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.
Subscribe to The Downballot, our weekly podcast
● WI-Sen: Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who was a far-right favorite early in the Trump era, has not ruled out taking on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in this swing state. A Clarke spokesperson told The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey, “Clarke would never take anything off the table as it relates to his future.” A Democratic operative told Brodey in response, “Could it be a grift and he’s trying to make a buck? Absolutely,” before acknowledging, “It doesn’t mean he’s not considering running. It’s as real as anyone else.”
Clarke, who’d won four terms as sheriff as a nominal Democrat, decided not to challenge Baldwin as a Republican six years ago, though only after he’d spent months keeping everyone guessing about his plans. Clarke, who was mired in lawsuits and investigations over his abusive treatment of prisoners, instead resigned from office later in the year before taking over as head of a pro-Trump super PAC. He was out of that role by 2019 when the family of an inmate who’d died of “profound dehydration” in one of his jails reached a $6.75 million settlement with Milwaukee County and a healthcare company.
Clarke went on to resume his role as a Trump surrogate, and he said right after the 2020 election, “We need a chapter of the Proud Boys right here in Wisconsin because they're the only ones with the courage to get in the face of Black Lives Matter.” (Clarke is Black.) The former sheriff, who has continued to spread far-right lies every chance he gets, was also on the advisory board for Steve Bannon’s We Build the Wall crowdfunding group, an effort that federal prosecutors say was Bannon’s vehicle for defrauding donors.
By Clarke standards this has actually been, in Brodey’s words, “a few relatively quiet years,” though he sought to remerge on the scene Monday with a podcast where he delivered a 30-minute rant calling the Republican Party “a mess.”
● PA-Sen: Kathy Barnette, an election denier who came unexpectedly close to winning last year’s GOP Senate primary, said Tuesday she “has not made a decision” about challenging Democratic incumbent Bob Casey for the other seat, though plenty of Republicans likely hope they’ve seen the last of her after what happened last time.
Barnette responded to her 2022 defeat against Mehmet Oz as recently as mid-October by blaming “elite Republicans” for attacking her, declaring, “The people have chosen, in large part because Sean Hannity is a jackass.” Barnette said she’d back Oz, though only as “the lesser of two evils.”
● LA-Gov: Republican state Treasurer John Schroder has beaten his many rivals to TV, and AdImpact tweeted last week that he’d spent $290,000 on advertising thus far. Schroder’s commercial, which comes well ahead of the October all-party primary, features him rattling off generic conservative positions as it shows him cooking and pledging to find the “right recipe” for the state.
● WV-Gov: While Attorney General Patrick Morrisey hasn’t publicly indicated if he’s more interested in seeking a rematch with Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin or running in next year’s Republican primary for governor, an allied super PAC is out with a new poll pointing him in the direction of door number two.
National Research Inc. shows Morrisey beating Del. Moore Capito 28-15 in the contest to succeed termed-out Gov. Jim Justice, with Secretary of State Mac Warner at 11% and no one else breaking into double digits. The memo notably does not mention the Senate race at all as it argues that Morrisey “is by far the strongest Republican” in the race for governor.
● NJ-09: Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell dispelled any retirement speculation Monday evening when the 86-year-old responded to a question if he’d run again by saying, “No question about it.”
● OH-09: Politico mentions state Rep. Derek Merrin as a possible GOP opponent for Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur in a seat that Republicans will have the chance to gerrymander all over again. The hardline Merrin was slated to become speaker this January, but fellow Republican Jason Stephens unexpectedly took the gavel by uniting the chamber’s Democratic minority and a faction of GOP members.
● CA Ballot: A state appeals court on Monday handed a big legal victory to Uber and Lyft when it upheld the most expensive ballot measure in American history. Back in 2020, these rideshare giants spent much of the $181 million that went into advancing Proposition 22, which designates drivers for "App-Based Transportation and Delivery Companies" as independent contractors with some benefits rather than as employees. Voters approved Prop. 22 59-41, and while a state judge struck it down the following year, the law remained in effect as it wound its way through the appeals process.
