 2024 Senate race. Pitch in here if you agree!" The Dallas Morning News, though, notes that it's not clear if Castro, who flirted with Senate bids in 2017 and 2019, is interested in taking on Cruz this time.
Indeed, Politico recently reported that the congressman's identical twin brother, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, was considering a Senate bid. Neither Castro has said anything publicly about their 2024 plans.
● WV-Sen: The Senate Leadership Fund, the deep-pocketed super PAC run by allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has released an internal from The Tarrance Group that makes it very clear it wants Republican Gov. Jim Justice to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. The survey shows Justice beating Manchin 52-42 even as the same sample favors the incumbent over Rep. Alex Mooney and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey by margins of 55-40 and 52-42, respectively. The poll also finds Justice defeating Morrisey 53-21 in a primary, with Mooney grabbing 16%.
The memo extolled Justice as "far and away the strongest Republican candidate in the U.S. Senate race in West Virginia," though Mooney is the only declared contender so far. The governor, though, has said he'll decide by early March, and he's said he's likely to go for it. Morrisey, who lost to Manchin in 2018, plans to make up his mind the following month if he'll seek a rematch, run to succeed Justice, or seek re-election, while the senator is in no hurry to settle on his own 2024 plans.
● LA-Gov: Shawn Wilson said Wednesday that he would step down as state transportation secretary on March 4, and he added that he'd be announcing soon if he'd run for governor.
Local politicos have anticipated for months that Wilson, who would be the first African American elected statewide since Reconstruction, will try to replace termed-out Gov. John Bel Edwards, and his would-be predecessor offered him some encouraging words. "He's absolutely capable, eminently qualified and would do great job," said Edwards, continuing, "We would be very well served to have Shawn Wilson as our next governor."
● AZ-03: Héctor Jaramillo, a Democrat who is a member of the Glendale Elementary School Board, has filed FEC paperwork for a potential campaign for the safely blue seat that Rep. Ruben Gallego is giving up to run for the Senate, and he tweeted Monday, "Big announcement coming soon." Primary School notes that Jaramillo won his seat last year with the backing of a group opposed to school vouchers.
● FL-01: Attorneys for far-right Rep. Matt Gaetz said Wednesday, "We have just spoken with the DOJ and have been informed that they have concluded their investigation into Congressman Gaetz and allegations related to sex trafficking and obstruction of justice and they have determined not to bring any charges against him."
News broke in 2021 that the Florida Republican was under federal investigation for sex trafficking of a minor and other alleged offenses, and he earned a Republican primary challenge the following year from self-funder Mark Lombardo. Lombardo ran several ads focused on the allegations against Gaetz, as well as a spot that even speculated, without evidence, that Gaetz might be the government informant who prompted the FBI's raid of Mar-a-Lago.
GOP voters in this safely red seat responded by renominating the incumbent 70-24. One month later, the Washington Post reported that the prosecutors working the case recommended against indicting the congressman because they believed that there were too many credibility issues with a pair of key witnesses for them to secure an indictment.
● IN-03: Inside Elections' Erin Covey reports that Allen County Circuit Judge Wendy Davis (no, not that Wendy Davis) is considering seeking the Republican nod to succeed Senate candidate Jim Banks in this dark red seat. Covey also lists state Sen. Justin Busch and state Rep. Bob Morris as possibilities: Morris, she notes, made news in 2012 when he blasted the Girl Scouts as a group that's "been subverted in the name of liberal progressive politics and the destruction of traditional American family values."
Army veteran Mike Felker currently has the field to himself, though Covey relays that GOP leaders doubt he'll run a credible effort.
● NY-03: Surprise, surprise: While George Santos reportedly told Republican Party leaders he wouldn't run again before he was even sworn in, CNN says that the serial liar is telling people he's considering seeking re-election. The article also notes that, while D.C. Republicans "are reassuring members of their party in New York that there's no way they'll let him be their nominee," they hope he'll complete his term to avoid a special election in this 54-45 Biden constituency.
● NY Court of Appeals: The Democratic-led New York Senate delivered a historic defeat to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday when it voted 39-20 to reject Hector LaSalle, her nominee to lead the state's highest court.
Hochul stuck with LaSalle even after progressives raised serious alarms over his hostility toward criminal defendants, labor unions, and especially reproductive rights: A group of law professors also pointed to a 2017 decision LaSalle signed on to that helped shield a network of so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" (which try to dissuade women from getting abortions) from an investigation by the state attorney general.
