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-Sen: While Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale pissed off party leaders last month by refusing to ever support Kevin McCarthy for speaker, the deep-pocketed Club for Growth is making it clear they’ll back him if he decides to challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Tester again. “If he decides to run, we’d want to support him again,” said Club president David McIntosh, who also declared, “We like what he did in terms of the speaker’s selection process.”
Tester has not yet announced if he’ll be seeking a fourth term, but if he does, he may be quite pleased if the Club helps ensure that he gets a rematch with Rosendale. The organization was the Republican’s main ally during the 2018 primary when he beat an unimpressive field of opponents, but he proved to be a weak nominee himself. Tester and his allies delighted in reminding voters that Rosendale had only moved to Montana from Maryland in 2002 and still sported a distinct Maryland accent, and they didn't hesitate to exploit a Talking Points Memo report about how the self-described "rancher" didn't own any cattle or actually ranch on his property.
Rosendale didn’t get requisite air support to push back, though: While the Senate Leadership Fund spent huge amounts for other Republican Senate candidates, it only went on the air in Montana during the final two weeks of the race. That delay may have made the difference: While other Senate Democrats struggled that year in dark red states, Tester beat Rosendale 50-47.
The Club, however, still very much wanted to see Rosendale in a chamber of Congress. The group, along with its then-ally Donald Trump, supported him in his successful 2020 run for what was at the time Big Sky Country’s only House seat. Two years later when Montana regained a second district, Rosendale later claimed the new and safely red 2nd in the eastern part of the state as former Rep. Ryan Zinke returned to D.C. by winning the more competitive 1st, and both men immediately made it clear they could challenge Tester.
But even though Montana had two House members for the first time in three decades, Zinke and Rosendale immediately parted ways on the marathon speakership votes. Zinke, who served a chaotic stint as Trump’s first secretary of the interior, loyally sided with McCarthy on each and every one of the 15 votes, while Rosendale kept supporting alternate candidates. Rosendale explained his disgust with McCarthy by arguing his leader “squandered every opportunity to protect Americans from woke policies,” while Zinke called the spectacle “embarrassing.”
While Zinke avoided directly trashing his home-state colleague, he told Politico, “A lot of the members you see—before they couldn’t buy an interview … And now look at them, some of these members walk around, they got a mob around them and they’re fundraising off it.” Unnamed Republicans also speculated that Rosendale’s obstinacy was all about getting ready for another Senate bid. The 2018 nominee never came around to McCarthy, though he did him a small favor on the very last ballot by voting “present” instead of for an alternate speaker pick.
● How can you tell when a poll is actually high quality? Natalie Jackson, research director at PRRI, joins us on this week's episode of The Downballot to discuss that and more. Jackson tells us the indicators she looks for to determine whether a survey is worth taking seriously, what she thinks the future of polling aggregation ought to look like, and why white evangelical Christians are the real outliers when it comes to religious groups' views on abortion.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also break down Democrats' big special election victories in Pennsylvania; new efforts by progressives to pick their preferred GOP opponents in two key Wisconsin races; the first true retirement from the House this cycle; and a proposal to increase the size of the House, which has been capped at 435 members for more than a century.
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: Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta tells Bloomberg that he will not join next year's top-two primary for Senate.
● NE-Sen-B: Former Gov. Pete Ricketts had little trouble getting appointed to the Senate earlier this year, but a longtime adversary confirms he's thinking about trying to beat him in next year's Republican primary.
- Charles Herbster and Ricketts have feuded for ages. While they've never opposed one another on the same ballot, Herbster financed a campaign to boost a Ricketts rival in the 2014 primary for governor. Ricketts won anyway, so eight years later, he did everything he could to stop Herbster from replacing him—and succeeded.
- Herbster is a vocal Trump ally. The agribusinessman attended the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol, and Trump stuck with Herbster in 2022 even after eight women accused the candidate of sexual assault.
- He’s also very rich and very angry. Herbster self-funded most of his gubernatorial campaign's $13 million budget, so he has money to burn. He also reacted with fury after his victorious rival, Jim Pillen, appointed Ricketts to the upper chamber last month after Ricketts spent seven figures to boost Pillen past Herbster in the governor’s race.
Read more about what may be one of the most expensive and longest-running rivalries in Republican politics.
● WV-Gov: Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt said Wednesday that he'd run for re-election rather than seek the Republican nomination for governor.
● CA-13: Financial adviser Phil Arballo, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2020 and 2022 in two different Central Valley constituencies, tells National Journal that he'll take on freshman GOP Rep. John Duarte in a seat Biden won 54-43. Duarte last year took first in the top-two primary with 34% as Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray beat out Arballo 31-17 for second; Duarte went on to narrowly defeat Gray in the general.
