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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● WI Supreme Court: The pivotal—and historically expensive—contest that will determine control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court headlines a packed election night on Tuesday as progressives seek to end 15 years of right-wing dominance and inject new life into the state's moribund democracy. Liberals hope that a victory for Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz will see the court restore abortion rights, strike down the GOP's gerrymandered election maps, protect the right to vote, and safeguard the integrity of the 2024 elections, while conservatives are counting on former Justice Daniel Kelly to do the opposite.
We also have a crucial special election for a seat in the Wisconsin state Senate where Democrats are hoping to score a pickup that will deprive Republicans of their newly won supermajority in the chamber; a high-stakes runoff for mayor of Chicago; and nonpartisan primaries for mayor in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Lincoln, Nebraska. The polls close in Chicago at 8 PM ET/7 PM local time, and we'll begin our liveblog then at Daily Kos Elections. You can also follow us on Twitter for blow-by-blow updates. The polls close one hour later in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Nebraska.
Conservative outside groups in Wisconsin looking to defend their 4-3 majority on the state's highest court have spent heavily to portray Protasiewicz as weak on crime, but one powerful organization pulled its ads late Friday after a backlash. The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce had been airing ads arguing that Protasiewicz had issued too light of a sentence in a rape trial, but the victim at the center of the case denounced the commercials for retraumatizing her and misrepresenting the facts of the case.
WMC, which ran similar ads in the 2018 race for Supreme Court over the objections of the family involved, initially defended its new offensive. However, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Friday that WMC had asked TV stations to take down their advertisements and replace them with older spots, a move that came a day after Protasiewicz's team threatened legal action against anyone who continued to air the ads. However, a separate organization called Fair Courts America, funded by Republican megadonors Dick and Liz Uihlein, has also been running its own ads on the same topic, and there's no word as to whether it's followed suit.
Remarkably, there hasn't been a single public poll of this officially nonpartisan contest for a 10-year term to succeed the retiring incumbent, conservative Pat Roggensack, though progressive candidates outpaced conservatives 54-46 in the first round of voting on Feb. 21.
Protasiewicz's side began the six-week general election campaign with a massive spending edge over Kelly and his allies, but while conservatives have since made up the gap in terms of raw dollars, the progressive camp has retained a much more important advantage. Because candidates are entitled to far cheaper rates than third-party groups, Protasiewicz's dominant fundraising has allowed her to air more ads. In fact, during the final week, the GOP firm Medium Buying reported that Kelly's faction had spent or booked $3.3 million on TV and radio, compared to $2.5 million for Protasiewicz. Despite that shortfall, though, Protasiewicz and her supporters aired 54% of the ads during that time frame.
Protasiewicz has made use of her advantage to argue that if Kelly returns to the high court, he'd vote to keep the Badger State's 1849 abortion ban in force. She's also labeled her rival as "corrupt" for recusing himself in a voter purge case, then "un-recusing" after the plaintiff's family donated $20,000 to his unsuccessful campaign for election to a full term on the Supreme Court in 2020, as well as for once likening Social Security to slavery. Kelly's side has mostly focused on fears about crime, and he even created a shot-by-shot remake of the racist Willie Horton ad that helped George H.W. Bush win the White House in 1988.
Altogether about $45 million has been spent to win this Supreme Court seat, a figure that makes this the most expensive state Supreme Court race in American history by far. The previous record, according to the Brennan Center, was the $15.2 million expended in a 2004 race for the top court in Illinois, which is about $24.1 million in today's dollars.
● Election Night: Via Chicago: Wisconsin will also host a special election to succeed Republican Alberta Darling, a veteran state legislator who announced her resignation just before Thanksgiving, in the 8th State Senate District in the northern Milwaukee suburbs.
This race, which is the only major election on Tuesday where the candidates' party affiliations will be listed on the ballot, pits Democrat Jodi Habush Sinykin against Republican state Rep. Dan Knodl. A win for Knodl would give his party a two-thirds supermajority in the upper chamber, and he reminded everyone what that could mean when he said recently that he'd "certainly consider" impeaching Protasiewicz should she win.
