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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● MI-07: Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin’s decision to run for Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Debbie Stabenow means that there will be an intense race to replace her in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District, a constituency in the Lansing area and northwestern Detroit exurbs that supported Joe Biden by a tiny 49.4-48.9 margin. The 2022 contest attracted a combined $21.3 million from the top four House groups in the nation, putting it behind only California’s 22nd, and both parties are preparing for another expensive fight.
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, who is a former state representative, was quick to express interest in campaigning to succeed her fellow Democrat. (Her mother, Dianne Byrum, lost to Republican Mike Rogers by all of 111 votes in a 2000 contest to replace none other than Stabenow in a previous version of this seat.) Byrum told the Lansing State Journal, “Over the coming weeks, I have many conversations to have.” Lansing Mayor Andy Schor also said he’d be mulling it over in what the paper characterized as “the coming days” while a third Democrat, state Rep. Julie Brixie, declared, “If I am needed, I would certainly consider it.”
On the Republican side, 2022 nominee Tom Barrett sounds likely to try again now that he won’t need to go up against Slotkin. Barrett, a former state senator who lost by a surprisingly wide 52-46 margin, told The Dispatch’s Audrey Fahlberg, “Senator Barrett has received very strong encouragement from throughout Michigan to run for the 7th District and is putting together plans to do so.” (Yes, he referred to himself in the third-person Bob Dole style.)
A Barrett advisor told the Journal later Monday that his man “plans to” try again and will announce sometime in the next few weeks. That’s not quite an ironclad yes, though, and national Republicans may prefer to have an alternative to a far-right former legislator who failed to meet his own campaign’s fundraising goals. Barrett, who wore a "naturally immunized" wristband and refused to say if he was vaccinated, infamously tried to make up for lost time by sending out a fundraising appeal by text message falsely telling recipients that "your child's gender reassignment surgery has been booked," complete with a phony time for the appointment.
The Republican, an ardent abortion rights foe who refused to say if he supported exemptions even to save the life of the mother, also proved to be a terrible choice in a year where Michigan voters decisively approved an amendment to enshrine reproductive rights into the state constitution.
● MI-Sen: Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson still is keeping the door open to a Senate bid even with her fellow Democrat, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, running, but she doesn't sound excited about the idea. A Benson advisor said Monday, "Secretary Benson's primary focus is on carrying out accessible, secure, and accurate elections this year and in 2024, but she continues to hear from people asking her to run, and she is considering all options."
● OH-Sen: The Associated Press says that there's talk of businessman Mike Gibbons seeking the Republican nod to take on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, though there's no word from Gibbons about his interest in what would be a third Senate campaign.
Gibbons lost the 2018 primary to face Brown 47-32 to Rep. Jim Renacci, who went on to wage his own disastrous general election campaign. Gibbons for a while last cycle looked like he had a chance to prevail in the crowded and chaotic contest to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman, but he took fourth with only 12%.
● PA-Sen: The Associated Press' Brian Slodysko reports that rich guy Dave McCormick has "been promised support" from the Senate Leadership Fund, a deep-pocketed super PAC run by allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, should he challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. NRSC chair Steve Daines also reportedly gushed over McCormick, who narrowly lost the 2022 primary to Mehmet Oz for the state's other Senate seat, at a recent NRSC donor retreat.
● VA-Sen: Scott Parkinson, who is an official at the hard-right Club for Growth, tells The Dispatch that he's considering seeking the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in what's become a tough state for the GOP.
● LA-Gov: Activist Gary Chambers, a Democrat who took a distant second last year against Republican Sen. John Kennedy, says he wouldn't run for governor against outgoing Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson. Wilson, whose resignation takes effect March 4, has not yet announced that he'll compete in the October all-party primary, but The Advocate says his declaration "is expected within two weeks."
● NC-Gov, NC-??: Carolina Forward reports that the State Board of Elections is investigating former Rep. Mark Walker, who is a potential Republican candidate for governor or the House, for allegedly breaking campaign finance laws last year by coordinating with judicial candidates.
