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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● Data: In the increasingly likely event that George Santos winds up leaving office early, there's a long list of politicians in both parties who might run to succeed him in a special election. But what if, in addition to relying on news reports, we could bring a quantitative approach to the question of who might be interested in such a race? With Daily Kos Elections' newest data set—updated by David Jarman for the most recent round of redistricting—we can do exactly that.
- Our data shows precisely how counties and congressional districts overlap. From this, we can tell you that three quarters of the population in Santos' 3rd District comes from Long Island's Nassau County while the remainder lives in Queens. Any Nassau pol who holds county-wide office would therefore automatically be a possible contender.
- We also know how state Senate districts overlap with Santos' seat. Republican Sen. Jack Martins already represents two-in-five residents of the 3rd District. That's more than any other senator and would give him a considerable leg up if he ran for the House.
- What if Martins ran—and won? There would be a special for his Senate seat, too, and we can likewise tell you that Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti, a Democrat, currently represents the lion's share of Martins' 7th District. That would make her the obvious frontrunner, but two of her Assembly colleagues also have sizable overlaps with the 7th and might merit consideration.
Of course, this goes well beyond just Santos: As more and more House seats open up over the course of the election cycle, this data will help fill in the gaps on potential candidates nationwide.
Check out all of our new spreadsheets to find out how any pair of districts and/or counties overlap, plus illustrative maps!
● KY-Sen: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was hospitalized Wednesday evening after falling, and his office said the following day that he was being treated for a concussion and expects to remain in the hospital "for a few days."
If McConnell, who is 81, left office before his term expires in 2027, he would be replaced by a fellow Republican thanks to a state law he supported two years ago. The GOP-dominated legislature back then overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's veto to pass a bill that will require the governor to fill future U.S. Senate vacancies with an appointee from the same party as the departing senator: The party committee of the departing lawmaker would send a list of three names to the governor, who would then be required to pick a replacement from that list.
● MT-Sen: The GOP firm OnMessage Inc. has released a survey showing Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale beating Democratic incumbent Jon Tester 46-41 in a hypothetical general election; OnMessage has worked for Rosendale in the past, but there's no word on a client for this poll.
The poll also finds Rosendale beating fellow Rep. Ryan Zinke 36-26 in a primary where no major contenders have announced yet. It also shows Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy, whose name recently surfaced as a possibility, barely registering at 2%. Sheehy, though, reportedly has the resources to self-fund, which could help him get his name out should he run.
● DE-Gov: New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer confirmed this week that he's interested in running to succeed his fellow Democrat, termed-out Gov. John Carney, though he didn't say when he'd decide. The executive, who also cannot seek re-election to his current post in 2024, told the Delaware News Journal that he had the "seeds of the campaign," which he feels is going well. Meyer is the leader of a county that cast about 60% of the votes in last year's party primary.
● LA-Gov: Republican Stephen Waguespack on Thursday entered this October's all-party primary to succeed termed-out Democrat John Bel Edwards as governor of Louisiana, a move he made as he announced he was also stepping down as head of the powerful Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. While Waguespack before this week hadn't even been seriously mentioned as a possible contender, his kickoff comes at a time when several influential GOP donors badly want someone to stop the frontrunner, far-right Attorney General Jeff Landry.
This "Anybody but Jeff" crowd, as the Louisiana Illuminator's Julie O'Donoghue recently explained, view the attorney general as a bully who is also "too focused on divisive social issues – such as what books are available in libraries." It's not clear how large this anti-Landry faction is, though, in part because O'Donoghue says they "will only air their feelings behind closed doors" out of fear.