The stakes were especially high because the seven-member top court, known as the Court of Appeals, has for several years been in the grips of a reactionary four-judge majority that has ruled against victims of police misconduct, workers seeking compensation for injuries on the job, and tenants who'd been overcharged by their landlords. Most notoriously, this quartet—all appointed by disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo—struck down new congressional and legislative maps passed by Democratic lawmakers last year on extremely questionable grounds and ordered that a Republican judge in upstate New York redraw them.
The chief justice's post became vacant last year when conservative Janet DiFiore unexpectedly resigned, which gave Hochul a chance to reshape the court―a chance she very much did not take. In New York the governor is required to pick from a list of seven court nominees submitted by the Commission on Judicial Nominations, and the Daily Beast reported last month that the one name that labor groups objected to was LeSalle's.
The governor went ahead and chose him anyway and stuck with him over intense opposition, a move one former lawmaker called "the Cuomo playbook without the Cuomo power." This person suggested that Hochul, who just won an unexpectedly tight battle for a full term last year, was swayed by major business donors and power players like Luis Miranda Jr., a high-powered consultant and the father of Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda. "It's all part of the same thing, he uses his son's fame to get entry and access for horrible companies, and predatory companies toward our communities," said this source.
Hochul responded to fears about LeSalle's ideology by emphasizing that he would be the Court of Appeal's first Latino head. She even used a Martin Luther King Day event to declare, "Listen to the man. Don't judge him until you know and understand, open-minded ... all those ways that you'd want to be treated." One of his few Democratic allies in the state Senate, Luis Sepúlveda, also argued, "To have the first Latino and Puerto Rican nominated, and to have his record distorted the way it's been distorted, I think is unfair."
LaSalle had some other prominent Democrats in his corner including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and fellow Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Adriano Espaillat. But the state Senate Judiciary Committee was not persuaded by their support or LaSalle's insistence that his record had been distorted, because it voted last month against advancing his nomination.
Hochul threatened to take legal action to force the full chamber to vote on him, while Republicans, who unanimously supported LaSalle, last week filed their own lawsuit to require a full vote. Law professor Quinn Yeargain argued that, despite Hochul and the GOP's protestations, "There is no plausible argument that the text of the New York Constitution itself requires the full Senate to vote on Judge LaSalle's nomination—none."
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, though, said Wednesday just before the vote that, while she agreed the Judiciary Committee had the power to block LaSalle, the matter was "an ongoing distraction" that needed to be resolved. The New York Times also wrote that Democrats feared that, if this matter dragged out further, it could prove to be a costly distraction as the state government works on a budget and might "heighten the risk that a court would rule that they had acted unconstitutionally."
Hochul and the GOP unexpectedly got the floor vote they wanted Wednesday, but it did not end well for them. The chamber overwhelmingly voted to torpedo LaSalle's nomination, as just one Democrat who was present for that vote, state Sen. Monica Martinez, sided with all the Republicans and supported him. (Sepúlveda and Kevin Thomas, who both backed the nominee last month on the Judiciary Committee, were absent.)
This is the first time the full chamber has voted to reject the governor's pick for the Court of Appeals since New York's chief executive gained the power to nominate them in the 1970s. (Candidates for the state's highest court previously ran in statewide elections.) Hochul, though, tried to salvage some small win from the debacle, saying, "This vote is an important victory for the Constitution. But it was not a vote on the merits of Justice LaSalle, who is an overwhelmingly qualified and talented jurist." The Commission on Judicial Nominations will now submit a new seven-person list to Hochul.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Denver, CO Mayor: State Sen. Chris Hansen has the honor of being the first of the 17 mayoral candidates to go up with a TV commercial ahead of the April 4 nonpartisan primary, and Denverite reports that he's spending $73,000 on his opening ad campaign about public safety. Hansen, who like most of the contenders identifies as a Democrat, calls for enforcing the city's unhoused camping ban and pledges to "invest in highly trained, accountable police."
● Houston, TX Mayor: Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire has earned an endorsement from the Houston Police Officers' Union ahead of this November's nonpartisan primary.
● Jacksonville, FL Mayor: St. Pete Polls, working on behalf of Florida Politics, is out with the first survey we've seen this year of Jacksonville's mayoral election, and it finds Democrat Donna Deegan in a strong position to pull off a rare win for her party this May in this longtime Republican stronghold.