The story says that Walker ran an independent expenditure committee called Win the Courts that transported several contenders and organized an event for multiple candidates. Walker and Win the Courts allegedly also failed to disclose this "material campaign logistical support," while Carolina Forward adds that the group's "financial accounting that it does disclose does not add up."
● TX-20: Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro said Monday that he had a successful surgery earlier in the day to “remove gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumors” that had been discovered the previous summer. “My prognosis is good,” Castro continued, adding, “I expect to be home recovering in Texas for several weeks before returning to Washington.”
● Atlanta, GA: A committee in Georgia's Republican-dominated state Senate voted 4-3 along party lines Monday to advance legislation that would allow voters in Atlanta's affluent and predominantly white Buckhead neighborhood to create their own city through a November 2024 referendum that the rest of Atlanta would not get a say in.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Riley Bunch writes that even some Republicans are pessimistic that this new effort will make it to the ballot given GOP Gov. Brian Kemp's good relationship with Andre Dickens, Atlanta's Democratic mayor, as well as House Speaker Jon Burns' own skepticism. However, this is already the furthest that "Buckhead City" proponents have gotten to making their dream a reality.
The legislation that moved forward Monday was sponsored by state Sen. Randy Robertson, a Republican whose rural west-central Georgia constituency is located more than 100 miles away from Buckhead. Democratic colleague Jason Esteves, who actually represents part of the neighborhood, was not happy, declaring, "What is happening today is that my constituents are being forced to eat a half baked pie." Esteves went on to detail the potentially catastrophic effects that the creation of a "City of Buckhead City" (that seemingly derivative name is required because there's already a tiny rural community called Buckhead) would have on the rest of Atlanta.
Buckhead is home to about one-fifth of Atlanta's population but produces about 40% of its tax revenue, and Esteves warned that its departure could badly damage the bond rating for not just Atlanta but also every city in the state. And while cityhood backers have argued that Buckhead's secession is necessary because of crime (even though the area has long been one of the safest parts of Atlanta), its departure would likely end plans to build a major new city police and fire training center in unincorporated DeKalb County.
Buckhead was annexed in 1952 as part of an unsuccessful effort to keep Atlanta from becoming majority Black, and there have been various proposals over the years for it to depart. Much of the local business establishment has adamantly opposed the idea, though, and so does Dickens. "Now that we've got the highest bond rating, the world's busiest airport, the highest graduation rate for APS ever—now you want to leave us?" he asked earlier this month. "You can't unscramble this egg," he continued, "This is together. You want to undo that and still get the benefit of being adjacent to the best city? I'm not going to let that happen."
● WI Supreme Court: AdImpact reports that progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz's ad bookings for the April 4 election for Wisconsin's open Supreme Court seat have now swollen to $5.4 million, far more than the $1.5 million the firm identified late last week. Even more remarkable is the fact that her conservative opponent, former Justice Dan Kelly, hasn't spent or reserved anything on the airwaves yet, and his deep-pocketed allies at Fair Courts America (bankrolled by the Uihlein family) waited until Monday to book any ad time at all. As of Monday afternoon, the group had placed just $180,000 in reservations, set to start Wednesday.
With just a six-week sprint between the primary and the general election, even one week spent dark can have an outsized impact. That's especially so given the tendency of the Wisconsin electorate to grow more liberal between the two elections when it comes to Supreme Court races. As FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich demonstrates in a new piece, four of the five races for the state's top court from 2011 onward saw a larger proportion of the vote cast for liberal candidates in April than in February; only once, in 2016, did the trend go the other way.
As Rakich notes, the sample size is small, and the swings have tended to vary in size. But no matter what, Kelly is starting off in a hole, since progressives candidates won 54% of the vote last week versus 46% for the two conservatives.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: The nonpartisan primary for mayor of Chicago takes place on Tuesday, and while everyone agrees that no one will take the majority needed to avert an April 4 general election, it remains to be seen if we’ll know who the top two vote-getters are on election night. Mail-in ballots that were postmarked on or before Election Day may be counted as long as they’re received by March 14, and election officials say they expect “thousands” more to arrive.