Rolfe McCollister explained why last month in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report when he wrote that Landry has sent "various warnings and threats he's sending to potential opposing candidates and their supporters, boasting 'I will be governor and I won't forget.'" McCollister continued, "He's also tossing out threats such as 'you won't work in this state.' High-ranking elected officials say Landry has made subtle threats to them as well." McCollister went on:
Do you want our state run by an individual who currently is responsible for upholding the laws of this state but seems to care little about ethics regulations—using campaign funds to help buy himself a pickup truck and later failing to disclose more than $4,000 in travel reimbursement. Is our future brighter in a political world where the governor uses fishy arrangements to enrich himself and close allies? Do you want a leader of the state using his power to intimidate or punish those who disagree with him or his friends—and do you believe that will lead to brighter economic days for our state? I don't.
Are you good with someone—again, who is supposed to be concerned with the law—taking a rather dismissive view toward sexual harassment allegations in his own office, choosing to attack those who raised the complaints while defending the alleged perpetrator, who happens to be a buddy?
The anti-Landry group, however large it is, has so far been unimpressed by the other three notable Republicans―Treasurer John Schroder, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, and state Rep. Richard Nelson―and they’ve spent quite some time looking for an alternative. Waguespack was far from their first choice, though, as O'Donoghue writes they unsuccessfully tried to get Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, and Rep. Garret Graves to run and block Landry.
But Waguespack ultimately was the one who stepped up, and just like all of those other would-be alternatives to Landry, he’s anything but a moderate. Among other things, Waguespack has successfully opposed Edwards’ attempt to raise the state’s minimum wage from the $7.25 an hour it’s been since 2008, and he’s been an ardent ally of the oil and gas industry. His style, however, is very different from Landry’s, as NOLA.com's Tyler Bridges writes Waguespack is "well-liked personally by Republicans and Democrats."
The first-time candidate, who spent the last decade leading Louisiana's chapter of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, now has to prove he's the contender the Landry's intra-party enemies can have the courage to support, though that support still may not need to be public: LaPolitics’ Jeremy Alford reports that these donors are considering contributing to a pro-Waguespack PAC so they can avoid revealing their identities.
Perhaps Waguespack's biggest liability comes from his time as chief of staff to former Gov. Bobby Jindal, a one-time Republican rising star who left office in 2016 with disastrous approval numbers after presiding over years of massive budget cuts. The new candidate said Thursday he anticipates opponents will tie him to his old boss, arguing, "The entrenched status quo may try to smear me and distract voters from the true issues that face our families. They will want to focus on Louisiana's past but I will be laser-focused on Louisiana's future."
More recently, Waguespack responded to the Jan. 6 attack by writing two days later that he was upset with "images of our Nation's Capitol being treated like a frat house on a drunken weekend came across the airwaves." Waguespack also used that piece to say he accepted Joe Biden's win and said of Trump, "Our current President, rather than running on a strong economic record of job creation, has relied more on incendiary rhetoric to provoke furor and rage against those who disagree with his positions." Landry, by contrast, was one of the Republican attorneys general who unsuccessfully sued to overturn Biden's victory, and his campaign has publicly predicted he's about to get Trump's endorsement.
The contest to succeed Edwards includes two other notable contenders: former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, a Democrat who has the governor's endorsement, and independent Hunter Lundy, a self-funding attorney who is a member of the governing board of the Christian Nationalist group National Association of Christian Lawmakers. The field may expand again as Republican state House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said last week he'd consider running if Graves didn't, though it remains to be seen how Waguespack's candidacy will impact his deliberations.
Louisiana's candidate filing deadline isn't until Aug. 10, and politicians sometimes only wait until the last moment to decide what they'll do―even if they're outside the country when qualifying ends. Bridges and Alford wrote in their book Long Shot that, while wealthy Democrat John Georges was in France the day of the 2015 deadline, he had filled out candidate paperwork to run before he left.
Georges gave the qualifying papers to a close ally named Jack Capella and instructed him to wait in his car outside the secretary of state's office in case a candidate unexpectedly entered or left the race. Georges called Capella just before qualifying closed and told him that, since there were no developments, he wouldn't run. But while Georges' last-second transcontinental flirtations remind us that anything is possible before the deadline, it's still rare for major contenders to actually launch a statewide campaign when they'd have so little time to organize.
