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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● NH-Gov & Manchester, NH Mayor: Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, who is one of New Hampshire's more prominent Democrats, announced Thursday that she would not seek re-election this fall as the leader of the state's largest city, but we may be hearing more from her soon. WMUR notes that political observers have long speculated that Craig could run for governor, and when asked about her interest in a potential bid for higher office, the mayor repeatedly refused to give an answer.
Craig's immediate future, though, may depend most on what Republican Gov. Chris Sununu decides to do in 2024. Sununu, who just won a fourth two-year term with an imposing 57% of the vote, has spent months musing about a longshot White House bid and, because New Hampshire has one of the latest candidate filing deadlines in America for non-presidential offices, he'd have time to turn around and seek re-election if national primary voters rejected him. Sununu said back in December that he hadn't "ruled out a fifth term," but he doesn't appear to have commented on the topic since.
If Sununu does indeed run for his current post one more time, he'd be the first Granite State governor to ever try to claim a fifth term since the state stopped electing its chief executives to single-year terms in 1878. Last year, Sununu matched the record that Democrat John Lynch set in 2010 when he earned a fourth straight term, but Lynch opted to retire two years later. (The all-time record is considerably longer, though: According to the University of Minnesota's Eric Ostermeier, Federalist John Gilman won 14 one-year terms in two separate stints between 1794 and 1816.)
Sununu would be difficult to beat if he did go for term number five, though he could see his standing deteriorate at home if he were to spend a significant amount of time trying to fulfill his unlikely White House dreams. His departure, though, would set off a wide-open campaign that could attract Craig and many other contenders from both parties. It's also possible that Craig could take a look at running for the swingy 1st District should her congressman, Democrat Chris Pappas, seek the governorship. (Pappas spent months last cycle keeping the idea alive, though he ultimately sought and won re-election instead.)
First, though, there's this year's race to succeed Craig as mayor in a contest that attracts outsize attention every two years. While Manchester, with a population of just over 110,000, isn't a particularly large city by American standards, its status as one of the few places with a sizable concentration of voters and activists in New Hampshire makes it an attractive place for presidential hopefuls to burnish their profiles—not to mention fill their favor banks. That's why it's not unusual to see potential White House contenders endorse candidates for mayor, as Joe Biden did on Craig's behalf before her successful 2017 bid, or even campaign with them, as Cory Booker did in 2019.
So far, though, the officially nonpartisan race to lead of "Manch-Vegas" (yes, that's one of the city's self-deprecating nicknames) consists only of Republican Jay Ruais, a former congressional staffer who sports endorsements from both Sununu and Executive Councilor Ted Gastas. There's still plenty of time for the contest to succeed Craig to take shape, though, as the filing deadline isn't until late June. (All contenders will face off in September, and the top-two vote-getters will advance to the November general election.)
Republicans had held the mayor's office for more than a decade prior, but Craig broke their streak in 2017 by unseating incumbent Ted Gatsas. The GOP is now hoping to win this key city back even though Biden carried it by a 56-42 margin, which was the best performance by a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996.
Whoever wins this post will, like Craig, quickly emerge as a top candidate for higher office, particularly given the dearth of statewide elected positions in New Hampshire (only the governor and its two U.S. senators are elected by the entire state). Republican Frank Guinta, for example, had this job in the late 2000s, then went on to represent the 1st Congressional District for two nonconsecutive terms.
Gatsas, who succeeded Guinta as mayor, similarly tried to use the position as a springboard to run for governor in 2016, but he took a distant third to Sununu in the primary. Gatsas lost to Craig the next year, though he proved he was still politically relevant in 2018 when he won one of the five spots on the state's powerful Executive Council.
● WI-Sen: While we haven't heard much from former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch since her upset loss to Tim Michels in last year's Republican primary for governor of Wisconsin, an unnamed source tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that she's "leaving the door open" for a potential bid against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. This person notes that Kleefisch remains head of the conservative state group 1848 Project, adding, "If she didn't care anymore, she would have walked away completely. That should say something."