The appeals court reversed most of that ruling, though the Los Angeles Times writes that it still “severed provisions of Proposition 22 restricting the California Legislature’s ability to authorize collective bargaining over drivers’ compensation, benefits, or working conditions and create rules singling out or otherwise putting ‘unequal regulatory burdens’ upon app-based drivers.” The SEIU, which ardently opposed Prop. 22, says it will “consider all options” for what to do next, including an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
● PA State House: Speaker Joanna McClinton’s team says she’ll schedule the special election to succeed outgoing state Rep. Mike Zabel, a fellow Democrat who announced his resignation last week after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment, to coincide with the May 16 statewide primary.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: Former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker launched her first TV ad on Thursday ahead of the May Democratic primary, though the Philadelphia Inquirer puts the size of the buy at just $57,000. The spot, which touts her local roots, comes weeks after two of her wealthy opponents, former colleague Allan Domb and grocer Jeff Brown, launched their own spots: The paper says that those two contenders, as well as a pro-Brown super PAC, have together spent $5.5 million.
● Pat Schroeder: Former Colorado Rep. Pat Schroeder, a Democrat who was one of the most prominent voices for women’s rights in Congress during her service from 1973 to 1997, died Monday at the age of 82. Schroeder, who was just one of just 14 women in the House when she first arrived, was instrumental in passing legislation like the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. However, she acknowledged how much work still needed to be done in the title of her 1998 memoir, “24 Years of House Work … and the Place Is Still a Mess.”
Schroeder, who got her piloting license as a teenager, was one of only 15 women in her 1964 class of more than 500 at Harvard Law School. She recounted that, after the dean had told the small group, “Do you realize you have taken this position from a man?” another woman responded, “Well, I am only here because I could not get in at Yale.” Schroeder and her husband relocated to Denver after they both graduated, and at first it looked like Jim Schroeder would be the one who would have a political career.
In 1970 he campaigned for a seat in the state House and lost the general election by fewer than 50 votes. Pat Schroeder would recount decades later that legislators responded to that close call by drawing up a gerrymander that specifically placed their home in a new seat, boundaries that “didn't make any sense, except that's where Schroeder lived.” The future congresswoman, though, wrote in 1998, “But the law of unintended consequences bit the gerrymanderers―they kept Jim from running but they launched my political career!”
It was another 1970 election that would set in motion a chain of events that would help propel her to Congress two years later. Democratic Rep. Byron Rogers narrowly lost renomination after 10 terms to Craig Barnes, who emphasized his own opposition to the Vietnam War, but angry Rogers backers refused to support Barnes in the general election. That left an opening for Denver District Attorney Mike McKevitt, a Republican who had made headlines for shutting down screenings of the erotic film “I Am Curious (Yellow)” and who crusaded against restaurants with large hippie clienteles. McKevitt ended up winning the 1st Congressional District 52-45, which made him Denver’s first Republican House member in a quarter century.
Schroeder recounted that the original favorite for the Democratic nomination for 1972 was state Sen. Arch Decker, but her husband was one of many who wanted an alternative to someone they saw as “an elephant in donkey's clothing.” That proved to be a tough task, though, as few wanted to campaign in a year where they expected presidential nominee George McGovern to tank their chances. Schroeder, who taught law and had worked for the National Labor Relations Board, was therefore taken aback when Jim Schroeder relayed the news that local Democrats had mentioned her as a candidate.
She described her first reaction as, “Don't tease me, I'm tired. Why should I be the designated kamikaze?” Jim Schroeder agreed that she stood no chance of beating McKevitt and likely wouldn’t even be the nominee, but she wrote that he continued, “But if you don't get in the race and articulate the issues, they will not be discussed. You think the government's policies about Vietnam and the environment are wrongheaded, and you're always urging your students to get involved.”
While Schroeder, who was still left “wonder[ing] what they served at this meeting,” still needed persuasion, she agreed to be “Dona Quixote” in a hopeless race: She’d remember, to her frustration, a newspaper summing up her announcement with the headline “Denver housewife runs for Congress.”
