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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● WI Supreme Court: Tuesday brings us a big election night headlined by Wisconsin's officially nonpartisan primary for a seat on the state Supreme Court, which will determine which two candidates will advance to the crucial April 4 contest that will determine control of the body. The polls close in the Badger State at 9 PM ET/8 PM local time, and we'll begin our liveblog then at Daily Kos Elections. You can also follow us on Twitter for blow-by-blow updates.
In a late development just ahead of the vote, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Daniel Bice reported on Friday that one of the two conservatives on the ballot, former Justice Daniel Kelly, took part in talks with Republicans following the 2020 presidential election in which participants discussed fielding fake Trump electors. Former state GOP chair Andrew Hitt told the Jan. 6 committee that Kelly, who became the party's "special counsel" following his re-election loss the prior spring, had "pretty extensive conversations" with him about the plan, though Hitt didn't say what the former justice had advised.
Kelly's campaign said in response that he "took a call from RPW Chairman Hitt on the subject of Republican electors and was asked if he was in the loop about this issue and Justice Kelly stated he was not." It added that the candidate "believes Joe Biden is the duly elected president of the United States." Bice's article also revealed that Kelly has received $120,000 from the Wisconsin GOP and Republican National Committee, with the most recent payment occurring in December. The former justice told a party meeting last June that he was being paid to work on "election integrity issues."
Both the liberals running in Tuesday's contest, Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell and Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, were quick to attack Kelly as a partisan extremist, while the other conservative contender, Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow, remained silent.
Kelly, though, has continued to make waves in other ways during the final days of the campaign by once again refusing to say if he'd endorse Dorow if she beats him out for a spot in the April general election. In explaining his reticence, Kelly once more brought up Justice Brian Hagedorn, who has occasionally departed from his fellow conservatives on key rulings. "I think it's just terribly presumptuous to say that I have to endorse her blind," Kelly said of Dorow, adding, "And, especially after Brian Hagedorn, I'm just not doing blind endorsements." Dorow herself has pledged to support Kelly if it comes down to it, arguing, "I'm not going to take the chance to take someone out so that the left can win this election."
No one has released a single poll of the race, but the one set of hard numbers we do have shows Protasiewicz maintaining her dominant advantage in the money race. Wisconsin requires candidates to report any donations of $1,000 or more received since the most recent fundraising period ended on Feb. 6, and Protasiewicz has taken in $530,000 over the last two weeks. This number, which does not factor in small donations, is more than four times what her other three opponents have reported during this time combined: Dorow outpaced Kelly, $84,000 to $53,000 among large donors, while Mitchell brought in just $12,000.
That's helped fuel an expensive contest: Altogether, $7 million has been spent on advertising through Thursday, by the candidates and their allies. According to data collected by Kantar Media/CMAG and compiled for the Brennan Center, Protasiewicz has spent $1.1 million compared to $402,000 for Dorow on the airwaves. Protasiewicz's advertising has largely focused on her support for abortion rights, while Dorow has emphasized how she presided over a high-profile trial that saw a man named Darrell Brooks sentenced to life in prison for killing six people at the 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade.
Kelly hasn't run any ads himself, but he's received $2.4 million in support from Fair Courts America, a super PAC funded by megadonors Dick and Liz Uihlein. One other outside group has also spent heavily: A Better Wisconsin Together, a liberal organization, has deployed $1.8 million to run spots accusing Dorow of issuing too-lenient sentences to convicted criminals, a tactic aimed at hurting her chances against Kelly, whom progressives would rather face.
While the two conservatives have feuded on the campaign trail, they've refrained from attacking each other on the airwaves. However, a pair of right-wing groups, the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, has spent a combined $735,000 attacking Protasiewicz as soft on crime. A short time later, she hit back with her own ad arguing that Dorow and Kelly were the ones who hadn't done enough to keep Wisconsinites safe. (Mitchell has received no major outside help or opposition.)
It's possible that two candidates with the same ideological orientation will advance to April, though that would be a major surprise. If control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is on the line as everyone expects, however, the second round will be far more pricey. In fact, it may well shatter records: The Brennan Center reports that the biggest outlay on a supreme court contest in American history was the $15.2 million expended in a 2004 race for the top court in Illinois. This year's race in Wisconsin is already almost halfway there even though the state's electorate is just half the size of Illinois', though the Illinois outlays would be about $24.1 million in today's dollars.
● Election Night: Liveblog On, Wisconsin: The nonpartisan primary for the Wisconsin Supreme Court isn't the only big race we'll be watching Tuesday evening. Republican voters in the state's 8th State Senate District will pick their nominee for the April 4 special election to succeed Alberta Darling, and Democrats are hoping to score a pickup that will deprive Republicans of their new supermajority in the upper chamber.
Environmental attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin, who is the only Democrat running, has been running ads designed to boost state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, an election denier whom Habush Sinykin believes would be her weakest Republican opponent in a general election. Donald Trump also used the final week of the contest to endorse Brandtjen and argue that her two intra-party foes, whom he did not name, are "RINO opponents don't care about the State." Those foes are state Rep. Dan Knodl, who has benefited from outside spending from the Republican State Leadership Committee, and Thiensville Village President Van Mobley, a self-funder who is the only Republican who has run TV ads.
New Hampshire, meanwhile, will host a special election for the state House's Strafford District 8, which is usually referred to locally as Rochester Ward 4. This race for this 51-47 Biden constituency will be a replay of the November contest that ended in a tie between Democratic incumbent Chuck Grassie and Republican challenger David Walker. Republicans enjoy a 201-196 edge in the 400-person chamber, while Democrats last won the other two vacant seats.