● MS-Gov: Mason-Dixon has conducted a survey for Magnolia Tribune (previously known as Y'all Politics) that shows Republican Gov. Tate Reeves holding off Democrat Brandon Presley 46-39 among likely voters in this November's general election. That's still below the majority that Reeves would need to avert a runoff, though the survey did not include independent Gwendolyn Gray as an option.
Two previously released polls found things considerably closer, though unlike Mason-Dixon, they sampled registered voters. An early January poll from Siena College for Mississippi Today had Reeves ahead 43-39, while the Democratic firm Tulchin Research showed Presley up 47-43 in its survey for the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund.
● WV-Gov, WV-Sen: A group called Black Bear PAC released a survey earlier this week arguing that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey would be the Republican primary frontrunner if he ran for governor of West Virginia, and MetroNews' Hoppy Kercheval reports that the group has some serious money behind it thanks to one very familiar megadonor. Black Bear (not to be confused with the movie "Cocaine Bear") says it has $2 million on-hand, and Kercheval writes that about half of that comes from Dick Uihlein.
Morrisey has spent the last several months mulling whether to run to succeed termed-out Gov. Jim Justice or seek a rematch with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who beat him 50-46 in 2018, and Kercheval says we can expect news "in a few weeks." Uihlein's beneficiaries at Black Bear, though, are unsubtly trying to steer the attorney general toward the governor's race with the aforementioned poll from National Research Inc: That survey, which did not mention the Senate contest at all, found Morrisey beating state Delegate Moore Capito 28-15 for the GOP nod.
Uihlein is also the top funder for the Club for Growth, which also likely wants Morrisey to do something other than run for the Senate. Justice, who is termed-out of his current post, is looking at a bid against Manchin, but Club head David McIntosh in January dismissed the governor as "more moderate" than it likes. The Club, by contrast, is close to Rep. Alex Mooney, who announced a bid for the upper chamber in November. While McIntosh said this year that his group was interested in both Mooney and Morrisey for Senate, the two Justice alternatives could be chasing after the same group of supporters if they both competed in the same primary.
The governor's race, by contrast, has no obvious frontrunner. The GOP primary currently features two members of prominent Mountain State political families: Capito, who is the son and namesake of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, and auto dealer Chris Miller, whose mother is Rep. Carol Miller. The other notable candidates are state Auditor JB McCuskey and Secretary of State Mac Warner, who also have relatives in state politics. The same cannot be said for the New Jersey-reared Morrisey, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in the Garden State in 2000.
● TN-05: WTVF's Phil Williams reported Wednesday that Republican Rep. Andy Ogles in 2014 raised close to $25,000 for a children's burial garden that was never constructed, but the Tennessee congressman won’t say what the funds were actually used for. Ogles and his wife took in that money from their GoFundMe campaign following the death of their infant son, but he told The Tennessean the next year that regulations had prevented the garden from getting built. Williams, though, now writes, “In fact, there is no evidence that any government regulation would have prevented the purchase of several cemetery plots for burying children.”
Ogles, after initially refusing to answer Williams’ questions, put out a statement saying, “What we raised wasn't enough for our original goal of a more significant memorial, so the purpose evolved from a memorial to direct financial support for families covering the cost of funeral expenses and other needs for their children as opportunities to help arose.” His team, however, did not respond when The Tennessean when it asked if it would be providing documentation showing that the money was used to help these families.
On Thursday, Williams followed up by reporting that Ogles, who’d also said nine years ago that he’d be “purchasing 20 burial sites and donating them to families who lose their children,” would have been able to come close to hitting that target with the money he’d brought in. The congressman’s statement this week claims, “What we raised wasn't enough for our original goal,” but a local funeral director tells Williams that “there is absolutely no cemetery, given space available, that would not have worked with him.” She added, “Back at that time, we could have helped them do something, but they never came back to us.”
The story came about a month after Williams first reported that Ogles appears to have fabricated large portions of his life. One of his GoFundMe donors from nearly a decade ago told the reporter that, while she wanted “to believe that that money went for something good,” the subsequent revelations about Ogles left her with “gnawing questions about what happened to these funds.” Ogles represents Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District, a newly gerrymandered Middle Tennessee district that Donald Trump carried 54-43.