All the candidates, whoever they may be, will compete in the Oct. 14 all-party primary: In the likely event that no one secures a majority, a runoff would take place on Nov. 18 between the top-two vote-getters, regardless of party.
● IN-05: Howey Politics says that former Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman is considering running to succeed his fellow Republican, Rep. Victoria Spartz, in a contest that still hasn't attracted any major candidates in the month since the incumbent unexpectedly announced her retirement.
● PA-AG: The state Senate on Wednesday unanimously confirmed Michelle Henry to serve as attorney general for the final two years of the term, and she says she doesn't plan to run when this seat is up in 2024. Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro nominated Henry, who spent six years as his top deputy, to take his place after he resigned as attorney general, though she automatically became acting attorney general once he departed.
Henry was a Republican when she first joined Shapiro's team in 2016; however, the Democratic Attorneys General Association now identifies her as a Democrat.
● TX-AG: The tentative whistleblower settlement between Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton and four of his former aides is in serious danger, as that quartet asked the state Supreme Court this week to once again take up their case. That settlement was always contingent on the state legislature approving $3.3 million in state funds to this group, who say the attorney general retaliated against them for speaking to federal prosecutors investigating their boss for corruption, but state House Speaker Dade Phelan and other lawmakers said they weren't convinced they should go along.
Lawyers for the whistleblowers said that, while their clients would still accept the agreed-upon settlement if the legislature allows it to go forward, "[W]e cannot and did not agree to give [the Office of the Attorney General] the benefit of a settlement while the whistleblowers wait in perpetuity for legislative approval." The whistleblowers' side also claims that Paxton's office wants to keep the case paused if the legislative session ends on May 29 without the settlement getting approved until a future legislature eventually gives it the green light.
● PA Supreme Court: Tuesday was the deadline in Pennsylvania for candidates to file for this year's crucial race for a seat on the seven-member state Supreme Court, and we learned this week that each party will have a contested primary on May 16. The Democratic contest is a duel between two members of the Superior Court from opposite sides of the state: Philadelphia's Daniel McCaffery, who earned the state party endorsement last month, and Beaver County's Deborah Kunselman. (The Superior Court is one of two intermediate appellate courts in the state and hears most appeals.)
The Republican primary, meanwhile, pits the party-backed candidate, Montgomery County President Judge Carolyn Carluccio, against Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough of Allegheny County. McCullough, who doesn't appear to have confirmed she was running before now, sought the GOP nomination in 2021 for a different Supreme Court seat by pitching herself as "the ONLY Judge in America to order the 2020 Presidential Election results not be certified." However, she went on to lose the primary 52-33 to the eventual winner, Kevin Brobson.
The post everyone wants to win on Nov. 7 became vacant last September when Chief Justice Max Baer died at the age of 74 just months before the Democrat was to retire because of mandatory age limits: Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro has not yet nominated a successor, and it's unclear if the GOP-led state Senate would confirm anyone he picked. The body retains a 4-2 Democratic majority, but Baer's party badly felt his absence last year in an important pre-election case.
That fall one Democratic justice, Kevin Dougherty, sided with his two Republican colleagues against the remaining three Democratic members in a high-profile case over whether to count mail-in ballots that arrived on time but had missing or incorrect dates. This deadlock meant that election authorities were required to "segregate and preserve any ballots contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes," a decision that Democrats feared could cost them crucial contests.
The party, after scrambling to encourage any impacted voters to cast new votes (one woman even immediately flew home from Colorado at her own expense to make sure she would "not be silenced by voter suppression"), got something of a reprieve when Senate nominee John Fetterman and other Democrats pulled off decisive wins. Still, the ruling was a troubling reminder that, even with a 4-2 Democratic edge on the state's highest court, Republicans could still have their way on major cases. However, while a win this fall would be a boon to Republicans, the soonest they could actually retake the majority (barring more unexpected vacancies) would be 2025.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: On Wednesday evening, the Chicago Teachers Union voted to redirect its members’ dues to its political committee, a move that allows it to bring in up to $2 million to support Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and its City Council slate in the April 4 general election.
