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
● LA-Gov: Former Louisiana Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson launched his long-awaited campaign on Monday to succeed his termed-out Gov. John Bel Edwards, and a win would make him the first African American elected statewide since Reconstruction. While Wilson doesn't have any serious opposition from fellow Democrats in sight, though, he'll be in for a difficult campaign this fall in a state that Donald Trump took 58-40, and where no Democrats other than Edwards have prevailed statewide in more than a decade.
We also got a reminder hours later that the Republican side of the Oct. 14 all-party primary roster remains unsettled when the Louisiana Illuminator's Julie O'Donoghue reported that Louisiana Association of Business and Industry head Stephen Waguespack, who hadn't previously shown any obvious interest in running, unexpectedly began telling his board members that evening that he'd announce his own campaign on Thursday. Waguespack, who took over as president and CEO of Louisiana's powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce chapter in 2013 after serving as chief of staff to then-GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, did not respond to questions.
Waguespack is close friends with Republican Rep. Garret Graves, and O'Donoghue writes that this news likely means the congressman has decided to pass on the contest. Another Republican, state House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, also said last week he's interested in running if Graves sits it out, but it remains to be seen if he'd defer to Waguespack.
The all-party primary field before this week already consisted of self-funding independent Hunter Lundy and a quartet of notable Republicans: Attorney General Jeff Landry, Treasurer John Schroder, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, and state Rep. Richard Nelson. 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.
If Wilson, whose only prior run for office was a failed 2007 bid for the Lafayette City-Parish Council, is to keep the governor's office in Democratic hands, he may need this year's race to resemble something of a cross between Edwards' shocking 2015 blowout win and his tight re-election fight four years later. During his first campaign, then-state House Minority Leader Edwards spent much of his time trying to convince his own party that he actually could beat the GOP frontrunner, Sen. David Vitter, rather than merely occupy a runoff spot that could have instead gone to a less problematic Republican like Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.
Indeed, as the book "Long Shot" reminds us, we wrote that May that the race would only become interesting if another Democrat ran and split the vote with Edwards, which could have allowed Dardenne (or another Republican, Scott Angelle) to advance and beat Vitter in round two. We weren't alone, as both former Sen. Mary Landrieu and state party chair Karen Carter Peterson privately but unsuccessfully urged Edwards to drop out and run for attorney general instead.
An Edwards-Vitter runoff did indeed transpire, but it didn't yield the easy Vitter win so many Democrats had dreaded—quite the opposite. The Democrat benefited from outgoing Gov. Jindal's horrific unpopularity, as well as a cross-party endorsement from Dardenne. Edwards, who emphasized his own career in the Army Rangers, also capitalized on the "serious sin" that Vitter had acknowledged years before with a jaw-dropping ad accusing the Republican of choosing "prostitutes over patriots." Edwards went on to pull off a mammoth 56-44 victory in a race that just months earlier had looked all but impossible for him to win.
Wilson may be hoping that, while Landry lacks anything like Vitter's personal baggage, the extremist Republican frontrunner would also be an effective foil should the two compete in a runoff. The former transportation secretary, without mentioning Landry or anyone else by name, started drawing a contrast this week when he said, "I would consider myself a bridge builder, figuratively and literally, not someone who burns bridges. That's a distinct difference between me and other candidates."
The attorney general, though, seems to recognize that he needs to make peace with some of the Republicans he's alienated in the past in order to avoid Vitter's fate. Notably, Landry recently sat down with Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who had been preparing to run himself until he decided two months ago to seek re-election instead. The charm offensive seems to be working, as Nungesser said that the man he'd once called "not a good person" had now shown him a part of himself "I never saw or didn't know about before."
If Landry or another Republican advances to a runoff with Wilson after an ugly intra-party fight, however, the Democrat will still need to put together a coalition that can earn him a majority of the vote. Edwards' 51-49 win in 2019 over wealthy businessman Eddie Rispone offers a blueprint for such a coalition even though Wilson won't have the advantages of incumbency that the governor brought to that race.
In that race four years ago, Edwards benefited from high turnout among African American voters in and around the key cities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport. Also critical was Edwards' strong performance in suburban areas like Jefferson Parish, a large and historically Republican area just outside of New Orleans, where education levels are notably higher than in rural communities. That community hadn't supported a Democrat for president since JFK in 1960, but Edwards took it 57-43—even though Trump had carried the parish by double digits in both of his campaigns.