Secretaries of State
● LA-SoS & New Orleans, LA Mayor: Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin attracted wide attention earlier this month when he took part in an unusual settlement to lower the number of signatures needed to force a recall vote against New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, but now he has his own electoral future to worry about. Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis, a former state GOP chair who serves on the five-person body that regulates utilities, announced Wednesday that he'd take on Ardoin in this October's all-party primary and said he would self-fund as much as he needs.
Francis, who also used to run an oil drilling firm, said last week, "It may take $1 million on television to get my message out, but I will." He added, "Half of the people in this state don't know who the secretary of state is and the other half don't know who Mike Francis is yet, either." The field already includes an underfunded Big Lie spreader, grocery store owner Brandon Trosclair. If no one wins a majority of the vote, a runoff would take place in November.
Francis said he was running in order to support local election clerks, arguing that Louisiana needs "bottom-up" leadership. Ardoin himself demonstrated a very different style of leadership just two weeks ago when he reached an agreement with the campaign to recall Cantrell that lowered the number of signatures needed to make the ballot from 50,000 to 45,000, though it still remains to be seen if organizers submitted enough petitions to reach even this lower target. (The deadline to verify petitions is March 22.)
That deal, which law professor Quinn Yeargain termed "very strange" in a recent interview with NOLA.com, resulted in Ardoin's office agreeing that 25,000 New Orleanians would not be considered active voters "for purposes of the recall petition" even though no voter's status would actually change. The agreement was blessed by New Orleans Judge Jennifer Medley about a week before the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that she herself had signed a petition to recall Cantrell―information that only surfaced because the paper found her signature among the 10,000 pages that the recall campaign turned over amid the ongoing court battle.
Cantrell, who is a Democrat, soon filed a pair of lawsuits to overturn that settlement, charging that Ardoin reached a "back room deal" with the recall campaign. The mayor's legal team also blasted Medley in their court filings, writing, "The signing of a judgment, which was flawed on its face, by a jurist who had a vested interest in the outcome, calls the entire process into question." Francis, though, doesn't appear to have brought up the matter yet in his campaign to unseat Ardoin.
● OH Supreme Court: Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Megan Shanahan announced Wednesday that she would run as a Republican next year against one of the two Democratic Supreme Court justices up for re-election, though she didn't reveal if she'd be targeting Michael Donnelly or Melody Stewart. Republicans hold a 4-3 majority, and in order for Democrats to take control, they'd need to defend both those seats and defeat appointed Republican incumbent Joe Deters.
Races for the state's highest court used to be officially nonpartisan affairs, but that changed after GOP Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill in 2021 requiring candidates' party affiliation to be included on the ballot. That could give a boost to Deters, who resigned as state treasurer in 2004 over a scandal involving two of his top allies and lost re-election in 2020 as Hamilton County prosecutor. DeWine this year filled an open seat on the state's highest court by picking Deters, who just happens to be a longtime close friend of the governor's son, Justice Pat DeWine.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Colorado Springs, CO Mayor: Former Mayor Steve Bach has waded into the packed April 4 nonpartisan primary for his old job and endorsed Sallie Clark, unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1999 and 2003 and who later served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Trump administration. Bach himself was elected in 2011 in the first contest that took place under a new "strong mayor" system that greatly enhanced the chief executive's power, but he didn't seek re-election after a term spent fighting with the City Council.
● Houston, TX Mayor: Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee declined to comment this week when Semafor's Kadia Goba asked if she was interested in entering this fall's race for mayor of Houston, a development that comes a month after longtime political writer Charles Kuffner first reported that the congresswoman paid for a poll testing her as a possible contender.
While Jackson Lee is remaining quiet, though, Goba adds that three sources say she's thinking about joining the busy nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out Mayor Sylvester Turner. The filing deadline isn't until late August, so we may be waiting a while for the field to fully take shape.