We also have one last poll from 1983 Labs, a new firm that says it's not affiliated with anyone running, that underscores just how unpredictable the April lineup is. The results are below, with its numbers from mid-February in parenthesis:
former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas: 24 (13)
Mayor Lori Lightfoot: 18 (15)
Rep. Chuy Garcia: 16 (10)
Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson: 14 (7)
Wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson: 12 (12)
Alderman Sophia King: 6 (5)
Activist Ja’Mal Green: 5 (7)
State Rep. Kam Buckner: 3 (5)
Alderman Roderick Sawyer: 1 (1)
Most recent polls have also shown Vallas, whom Lightfoot says she wants to face in a runoff, in first, though there’s little consensus on which candidate is leading in the crucial race for second.
The race for mayor isn’t the only big contest on the ballot, though. Bolts Magazine’s Max Blaisdell writes that this will be the first-ever election for the 22 police district councils, which the article describes as “the culmination of decades of activism for increased police accountability, [which] represent Chicago’s boldest attempt to give residents direct input over policing practices.” The 50-member City Council will also be up for the first time since redistricting, and CBS Chicago says that nearly a quarter of the seats are guaranteed to be filled by a newcomer.
● Erie County, NY Executive: The county Republican Party over the weekend endorsed businesswoman Chrissy Casilio days after she announced that she'd challenge three-term Democratic incumbent Mark Poloncarz. Poloncarz himself last week won the Erie County Democratic Party's support, but he faces opposition in the June partisan primary from former Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray.
Casilio won the party's backing over two undeclared candidates, Boston Town Supervisor Jason Keding and County Clerk Michael Kearns, and the latter made it clear he wouldn't run in the primary. The Conservative Party, though, has yet to support Casilio, a first-time candidate whose father is a local elected official. County chair Ralph Lorigo spoke well of her, but he added that it could be "a difficult chore" for her to raise the $1 million she estimates she'll need to run a competitive race.
Erie County supported Joe Biden 56-42, though Gov. Kathy Hochul, who served as the county clerk a little more than a decade ago, took it only 53-47 last year.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: Alice Rolli, a GOP strategist who served as campaign manager for Lamar Alexander's final Senate bid in 2014, has joined the August nonpartisan primary for mayor. Any Republican would face tough odds in heavily Democratic Nashville, though some GOP legislators are working on a bill that would forbid cities from holding runoffs in local elections―a plan that could give the party a much stronger chance of winning this contest.
● Three prominent Democrats who were retired elected officials died over the last week: former Wisconsin Gov. Tony Earl, who led the state from 1983 to 1987; former Massachusetts Rep. John Olver, who served in Congress from 1991 through 2013; and South Dakota's James Abourezk, who was elected to the House in 1970 and won his sole term in the Senate two years later.
Earl won the primary for governor in 1982 by 46-42 against Martin Schreiber, who was trying to regain his old job four years after his defeat. Earl decisively won the open seat general election 57-42, but he soon had to make unpopular decisions to stabilize the state economy. Earl went on to lose re-election in 1986 to Republican Tommy Thompson, who labeled the incumbent "Tony the Taxer," 53-46, and Democrats wouldn't get this office back until Jim Doyle won in 2002. You can find out much more in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's obituary.
Olver got to Congress when he ran in a 1991 special election to succeed the late Republican Rep. Silvio Conte, but he faced a tough task winning in a Western Massachusetts constituency that had been in Republican hands since 1893. He prevailed 50-48 over Republican Steven Pierce in a victory that gave Democrats every seat in the Massachusetts congressional delegation for the first time since the Civil War. The Berkshire Eagle has more on Olver's long career, which ended with his 2013 retirement.
Abourezk won South Dakota's now-defunct 2nd Congressional District in the western part of the state 52-48 in a 1970 campaign, and he soon set his sights on running for the Senate. He decisively prevailed 57-43 even as President Richard Nixon was carrying the state against South Dakota's other senator, George McGovern, a win that made Abourezk the chamber's first Arab American member. The new senator made a name for himself as a champion of Native American rights and a critic of U.S. foreign policy before retiring after one term; check out the Sioux Falls Argus Leader's obituary for much more.