And while Rispone still won most of the state's rural areas, he didn't perform nearly as well as Republicans usually do. One key reason was his ugly primary battle against a fellow Republican, Rep. Ralph Abraham, after which Edwards worked hard to fan the flames of intraparty animosity by reminding Abraham's constituents about the attacks Rispone had leveled at their congressman. Democrats will certainly be hoping that Landry and the other Republicans throw some brickbats each other's way so that they can repeat this strategy.
Wilson, though, will also need to do what no other Black candidate for statewide office has been able to do in modern times and win over a large number of white voters. Edwards, according to political demographer Greg Rigamer, earned 30% of the white vote and 95% of African Americans, figures that both exceeded Joe Biden's showings the following year.
Wilson acknowledged this difficult reality in a recent interview. "We in this state have a long sordid history with race," he said. "It is not lost on me, particularly on this anniversary of Bloody Sunday." He added, "The weight of that is important. But I'm not running to be the Black governor. I'm running to be the governor. I want to be the best governor ever."
P.S. While Wilson would be the first African American elected governor of Louisiana, two Republicans made history during Reconstruction when they each led the state for just over a month. Oscar Dunn, who was the first-ever Black lieutenant governor in American history, served as acting governor in 1871 for 39 days after Gov. Henry Clay Warmoth left the state to recover from injuries he'd sustained in an accident. Historian Brian K. Mitchell, who is distantly related to Dunn, wrote in his graphic history "Monumental" that Dunn used his time to appoint judges and issue a pardon, actions that led a furious Warmoth to hurry home to retake control.
Dunn died in office that year under still-mysterious circumstances, and a recovered Warmoth maneuvered to make sure the new lieutenant governor was Dunn's longtime rival, P. B. S. Pinchback. Pinchback earned his place in the history books in 1872 when the state House voted to impeach Warmoth for his conduct in a disputed election, a move that suspended the governor from office and made Pinchback acting governor for the remaining 34 days of his term. It would take more than a century before Virginia Democrat Douglas Wilder became the first Black person elected governor of any state in 1989.
Pinchback, who, unlike Dunn, actually took the oath of office, is almost always credited as America's first Black governor. But Mitchell argues that his ancestor not only deserves that title but that he was deliberately passed over by racist "Lost Cause" historians who tried to take advantage of Pinchback's reputation for corruption.
● FL-Sen: The National Journal's Matt Holt mentions former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and state Sen. Shevrin Jones as possible opponents for Republican Sen. Rick Scott, though Holt writes that both Democrats "declined to comment" about their interest.
● MI-Sen: An unnamed source tells Politico that actor Hill Harper plans to announce in April that he'll run to succeed his fellow Democrat, retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Harper, who is still part of the cast of "The Good Doctor," would join a primary that Rep. Elissa Slotkin currently has to herself.
● MT-Sen: The Washington Post’s Liz Goodwin reports that NRSC chair Steve Daines “has declined to express enthusiasm” about the idea of Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale seeking the Republican nod to take on Daines’ homestate colleague, Democratic incumbent Jon Tester. Goodwin adds that the junior senator “is actively looking for other candidates, though there’s no word on whom Daines does want to step up.
Rosendale, who lost to Tester 50-47 in 2018, has not yet decided if he’ll seek a rematch, but the well-funded Club for Growth said last month it would support him if ran. Rosendale’s detractors, however, got a new talking point Monday when the congressman was left explaining why he’d posed for a photo with two prominent white supremacists last week.
Rosendale told the Billings Gazette of the picture, which journalist Vishal Singh publicized, that “I absolutely condemn and have zero tolerance for hate groups, hate speech, and violence. I did not take a meeting with these individuals.” He continued, “I was asked for a photo while walking between hearings, accommodating as I do for all photo requests, and was not aware of the individuals' identity or affiliation with these hate groups that stand in stark contrast to my personal beliefs.”
One of Rosendale’s companions in the picture was Greyson Arnold, a Nazi sympathizer who has a history of appearing with Republican extremists. Last fall, failed Washington House candidate Joe Kent also attracted unwelcome attention when news broke that he’d done an interview with him months before. Kent, like Rosendale, argued he had no idea who Arnold was.