Finally there's a special election for Virginia's 4th Congressional District to succeed Democrat Donald McEachin, who died weeks after winning a fourth term in a Richmond-based constituency that supported Biden 67-32 in 2020. Democratic state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who would be the first Black woman to represent the Old Dominion in D.C., should have no trouble holding it against Republican Leon Benjamin, who has refused to concede his 64-36 defeat to McEachin. This is the only vacant seat in either chamber of Congress.
● AZ-Sen: While the Washington Post writes that Arizona election denier Kari Lake's flirtations with a potential Senate run has "frozen the Republican field," state Senate President Pro Tempore T. J. Shope responded Sunday by tweeting, "Hasn't frozen me… we need somebody who can actually win in November and that's why I'm seriously considering this US Senate seat!" This is the first time we've heard Shope mentioned as a possible contender.
The Post also writes that "at least three Republican candidates" are waiting to see what Lake will do before making up their own minds, though it didn't name them. It seems that Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb isn't one, though, as he tells the paper he could decide in weeks; the article, by contrast, says that an unnamed Lake associate says she's "eyeing a June timeline." The story adds that 2022 attorney general nominee Abe Hamadeh, who like Lake has refused to recognize his defeat, is considering his own Senate bid, though it notes that he's close to Lake.
● OH-Sen: Secretary of State Frank LaRose has publicly confirmed his interest in challenging Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, and Spectrum News adds that Republican insiders "have assumed" he'll get in. State Sen. Matt Dolan currently is the only notable GOP contender campaigning against Brown, though several others could also run.
● CA-30: Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian says he won't run to succeed his fellow Democrat, Senate candidate Adam Schiff.
● FL State House: Sure, why not: Former Rep. Dave Weldon, a Republican who served in the U.S. House from 1995 until he retired in 2009, has announced that he'll campaign for an open seat in the state House next year. Weldon was last on the ballot in 2012 when he sought the GOP nod for U.S. Senate to take on Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, but that bid did not go well: Rep. Connie Mack IV overcame his own "Charlie Sheen of Florida politics" image enough to win 59-20 only to suffer his own drubbing against Nelson.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Montgomery County, PA Board of Commissioners: Democrats in Pennsylvania's third-largest county appear to be on track for a seriously contested May primary for the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners following a Thursday convention where delegates refused to follow the lead of party leaders. While the committee members endorsed newly appointed Commissioner Jamila Winder at the nearly 500-person gathering, they refused to give the thumbs up to state Rep. Tim Briggs' campaign to be her running mate.
All three Commission seats are elected countywide, and voters in November can select up to two candidates. However, each party can only nominate two candidates this May, so the body will wind up with a 2-1 split even though Democrats have a strong advantage in this suburban Philadelphia community. Winder became the first Black woman to serve on the body weeks ago after the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas appointed her to succeed Val Arkoosh, who resigned to join Gov. Josh Shapiro's administration, while fellow Democratic Commissioner Ken Lawrence is retiring. The third seat is held by Republican Joe Gale, who is seeking re-election.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Andrew Seidman published an article days before the Democratic convention saying that the party had originally told legislative aide Danielle Duckett she would be appointed to fill Arkoosh's seat, a decision that would have made her the first Black woman to hold this post. The appointment was reportedly rescinded, though, and Duckett's allies quickly blamed the local Democratic Party's leaders: Seidman says that, while the local Court of Common Pleas officially makes appointment decisions, "[I]n practice, the court takes the recommendation of the party that held the seat."
The story says that, after initially offering the seat to Duckett, party leaders learned that she'd filed for bankruptcy two decades ago as she dealt with thyroid cancer. Duckett's supporters, meanwhile, argue that she was derailed in part because of the powerful Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council's tensions with her boss, state Rep. Chris Rabb.
One committee person reportedly told Duckett they'd heard she wasn't a "team player," and they weren't appeased when she pushed back on that characterization. Seidman writes, "Allies of Duckett who have heard her account of the meeting say they interpreted this line of questioning as suggesting that party leaders were disappointed she had not used her authority in the township to hire politically connected firms." State Sen. Katie Muth expressed her frustration that Duckett was rejected for the commission, arguing it happened "because basically there's concerns you're not going to march to the beat of the drum of the status quo machine Dems in Montco."
Seidman says that, while plenty of displeased Democrats don't blame Winder for what happened, they weren't eager to fall into line and support Briggs. Those tensions played out during Thursday's convention when one local party committee member told the assembly, "We are not a rubber stamp and we have an opportunity to not be a rubber stamp," while another decried how Duckett was "shafted in public."
Still others argued that a Briggs win would give the GOP a chance to flip his state House seat in a special election, or at least take advantage of his absence in a chamber where Democrats now have a one-seat edge. While Briggs' supporters argued the party had no reason to be concerned about his 149th House District, which favored Biden 70-29, they weren't able to stop a majority of committee members from voting to issue "no endorsement" rather than back him. By contrast, Winder won the more than 60% of the committee members she needed to secure the party endorsement.
The only Democrats who have announced so far are Winder, Briggs, and attorney Neil Makhija, while Duckett hasn't said if she'll run yet. The field will take shape soon, though, as March 7 is the deadline to submit signatures to appear on the May primary ballot.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: Metro Councilmember Bob Mendes said Monday that he'd stay out of this August's nonpartisan primary for mayor.
● Where Are They Now?: Michigan Republicans on Saturday named election denier Kristina Karamo as their new state party chair just months after she failed to unseat Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson 56-42―a drubbing she's refused to concede. Karamo, a self-described "anti-vaxxer" who has argued that Beyoncé was bringing "Black Americans into paganism,” won on the third and final ballot by defeating Trump-endorsed Matthew DePerno, a fellow Big Lie enthusiast who badly lost to Attorney General Dana Nessel last year.