Habush Sinykin, who is an environmental attorney, has enjoyed a huge fundraising edge over Knodl, and she's attacking him over his anti-abortion views. However, she has a difficult job ahead of her if she's to prevail in a 52-47 Trump constituency that's home to longtime conservative bastions in the suburbs and exurbs north of Milwaukee. Republicans also carried this seat last year: Republican Sen. Ron Johnson won 54-46 here, according to our calculations, while GOP gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels prevailed over Democratic incumbent Tony Evers here by a smaller 52-48 spread. In February's primary, Kelly and another conservative candidate combined for 54% of the vote while Protasiewicz and a liberal rival together took 46%.
The dynamics are very different in the officially nonpartisan race to succeed Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was denied the possibility of a second term after she took third in the Feb. 28 primary. The two candidates who did advance, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, both identify as Democrats, but there's a vast ideological gulf between the two.
Vallas, a backer of charter schools, has positioned himself as the more centrist option. His side has outspent Johnson's by roughly a 2-1 margin and has run ads arguing that Johnson supports defunding the police. Johnson, who has received heavy support from the Chicago Teachers Union and other labor groups, has in turn utilized 2009 footage of Vallas saying, "If I run for public office, then I would be running as a Republican," and, "Fundamentally, I oppose abortion."
Vallas has defended himself by rolling out endorsements from high-profile Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin and former Rep. Bobby Rush to vouch for his party loyalties. A racial divide could also play a role: Vallas is white while Johnson is Black. Unlike in Wisconsin, there have been a number of polls, most of which have shown a close race. However, the only survey conducted during the final week of the race, from Republican pollster Victory Research, found Vallas ahead 50-45.
Meanwhile, the two largest cities in Colorado, Denver and Colorado Springs, are both hosting crowded races to succeed their respective termed-out mayors, Democrat Michael Hancock and Republican John Suthers. It's all but guaranteed that no one in either officially nonpartisan contest will earn the majority of the vote needed to win outright. A runoff to lead heavily Democratic Denver would be June 6, while the second round in the longtime conservative bastion of Colorado Springs would take place three weeks earlier on May 16.
There's been no recent polling in the 16-way race in Denver, but AdImpact says that 80% of ad spending has come from just two contenders and their allies: former state Sen. Mike Johnston and former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough, both Democrats. The field includes three sitting elected officials: state Sen. Chris Hansen, state Rep. Leslie Herod, and City Councilperson Debbie Ortega. Also in the running are criminal justice activist Lisa Calderon, investment banker Trinidad Rodriguez, environmental activist Ean Tafoya, and businessperson Andy Rougeot, who is the only Republican campaigning.
The dynamics are similar in Colorado Springs, as three candidates have widely outraised their many opponents: City Councilperson Wayne Williams, who is a former Republican secretary of state; Sallie Clark, who served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Trump administration after losing races for mayor in 1999 and 2003; and businessperson Yemi Mobolade, a "political independent" who would be the first Black person elected mayor. Nine others are also running, including former El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, who briefly became a right-wing star during his 2016 bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
Finally, Nebraska Republicans are hoping to unseat Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, who is one of the few prominent Democrats left in elected office in this red state. The party establishment has largely consolidated behind state Sen. Suzanne Geist, who enjoys a huge financial lead over Christian radio executive Stan Parker. The top two vote-getters in this race, which is also officially nonpartisan, will advance to a second round on May 2.
The first fundraising quarter of the year, covering the period of Jan. 1 through March 31, has come to an end, and federal candidates will have to file campaign finance reports with the FEC by April 15. But as per usual, campaigns with strong hauls are releasing numbers early, which we've gathered below.
- AZ-Sen: Ruben Gallego (D): $3.7 million raised
- CA-Sen: Katie Porter (D): $4.5 million raised
- MO-Sen: Lucas Kunce (D): $1.1 million raised
- CA-12: Lateefah Simon (D): $300,000 raised (in one month)
- CA-30: Nick Melvoin (D): $550,000 raised
- CA-47: Harley Rouda (D): $1.25 million raised; Dave Min (D): $520,000 raised
- NY-18: Pat Ryan (D-inc): $1 million raised
- RI-01: Sandra Cano (D): $125,000 raised (in 11 days); Sabina Matos (D): $105,000 raised (in two weeks), $125,000 cash-on-hand; Nick Autiello (D): $90,000 raised (in 10 days), additional $10,000 self-funded
● NY-Sen: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez responded to Politico’s question about her interest in challenging incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand in a Democratic primary by saying, “[D]on’t ask me that question…print that.” AOC, though, has shown no obvious interest in waging a statewide bid.
