The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from Daniel Donner, David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert and David Beard.
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● CA-Gov: California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis declared Monday that she'd run to succeed termed-out Gov. Gavin Newsom, a fellow Democrat, in a top-two primary that won't take place until 2026. That might feel like a way-too-early kickoff at a time when the Golden State's 2024 election cycle, including the battle to succeed retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein, is still in its early stages. But Kounalakis likened her effort to become the first woman to lead America's largest state to running a marathon, saying of her preparations, "You really have to start early."
Kounalakis is also hoping to emulate the strategy Newsom himself utilized in February of 2015 when Newsom, who was himself lieutenant governor at the time, launched his successful 2018 bid for the top job. Newsom made good use of his head start, establishing a lead in the polls he never relinquished and racking up a decisive fundraising advantage in a state where it costs a fortune for candidates to get their names out.
"You can't do it in 15 minutes," former Sen. Barbara Boxer says of waging a statewide bid, and she would know: Then-Rep. Boxer announced her pioneering campaign for the Senate just one day after Democratic incumbent Alan Cranston announced he wouldn't run again—fully two years before the 1992 elections.
Kounalakis herself is the daughter of billionaire Angelo Tsakopoulos, an influential political donor who has spent decades supporting fellow Greek American Democrats, including 1988 presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis. Kounalakis, who rose to become president of her family's real estate firm, similarly made a name for herself as a prominent party fundraiser, and Barack Obama appointed her ambassador to Hungary early in his administration.
Kounalakis sought elected office for the first time in 2018 when she campaigned for the lieutenant governor's office that Newsom was leaving behind, and she quickly picked up the backing of then-Sen. Kamala Harris. The former ambassador also self-funded $3.3 million for the primary, while her father donated another $5 million to a super PAC supporting her.
Kounalakis ended up taking first with 24% in an 11-person field; state Sen. Ed Hernandez, a fellow Democrat who enjoyed extensive labor support, finished a close second with 21%. In the second round, Kounalakis secured an endorsement from Obama and continued to enjoy a big financial edge that she rode to a 57-43 victory, which made her the first woman to ever hold the post. The new lieutenant governor was immediately talked about as a future candidate for higher office, and the chatter only intensified following her easy 60-40 victory against a Republican last year.
But while Kounalakis' new declaration demonstrates that, whether we like it or not, the 2026 cycle is already here, we're going to wait a bit before taking stock of her would-be rivals. While anyone following U.S. politics today has spent most, if not all, of their lives in an era of the permanent campaign (perhaps you remember this classic XKCD strip from the day after the 2008 election), even we have some limits here at Daily Kos Elections.
Our general practice is to only talk about a race when it's no more than two years off, so we won't be saying much about the race to succeed Newsom until after Election Day 2024—unless another serious candidate announces before then that they're competing with Kounalakis. And that could well happen: Treasurer John Chiang declared in May of 2016 that he'd also be running for governor two years hence, though this early launch culminated in a weak fifth-place showing in the top-two primary.
● AK Redistricting: The Alaska Supreme Court has issued a unanimous opinion saying it "expressly recognize[s] that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional under the Alaska Constitution," explaining in detail why, in brief expedited orders, it upheld a pair of lower-court decisions last year that found that the state's Republican-dominated redistricting commission had impermissibly drawn a Senate district to favor the GOP.
After striking down two successive maps adopted by the commission, state court Judge Thomas Matthews ordered officials to use an alternative map on an interim basis for the 2022 elections, which saw the GOP's margin in the chamber cut from 13-7 to 11-9. (Every Democrat and all but three Republicans ultimately joined a bipartisan governing coalition.)
In its newest ruling, the Supreme Court says, with evident reluctance, that it will give the commission a third chance at drawing a permanent map, but only if the panel can demonstrate "good cause" as to why the interim plan should not be used for the rest of the decade; if it cannot, then the interim map will remain in effect until after the next census in 2030.
● NY Redistricting: Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed New York's new Assembly map into law on Monday, just hours after lawmakers in both chambers approved the plan with wide bipartisan support. The map, which was adopted by the state's bipartisan redistricting commission last week, makes few changes to the districts used in the 2022 midterms, which elected 102 Democrats and 48 Republicans. Those lines had been drawn by the legislature, but state courts ruled that it lacked the power to do so and ordered the evenly divided commission, which deadlocked last year, to try again.
● AZ-Sen: An internal by Public Policy Polling for Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego shows him leading three potential GOP foes in matchups that also include independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema:
Gallego (D): 42, 2022 gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake (R): 35, Sinema (I-inc): 14
Gallego (D): 43, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb (R): 33, Sinema (I-inc): 15
Gallego (D): 43, 2022 Senate candidate Jim Lamon (R): 27, Sinema (I-inc): 16
PPP showed Gallego edging Lake just 41-40 in a December poll that put Sinema at 13%, while this is the first time we've seen numbers from the firm testing Lamb or Lamon. Gallego and Lamb are the only notable contenders who have so far announced Senate bids.
● MT-Sen: A committee in the Montana state Senate on Monday rejected a renewed attempt to conduct the 2024 U.S. Senate race under top-two primary rules one day after a Republican legislator tried to resurrect the idea. The top-two primary proposal appeared to be dead last week when a state House committee tabled the bill promoting it, though Democratic state Rep. Kelly Kortum warned at the time that it could abruptly come back before the session ends May 10. "I saw some shenanigans last session that just made my jaw drop to the floor," he said.