● NV-Sen: Republican Rep. Mark Amodei dismissed any talk that he could challenge Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen next year, though he did it in a way that left us wondering what he was talking about. “In terms of contributing to public service at the federal legislative level, I have no desire to enter the whole culture of mini-nationals in running for the Senate,” Amodei told the Nevada Independent’s Gabby Birenbaum, though he doesn’t appear to have explained what “the whole culture of mini-nationals” means to him.
Birenbaum, meanwhile, lists a few new names as possible GOP contenders to join what Amodei may think is the Model UN, though none of them have publicly expressed interest:
- former Rep. Cresent Hardy
- Pawn Stars star Rick Harrison
- 2016 nominee Joe Heck
- former Sen. Dean Heller
- Douglas County Commissioner Danny Tarkanian
The only notable Republican we’ve heard express interest is Army veteran Sam Brown, who lost last year’s primary for the other Senate seat to Adam Laxalt 56-34, though Brown doesn’t appear to have said anything since last November. Laxalt, who went on to lose a tight contest to Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, also has been occasionally mentioned as a possible foe against Rosen, though he’s also yet to show any obvious interest.
● WV-Sen: Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Sunday that he'd decide "in December" if he'll seek re-election, a timeline that ensures we're in for numerous more "What Will Joe Manchin Do" stories for the rest of the year.
● KY-Gov: The May Republican primary officially entered the negative campaigning stage this week when former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft's allies at Commonwealth PAC launched its opening TV spot against the frontrunner, Attorney General Daniel Cameron. It's not clear yet how much money is going into this inaugural attack, though: The Lexington Herald-Leader puts the size of the buy at $600,000, while Politico says the group "has placed nearly $930,000 in broadcast, cable, satellite and radio advertising to run over two weeks."
The narrator charges that Cameron is "nice, but he's no strong Kentucky conservative," and goes on to attack him for not signing onto a lawsuit against the Biden administration over "the border wall." The spot, without naming Craft, goes on ask if viewers would rather have "a conservative grizzly bear" in charge of Kentucky or the state's "soft establishment teddy bear." Cameron responded to that last bit by tweeting out a photo of a teddy sporting an "I ♡ Cameron" shirt.
● NC-Gov: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling's new survey for the progressive group Carolina Forward finds Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson edging out Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein 44-42 ahead of their likely match next year. Robinson, unlike Stein, has not yet announced he's running for governor, though the far-right politician unsubtly used the weekend's CPAC gathering to say, "It's time for me to stand up and serve."
● CA-11: State Sen. Scott Wiener announced Friday that he was forming an exploratory committee to prepare for a future campaign to succeed incumbent Nancy Pelosi "in the event she decides to step down," though it's anyone's guess when the former speaker will retire from this safely blue seat. Pelosi's team didn't provide any clues in its statement, saying instead, "Speaker Emerita Pelosi plans to serve her entire term in Congress, representing the people of San Francisco. And in order to help win back the House for the Democrats, she has filed for re-election."
● RI-01: State House Speaker Joe Shekarchi told WPRI over the weekend that he'd spend "a week or two" considering if he'd run in the upcoming special election to succeed his fellow Democrat, outgoing Rep. David Cicilline.
● TX-23: Medina County GOP chair Julie Clark on Monday kicked off a primary bid against Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales, an announcement that came days after the state Republican Party censured the incumbent for defying the party line on multiple occasions. Clark brought up Gonzales' apostasies in a launch video where her narrator accuses the congressman of "trying to take away our guns," a reference to the gun safety legislation he supported last year after the Robb Elementary School shooting happened in his 23rd Congressional District.
The video, after claiming Gonzales "voted for taxpayer-funded abortions and even voted against securing our border with a wall," attacks him for confirming Joe Biden's victory in the hours after the Jan. 6 attack, though this is framed as him having "voted to put Joe Biden into office, and for the sham Jan. 6 committee." After showing footage of Clark aiming her gun, the narrator ominously says, "It's time we take out the RINO, and replace them with real American patriots."
Gonzales himself remained defiant after the party censured him, a move that bars him from receiving party help until any runoffs take place in late May of next year. Indeed, he responded in Spanish with what the Houston Chronicle calls "some words for the group that are probably too coarse for a family newspaper."