Arballo argues his new effort will go differently because, while he had just a few months to introduce himself to voters after redistricting scrambled the map, he'll have more time to campaign this time. He's also predicting that he can increase turnout with his fellow Latinos, telling NJ, "One thing they [Latinos] do understand is that education is the great equalizer."
● IN-05: Politico reports that Megan Savage, who served as chief of staff to then-Rep. Susan Brooks before she retired two years ago, is considering seeking the Republican nod to succeed Brooks' successor, departing Rep. Victoria Spartz. Savage's husband in turn tweeted out his support for the idea, writing Friday, "The boys and I voted, were 4-0 in favor."
● OH-13: Republican Madison Gesiotto Gilbert has filed FEC paperwork for a potential rematch against freshman Rep. Emilia Sykes, the Democrat who defeated her 53-47 last year. Biden carried the current version of this district, which is based in the Akron and Canton areas, 51-48, but Republicans have the chance to pass a new gerrymander for 2024.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Four Chicago news outlets have released a survey from Mason-Dixon of the unpredictable Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary for mayor, and the first media poll of the year shows five contenders locked in a tight competition for the two spots in the likely April 4 general election. Rep. Chuy García takes first with 20% as former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas enjoys a tiny 18-17 edge over incumbent Lori Lightfoot for the crucial second place spot.
Wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson isn't far behind with 12%, with another 11% going to Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson. Another 18% of respondents are undecided, while none of the remaining four contenders take more than 2% each. All the candidates identify as Democrats in this dark blue city including Wilson, who voted for Trump in 2016 and ran for the Senate four years later as the candidate of the Willie Wilson Party.
We've seen several other polls over the last month, but just about the only thing each firm has agreed on is that no one is going to come close to taking the majority they'd need to win outright. Indeed, it was just this week that IZQ Strategies, a Democratic firm that says it conducted its poll without a client, put Vallas well ahead in first with 25% as Johnson took second with 15%; those numbers also had Lightfoot and Garcia at 12% each, with Wilson just behind with 11%.
We may be left guessing about the true state of the race until ballots are tabulated at the end of the month, though Lightfoot's team quickly argued that Mason-Dixon's sample is overestimating Garcia. The poll, which showed Garcia winning 56% of Latino respondents, also estimated that this demographic will form 27% of the electorate even though the city's majority Latino precincts only made up 13% of Chicago's total vote last November.
The poll comes at a time when the negative ads are flying all over place. While Lightfoot said last month that she wanted Vallas to be her runoff opponent, the mayor doesn't seem to think it's a good idea to leave him alone right now. Lightfoot recently debuted a digital ad using 2009 footage of Vallas telling conservative host Jeff Berkowitz, "I will probably register as a Republican in the next primary," "I am more of a Republican than a Democrat now," and, "If I run for public office, then I would be running as a Republican."
Lightfoot, like Garcia, has also accused Vallas of opposing abortion rights, though it remains to be seen if she'll run a TV spot going after the former Chicago Public Schools CEO. Vallas, who ran for office as a Democrat in the years since that 2009 interview, responded to Garcia's broadside by declaring, "I am a lifelong Democrat who has always been 100% pro-choice."
Lightfoot's allies at the 77 Committee are also running what appears to be the first negative spot anyone has leveled against Johnson, who has the support of the influential Chicago Teachers Union, though it's not clear if it's running on TV. This ad says that Johnson wants to "defund the police," which the narrator says will jeopardize Chicago residents' safety. The county commissioner, writes Politico, 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.
Lightfoot has also been running commercials for a while tying Garcia to two scandal-ridden men, former crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried and former Illinois state House Speaker Michael Madigan. The other contenders have largely avoided mentioning the incumbent by name in their TV spots, though they've argued that crime is out of control under the current leadership.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: Former AllianceBernstein chief operating officer Jim Gingrich, who led the global asset management giant's 2018 relocation from Wall Street to Nashville, on Wednesday became the first major candidate to enter the race since incumbent John Cooper unexpectedly announced his retirement last week. Gingrich, who moved to Music City along with his old company, went on to serve on the boards of both the local Convention & Visitors Corp and Chamber of Commerce, and he touted himself as a political outsider.
Three notable contenders were already running in the August nonpartisan primary before Cooper called it a career, and one has a huge financial edge over the rest. Former economic development chief Matt Wiltshire finished Jan. 15 with $1 million on hand after self-funding about $350,000, while Metro Council member Freddie O'Connell had $260,000 available. Fellow Metro Council member Sharon Hurt, who kicked off her campaign in December well after her two rivals, had only $5,000 in the bank.