● WV-Sen: Politico reports that GOP Gov. Jim Justice will launch his long-anticipated bid against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin on Thursday … probably. While the governor has a "Special Announcement" publicized for that day to coincide with his 72nd birthday, the article notes he's "known to change plans suddenly" and "could still punt a decision to later."
Rep. Alex Mooney, who still has the primary to himself, isn't waiting to find out what Justice will do, saying Monday that the onetime Democrat is really a "RINO." The congressman also highlighted his endorsements from 28 state legislators, arguing, "That should say something—that the people who've worked the closest with Jim Justice are endorsing me." Justice last week bashed his would-be-rival's past as a Maryland legislator, saying, "I mean, the truth of the matter is, Alex Mooney is from Maryland and absolutely, teetotally in every way connected to Maryland."
Meanwhile, the Democratic group Duty and Honor PAC is spending $1 million on an ad campaign praising Manchin for "standing up to anyone to reduce spending and strengthen our local economy," which comes the week after the conservative group One Nation began its own offensive portraying the senator as a party loyalist. Manchin himself has said he won't be deciding on his re-election plans until December.
● KY-Gov: The latest GOP primary ad from former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft bashes Attorney General Daniel Cameron over a planned consent decree between the Louisville Police Department and U.S. Department of Justice meant to address years of civil rights violations against Black residents, including the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor, though Craft offers a very different framing. "Biden and his woke DOJ asked to take over the Louisville Police Department," insists her narrator, continuing, "And Daniel Cameron let 'em. Letting big government push their diversity agenda while crime skyrocketed."
Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, meanwhile, is hoping to take advantage of the ongoing battle between Craft and Cameron in his opening ad for the May 16 primary, though he may not have the ability to air it far and wide. The spot begins with snippets of his two main opponents' negative ads against one another before Keck appears and asks, "Are you tired of the same ol' politics?" The mayor, who had just $50,000 on hand on April 16, goes on to portray himself as a conservative problem solver.
● NC-Gov: Far-right Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson used his Saturday kickoff announcement to showcase endorsements from Sen. Ted Budd, Rep. Dan Bishop, and longtime state Senate leader Phil Berger. Former Rep. Mark Walker, whom Budd decisively beat in last year's GOP primary, meanwhile said that same day "there should be more information next week" about his own plans, though one of his advisors recently said Walker would announce in May.
● CA-41: Democrat Will Rollins told the Bay Area Reporter last week he'd decide in "the next couple of weeks" whether he'd seek a rematch with Republican Rep. Ken Calvert, a 16-term incumbent whom Rollins held to a surprisingly close 52-48 victory last year. Another Democrat, Lake Elsinore City Councilor Tim Sheridan, launched his campaign on March 20, but he didn't report raising anything in the 12 days before the end of the quarter. Donald Trump took this constituency, which includes the southern Riverside suburbs and Palm Springs, just 50-49.
● MD-08: Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin said the night before his final chemotherapy treatment for Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma that "[t]he doctors tell me the chemotherapy has extinguished the cancer cells." The congressman, who donned a bandana over his now-bald head, added that his physicians have "promised me that my eyelashes and my eyebrows and my hair will come one day soon."
● MI-07: The Associated Press reports that former state Sen. Curtis Hertel is considering running to succeed his fellow Democrat, Senate candidate Elissa Slotkin, though he doesn't appear to have said anything publicly about his interest in this swing seat. Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, meanwhile, reaffirmed her interest in competing in a Democratic primary that has yet to draw any serious candidates, saying, "Within the next few months, we should have a candidate running for this seat."
● MI-08: Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee said Saturday he'd left the hospital following his "successful surgery to remove a small cancerous tumor," adding, "After surgery and recovery, my doctors have told me my prognosis is excellent."
● NY-17: Local school board trustee Liz Whitmer Gereghty filed FEC paperwork Sunday, a development that comes shortly after tapinto.net reported she'd told a political group she'd be seeking the Democratic nod to face GOP Rep. Mike Lawler.
● RI-01: Lincoln Town Councilor Pamela Azar on Monday became the 16th Democrat to kick off a bid, declaring, "I'm running to help people and be a red-tape cutter and negotiate and mediate with the other side of the aisle."
Mayors and County Leaders
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: A judge on Monday approved a deal between the Philadelphia Board of Ethics and For A Better Philadelphia, which is supporting businessman Jeff Brown, where the super PAC agreed to finance only general get-out-the-vote efforts ahead of the May 16 Democratic primary.
The agreement came two weeks after the board filed a lawsuit alleging the super PAC had improperly coordinated with Brown, something both it and the candidate deny. The judge back then issued a temporary order forbidding For A Better Philadelphia, which had already deployed $3 million, from spending more money for Brown, an order the super PAC said it would not challenge because it had already completed its planned spending.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thursday that this was still far above the $1.3 million that another super PAC had spent to aid one of Brown's many intra-party rivals, former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker. A third contender, former City Councilmember Helen Gym, has benefited from more than $700,000 in outside support, but the paper said her allies were almost out of money and hadn't run any TV ads that week.