Johnson also recently got $500,000 in direct contributions from another labor ally, SEIU Healthcare. On Thursday he additionally publicized an endorsement from Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who backed her colleague, Chuy Garcia, during the first round.
● Denver, CO Mayor: While two recent polls showed all the candidates stuck in the single digits ahead of the April 4's 17-way nonpartisan primary for mayor of Denver, new campaign finance reports collected by Colorado Newsline show that former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough continues to dominate the money race.
Brough, who served as Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper's chief of staff when he was mayor in the 2000s, took in $1.1 million through Feb. 28, with $530,000 of that coming from the city's Fair Elections public financing system. Axios also notes she finished the month with a $770,000 war chest, which was also the largest in the race. Businessman Andy Rougeout, who is the only Republican running to lead this dark blue city, took in just shy of $800,000, though almost all of that was self-funded, and he had $440,000 available.
Below is a roundup of how much each major contender brought in through all fundraising sources (Rougeout was the only one to self-fund more than $6,000), as well as their cash-on-hand through the end of February:
- former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough: $1.1 million raised, $770,000 cash-on-hand
- Businessman Andy Rougeout: $800,000 raised, $440,000 cash-on-hand
- State Rep. Leslie Herod: $760,000 raised, $350,000 cash-on-hand
- former state Sen. Mike Johnston: $730,000 raised, $440,000 cash-on-hand
- State Sen. Chris Hansen: $440,000 raised, $50,000 cash-on-hand
- City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega: $330,000 raised, $170,000 cash-on-hand
- Tattered Cover CEO Kwame Spearman: $210,000 raised, $160,000 cash-on-hand
- Criminal justice activist Lisa Calderon: $180,000 raised, $120,000 cash-on-hand
- Investment banker Trinidad Rodriguez: $150,000 raised, $100,000 cash-on-hand
- Environmental activist Ean Tafoya: $150,000 raised, $50,000 cash-on-hand
The final Fair Elections' payments of the primary will go out by March 15.
Brough's allied super PAC A Better Denver, which Axios' John Frank says is mostly "funded by realtors and developers" also raised an additional $580,000 through Feb. 28. Johnston's backers at Advancing Denver have taken in $380,000, though it received another $480,000 afterward; Frank says that the group's two largest donors are former Davita CEO Kent Thiry, who mulled seeking the GOP nod for governor in 2017, and hedge fund manager Steve Mandel. Herrod also is getting some help from Ready Denver, though it only has spent $120,000 on her behalf so far.
In the all-but-certain event that no one takes a majority in the contest to succeed termed-out incumbent Michael Hancock, the top-two vote-getters would advance to a June 6 general election. Brough, Herod, Ortega, and Calderon would each be the first woman ever elected mayor of Colorado's capital and largest city. Herod would additionally be the first Black woman or gay person to lead the community, while Ortega would be its first Latina mayor. Calderon, who describes herself as Afro Latina, would also make history by winning.
● Mercer County, NJ Executive: Five-term incumbent Brian Hughes announced Wednesday that he was ending his re-election campaign and endorsing Assemblyman Dan Benson in the June Democratic primary, a move that came days after Benson won the local party's influential organization line. Hughes said in his departure that he was proud to have successfully taken "on the Republican machine" during his first campaign in 2003, a time when this Central Jersey wasn't as solidly blue as it is today. "I'm deeply proud of the fact that since I took office, Republicans have not won a single countywide race," the incumbent added.
Hughes lost the organization line after influential party leaders lined up behind Benson, though George Norcross, who has long been New Jersey's most prominent political boss, was an ardent Hughes backer. The South Jersey-based Norcross, however, has had a rough few years in both intra-party battles and general elections: Perhaps most notably, he watched in 2021 as his ally, state Senate President Steve Sweeney, lost to Republican Edward Durr in a true upset.