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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● Houston, TX Mayor: Veteran Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee upended Houston's race for mayor on Sunday when she announced her entry into the crowded field looking to succeed term-limited incumbent Sylvester Turner this fall.
Jackson Lee has represented the Houston area in Congress since 1995, after she won a landslide 63-37 primary victory over then-Rep. Craig Washington, who had opposed projects important to the region such as the International Space Station. During the ensuing three decades, Jackson Lee burnished her reputation as an outspoken progressive and became one of the most prominent Democrats in the city, giving her instant name recognition. She also won't necessarily have to give up her safely blue House seat (which includes 20% of Houston's population) in order to seek the mayoralty, since voters will decide this November, with a runoff the following month if no candidate takes a majority.
That seems likely, given the large number of hopefuls already vying to run Texas' largest city. The most notable of these is state Sen. John Whitmire, a Democrat who's been running since 2021 and has a $10 million war chest. He also has the support of a number of major Republican donors as well as Democratic Rep. Sylvia Garcia, who represents a district that neighbors Jackson Lee's.
A pair of conservative organizations, the Houston Region Business Coalition and Protect and Serve Texas PAC, responded to Jackson Lee's announcement by releasing a month-old survey from Republican pollster Ragnar Research showing Whitmire with a slender 20-19 lead over the congresswoman, with three other candidates in the low single digits and a large 46% plurality undecided. The two groups, however, emphasized a head-to-head matchup between the two that had Whitmire in front 45-33. Both say they have not endorsed in the race, though HRBC has backed Whitmire in the past despite typically backing Republicans.
While the race is officially nonpartisan, almost all of the credible candidates are Democrats. No Republican has been elected mayor of Houston, which voted for Joe Biden by a 64-32 margin, since Jim McConn won a second two-year term in 1981. (Mayors only began serving four-year terms in 2015.) Houston is also a very diverse city, with an eligible voter population that's 34% white, 31% Hispanic, and 28% Black. Like Jackson Lee, two of the contenders named in the Ragnar poll, former City Councilor Amanda Edwards and former Harris County interim Clerk Chris Hollins, are Black, while Whitmire is white and City Councilor Robert Gallegos is Latino.
● AZ-Sen: While there's no direct quote, the Arizona Republic's Ronald Hansen indicates that freshman GOP Rep. Juan Ciscomani hasn't quite ruled out a Senate bid. "Ciscomani told The Republic recently that he was still learning his way around the U.S. Capitol as a freshman in the House and denied an interest in running for the Senate next year," writes Hansen, which isn't exactly a flat "no." The relatively pragmatic Ciscomani would, however, face a tough time in any primary against unadulterated strains of Trumpism.
● CA-Sen: Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, who had considered his own bid to succeed retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has instead endorsed Rep. Barbara Lee for the job. The move also makes Khanna the only member of California's congressional delegation to back someone other than Rep. Adam Schiff, who's earned the support of 18 of the state's 40 House Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi. The third major Democrat running, Rep. Katie Porter, has not yet received any endorsements from her home-state congressional colleagues.
● FL-Sen: The Daily Beast's Ursula Perano queried a bunch of Florida Democrats about their interest in challenging Republican Sen. Rick Scott, and while there are no takers so far, a few haven't ruled out the prospect. That includes the Democratic leaders in both chambers of the state legislature, Fentrice Driskell in the House and Lauren Book in the Senate. State Rep. Anna Eskamani also once again refused to foreclose a bid (as she has in the past), though she indicated she was likely to seek re-election.
At least one member of Congress is out, though: A spokesperson for Rep. Frederica Wilson says she has "no interest in running." Rep. Lois Frankel, meanwhile, reportedly plans to run for another term. The five other eligible Democrats in Florida's House delegation declined to comment; the sixth, as Perano notes, is too young to serve in the upper chamber: At 26, freshmen Rep. Maxwell Frost is four years shy of the constitutionally prescribed minimum of 30.
● KY-Sen: Mitch McConnell has returned home following a five-day hospitalization and two weeks in an inpatient rehabilitation facility after he suffered a concussion when he tripped and fell at a reception for the Senate Leadership Fund. The cause of McConnell's fall has not been disclosed. In 2019, McConnell fell at his home and broke his shoulder.
● OH-Sen: Wealthy businessman Bernie Moreno, who's been considering a second bid for Senate, says he intends to reveal his plans "in a few weeks," in the words of WFMJ's Corey Vallas. Moreno also recently resigned from the board of MetroHealth, a public hospital system in the Cleveland area, saying he wanted the institution to remain "above politics and conflicts of interest, real or perceived." Moreno spent almost $4 million of his own money to pursue a Senate campaign last year after Republican Rob Portman announced his retirement, but he dropped out three months before the primary at the behest of Donald Trump for fear of splitting the MAGA vote.
● NC-Gov: State Treasurer Dale Folwell kicked off a bid to serve as North Carolina's next governor over the weekend, making him the first notable Republican to enter the race. Folwell, a former member of the state House, was elected treasurer in 2016 and won re-election four years later, both times by a 53-47 margin over his Democratic opponents. However, he's all but assured of company in the gubernatorial primary, as Lt. Gov Mark Robinson is reportedly set to announce his own campaign on April 22. Limited hypothetical polling has shown Robinson leading Folwell by 50 points or more.
● NJ-07: Insider NJ's Jay Lassiter rattles off a long list of Democrats who could potentially challenge freshman GOP Rep. Tom Kean Jr., though only one has publicly addressed the prospect, former state Sen. Ray Lesniak. The others he mentions include Working Families Party state director Sue Altman; gun safety activist Marci Bandelli; former Lambertville Mayor Julia Fahl; former Clinton administration official Jim Johnson; Joe Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Phil Murphy; Clifton Mayor Janice Kovach; Hunterdon County party chair Arlene Quinoñes Perez; and state Senate President Nick Scutari.
As Lassiter alludes, though, it's likely that other Democrats will defer to former Rep. Tom Malinowski, who hasn't ruled out a comeback bid following his closer than expected 51-49 loss to Kean last year.
● RI-01: Providence City Councilman John Goncalves joined the large and growing field of candidates running for Rhode Island's soon-to-be vacant 1st Congressional District on Monday, making him the fifth notable Democrat in the race. Goncalves, who first won a seat on the council in 2020, is the son of immigrants from Cape Verde, who make up a large community in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. (House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, incidentally, traces his roots in part to Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony off the west coast of Africa.)
State Rep. Stephen Casey also says he intends to join the primary, adding that he plans to launch a bid this week. Ian Donnis of The Public's Radio describes him as having "a somewhat more conservative profile" than the other contenders. Meanwhile, former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg says he, too, is considering a bid and resigned a clerkship for a federal judge to do so. Regunberg ran for lieutenant governor in 2018 and lost by a narrow 51-49 margin to then-incumbent Dan McKee, who is now governor.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: With just over a week to go before Chicago's mayoral runoff, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas has earned a high-profile endorsement from Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.