Schroeder had to quickly organize a campaign to beat Decker, who remained the favorite of the party establishment. She remembered that at the important state party convention she was granted only 30 seconds to speak by leaders who wanted to “muzzle me with their fast clock.” She used her limited time to declare her support for Cesar Chavez’s lettuce boycott, an issue that resounded “with the “large Chicano population of the city” and helped her win the convention.
Schroeder went on to beat Decker 55-45, and he did not respond well to that shock defeat. “He went into a massive pout,” Schroeder wrote in her 1998 book, “literally pulling down the blinds in his house and refusing to speak to the press.” But despite that upset win, she had an even tougher six-week battle ahead of her against McKevitt, “who thought he was going to waltz through a non-campaign to victory.”
The incumbent wasn’t the only one: Schroeder in a 2015 oral history interview with the House’s Office of the Historian said that the DCCC told her, “Well, we really have nothing to say to you; we can’t waste our money.” The Democrat, who ran on the slogan, “She wins, we win,” decided to wage an anti-war campaign that also emphasized her support for the children of migrant families and opposition to Denver hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics. (Colorado voters that fall would decisively back a referendum to withhold funding for the event, which ended up relocating to Austria.)
Schroeder believed that, because establishment leaders didn’t help her, she benefited from running a nontraditional campaign that “seemed to penetrate the normal clutter and noise of politics.” She also said that Barnes, two years after his loss, transferred his “energized grassroots group to me.”
McKevitt, who demeaned his opponent as “Little Patsy,” continued to ignore Schroeder’s campaign, but the FBI didn’t. Schroeder said that her home was broken into “a couple of times” without anything obviously being stolen, but she didn’t think much of it at the time. She would learn a few years later, though, that the FBI suspected her slogan meant she was a communist, and that her husband’s barber was one of their informants. (“In hindsight it did seem rather odd how often he would show up in the middle of dinner,” she’d write.)
Schroeder ended up shocking everyone, including herself, by unseating McKevitt 52-47, a victory that made her the first woman to represent Colorado in Congress. That win came at the same time that, according to analyst Kiernan Park-Egan, President Richard Nixon was beating McGovern 55-45 in the district.
Schroeder soon found herself in the “guy gulag” that was D.C., and she immediately faced a hostile reception from a prominent Democrat after she became the first woman to ever serve on the House Armed Services Committee. Chairman Edward Hébert, a longtime supporter of segregation, made Schroeder share a seat with Black colleague Ron Dellums, with her remembering him saying, “The two of you are only worth half the normal member.” (It’s disputed whether he actually uttered those words.)
Schroeder, though, went on to become an influential member, and she quickly became entrenched at home. The congresswoman turned back state Rep. Frank Southworth 58-41 during the Democratic landslide of 1974, and she went on to beat another state representative, Don Friedman, 53-46 as Jimmy Carter was pulling off a tiny win in her constituency. This would be the last time Schroeder would fall below 59%: In 1982 she even fended off her old foe Decker, who had joined the GOP, 60-37. During the Reagan era, Schroeder also became known for dubbing the commander in chief the “Teflon president,” a label that ironically stuck.
Schroeder briefly formed a presidential exploratory committee in 1987 after former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart dropped out, but she failed to raise enough money. The congresswoman announced her decision to stay out of the race in a press conference where she fought back tears, something that drew scorn from several feminist leaders who argued she’d badly damaged the presidential hopes of future women. Schroeder later said, “I think it’s amazing that no one ever said that Joe Biden had ruined the future of men forever because people would think that they all plagiarized or that Gary Hart ruined the future of men forever because they all played around.”
Schroeder decided to retire the cycle after the 1994 Republican wave left her in the minority for the first time, and she went on to spend 11 years leading the Association of American Publishers. During her final month in the House she responded to a Los Angeles Times’ question about what advice she’d give women arriving in Congress, “I think women still should never kid themselves that they’re going to come here and be part of the team. And you ought to come here with a very clear definition of what it is you want to do, and that you will not be deterred.”