The firm finds Deegan, a former local TV anchor who was the 2020 Democratic nominee against GOP Rep. John Rutherford, well ahead in the March 21 nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out Republican Mayor Lenny Curry, and we'll discuss those results below. The truly eye-popping numbers, though, come when St. Pete Polling quizzes respondents about hypothetical one-on-one May 16 matchups against two different Republicans: The survey shows Deegan almost lapping Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis 51-26, while she posts a 54-16 advantage over City Councilmember LeAnne Gutierrez Cumber.
We always caution that no one should ever allow one poll to determine their view of a race even if there is literally just one poll, and that's especially true in a state that has been the source of plenty of Democratic heartbreak during the 21st century. It's also very possible that the ugly battle between Davis and Cumber is hurting them both now among conservatives, but that these dissatisfied Republicans will come home in May. Both of these Republicans have also brought in far more money than Deegan, and the GOP may have the resources to use their financial advantage to go after her in round two.
However, it's not quite clear exactly who will advance out of next month's nonpartisan primary, though it's all but certain that no one will take the majority of the vote necessary to win outright. St. Pete Polls has Deegan well in front with 35% while Davis leads another Republican, City Councilmember Al Ferraro, 18-11 for the second general election spot. Democratic state Sen. Audrey Gibson is just behind with 10%, while the well-funded Cumber unexpectedly lags with just 4%. Another 20% are undecided, while two minor candidates take the balance.
Cumber responded to these unfavorable numbers by publicizing a memo from Moore Information Group arguing that she's really "in striking distance." Ominously for Cumber, though, that release didn't actually include any horserace numbers, though Florida Politics notes that it also implied that Deegan was in first when it said that "the second spot in the Blanket Primary is wide open."
This poll comes as Davis and Cumber are involved in an ugly intra-party race. This month, the City Council announced that it was investigating whether Cumber "deceived or misled" it regarding her husband's involvement in the aborted 2019 attempt to privatize the municipal utility JEA, a major scandal that later led to federal indictments against two former executives who allegedly schemed to enrich themselves. Cumber, who back in 2021 did not disclose that her husband advised a firm that was bidding to manage JEA, responded by accusing Davis' allies of being behind the probe.
Cumber also recently went up with a commercial accusing Davis, who is a former state representative, of having "voted to make it easier for criminals to cover up sexual assaults against children." Her newest ad goes after her rival for his 2013 vote to allow DACA recipients to get temporary driver's licenses, a bill that was vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Scott. Deegan, who hasn't been on the receiving end of any negative television ads, on Wednesday went up with her first TV ad, a positive biographical piece that argues she'll "be the change Jacksonville deserves."
A win for Deegan or Gibson would end Jacksonville's status as the largest city in America with a Republican mayor. Republicans seized control of city hall for the first time in a century when Mayor Ed Austin switched parties while in office in 1993, and they've only lost one mayoral election since then. That defeat came in 2011 when Democrat Alvin Brown scored a major upset in an open seat contest, a win that also made him Jax's first Black chief executive. Curry, though, retook this post four years later by narrowly unseating Brown 51-49.
Democrats over the last decade had been gaining ground in Jacksonville, which has been consolidated with Duval County since 1968. Both Sen. Bill Nelson and gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum took the city in 2018 even as they were narrowly losing statewide, while Joe Biden's 51-47 victory two years later made him the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry Duval County since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
In 2022, though, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio took Jacksonville 54-45, while GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis won it 55-44. Both those showings still put Duval County to the left of the state as a whole, though that may not have been much comfort to local Democrats especially as they lost the special election for sheriff 55-45. A win in this year's mayoral race, though, would be a huge morale boost for Florida's beleaguered Democrats.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: Two local Democrats, former Mayor Megan Barry and state Rep. Bob Freeman, have both told the Nashville Scene that they will not enter this year's race to succeed retiring incumbent John Cooper. Metro Councilmember Bob Mendes, though, said Tuesday that he'd likely make up his mind within the following 10 days.
● Where Are They Now?: The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it was nominating former Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat who represented a conservative seat in southern New Mexico for a single term, as deputy secretary for the U.S. Agriculture Department, a post that requires Senate confirmation. Torres Small was elected to Congress in 2018 by beating Republican Yvette Herrell, but she lost their 2020 rematch: Torres Small ended speculation about a third bout months later when the administration picked her to become the USDA’s under secretary for rural development.