Gonzales' vast constituency, which stretches from the San Antonio suburbs west to the El Paso area, used to be competitive turf, and the Republican unexpectedly won the last version of the district in 2020 as it was flipping from 50-46 Clinton to a narrow 50-48 victory for Trump. The GOP legislature did what it could to make sure it remained reliably red by stretching Trump's 2020 margin to 53-46, and Gonzales went on to take his second term 56-39 in a campaign that attracted little outside attention.
● OK Ballot: Oklahoma will vote Tuesday on whether to become the 22nd state to legalize recreational marijuana, though the state's Republican leaders are doing what they can to beat Question 820. Gov. Kevin Stitt used his state of the state address last month to warn listeners, "[W]e need to make sure initiative petitions represent Oklahomans, not out-of-state special interest groups," while the Associated Press says that nearly every Republican member of the state Senate also opposes the measure, while clergy and law enforcement groups are also in the negative.
Question 820's proponents, meanwhile, are arguing a win would boost the state economy. "I want to be able to sell legal, regulated and taxed marijuana to those Texans over the age of 21," said organizer Ryan Kiesel, who said he wanted to use the money for "Oklahoma schools and Oklahoma health care."
● Atlanta, GA: The Republican-led state Senate on Thursday voted 33-23 to kill a proposed ballot measure that would have allowed residents of Atlanta's affluent Buckhead neighborhood to form their own city, with 10 Republicans joining all of the Democrats in opposition. The move came shortly after GOP Gov. Brian Kemp's office released a memo warning that, among other things, this plan could lead to "possible widespread default," though the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that it already wasn't "close to capturing the level of support it needed" in either chamber.
The Buckhead City Committee, which is the main group supporting secession, responded to the defeat Monday with an angry statement declaring, "Unfortunately, now that Governor Kemp has displayed that he does not support our right to vote, there is no path forward for a cityhood referendum while he remains governor until the end of his term in 2026."
Mayors and County Leaders
● Allegheny County, PA Executive & District Attorney: The Allegheny County Democratic Party on Sunday issued May party primary endorsements for county Treasurer John Weinstein's bid for executive as well as county Chief Public Defender Matt Dugan's campaign to unseat District Attorney Stephen Zappala. Committee members favored Weinstein 39-32 over state Rep. Sara Innamorato, while they backed Dugan 59-41 against Zappala.
Weinstein, who has the support of several prominent unions, also picked up an endorsement from the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council days before. The labor group, though, opted for Zappala over his challenger.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson on Monday publicized an endorsement from longtime Rep. Danny Davis, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in both 1991 and 2011.
● Denver, CO Mayor: SurveyUSA takes a look at the 17-way nonpartisan primary on behalf of several media organizations, and remarkably, it finds absolutely no one taking more than 5% of the vote with less than a month to go before the April 4 contest. A recent poll from the Republican pollster Cygnal for a local business coalition also showed everyone in single digits in the race for the two spots in the all-but-assured June 6 general election.
Almost anything may make the difference in a race this packed and undefined, and Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod got some unwelcome headlines Monday when Axios' John Frank reported that over a dozen people alleged she was responsible for a "toxic workplace culture." Frank writes that, among other things, an unnamed Latino advocacy group said it no longer assigns interns to her office "after two of its fellows reported experiencing an unhealthy work environment."
● Mercer County, NJ Executive: Assemblyman Dan Benson on Sunday decisively earned the county Democratic Party's influential organization line when he beat five-term incumbent Brian Hughes 78-22 at the party convention. Hughes, who accused party leaders of "planned and orchestrated maneuvering," quickly pledged to remain in the June primary to lead this dark blue community.
By winning the line, Benson will be identified on the primary ballot with the slogan "Regular Democratic Organization" (or under a different slogan the chair picks), which is a big deal in a state where party machines are still powerful. Hughes, by contrast, will be listed in a different column; you can see some examples from past ballots here.
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: SEIU Local 32BJ, which has a history of spending serious amounts to back its candidates, on Thursday endorsed former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker ahead of the May Democratic primary.
● Phil Batt: Former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, whose 1994 win started the GOP’s unbroken streak of wins for this office, died Saturday on his 96th birthday. Batt, who retired after just one term, himself ended 24 years of Democratic control, a period that included his 51-49 loss in 1982 to incumbent John Evans. You can find more about Batt, including how he trained his parrot to insult Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus by saying, “Cecil is silly,” in the Idaho Statesman’s obituary.