● VA-Sen: Scott Parkinson, an official at the anti-tax extremist organization the Club for Growth, announced Monday he would seek the GOP nod to challenge Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine.
Parkinson, who previously served as chief of staff to then-Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis, used his kickoff video to label himself “a regular citizen,” because apparently that’s what regular people do. The challenger also told the AP that he identifies as “pro-life,” and reporter Sarah Rankin writes he “declined to directly answer a question about what limits on abortion rights he thinks are most appropriate, including whether he supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.”
The GOP will have a tough time unseating Kaine in Virginia, which hasn’t supported a GOP candidate in any statewide federal election since George W. Bush carried it in 2004, but Parkinson isn’t the only Republican eyeing this contest. Navy veteran Hung Cao has expressed interest in both a bid for Senate and a rematch against Rep. Jennifer Wexton, who beat him 53-47 in 2022, and he seems to be leaning toward taking on Kaine. His advisor responded to Parkinson’s launch by saying, “Captain Cao has been humbled by the many Virginians, and others around the country, who have encouraged him to consider a run for the Senate in 2024 and he is strongly considering it.”
● WV-Sen: The Republican firm National Public Affairs, a group Politico says has “some ties” to Donald Trump, has publicized its mid-March Republican primary survey showing Gov. Jim Justice pummeling Rep. Alex Mooney 55-24. A February poll for the Senate Leadership Fund from The Tarrance Group showed Justice, who always seems to be just on the brink of announcing a bid against Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin, beating Mooney 55-40.
National Public Affairs also released a hypothetical three-way matchup where Justice leads Attorney General Patrick Morrisey 43-21, with Mooney at 10%. Morrisey is to reveal his own plans Tuesday, but Politico says most Republicans think he’ll announce a bid to succeed Justice as governor rather than another campaign against Manchin. Mooney, for his part, has had the GOP Senate field to himself since November of last year, while Manchin says he’ll decide on re-election in December.
● AZ-01: Democrats got their first major candidate to take on Republican Rep. David Schweikert in Arizona's competitive 1st Congressional District on Monday when state Rep. Amish Shah announced that he'd run.
Shah, a physician whose 2018 victory made him the legislature's first Indian American member, will try to flip a seat in northeastern Phoenix and Scottsdale that Joe Biden carried 50-49 in 2020 and that favored the state's two most prominent Democrats last year: According to Bloomberg's Greg Giroux, Sen. Mark Kelly and Gov. Katie Hobbs prevailed 52-46 and 52-48 here, respectively.
Shah kicked off his bid for what will likely be a key contest for control of the House days after 2022 nominee Jevin Hodge, who lost to Schweikert 50.4-49.6 last time, revealed that he would not seek a rematch. The state representative may not have the primary to himself, though, as former TV anchor Marlene Galan Woods, a self-described moderate, said in mid-January she was giving herself 90 days to decide.
Inside Elections last month also mentioned two other Democrats who lost campaigns under the previous map: Hiral Tipirneni, who failed to unseat Schweikert 52-48 in the old 6th District in 2020, and Andrei Cherny, who lost his 2012 primary to none other than Kyrsten Sinema in what was then the 9th District. There is no word, however, if either Tipirneni or Cherny are interested in another bid for Congress.
Schweikert himself has proven to be a very tough opponent despite a potentially career-ending scandal in 2020. That year the incumbent admitted to 11 different violations of congressional rules and campaign finance laws, agreed to pay a $50,000 fine, and accepted a formal reprimand in a deal with the bipartisan House Ethics Committee to conclude its two-year-long investigation of the congressman. However, none of that was enough to stop him from prevailing over Tipirneni as Trump was also carrying the old 6th District.
Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission the following cycle left Schweikert with a more Democratic seat, now christened the 1st District, and he had to overcome serious opposition in both the primary and general elections from opponents who hoped his old scandal would still sink him. Wealthy businessman Elijah Norton aired ads against his fellow Republican featuring Schweikert's former campaign treasurer telling the audience the incumbent "reported a fraudulent $100,000 loan, $279,000 in illegal contributions, and more than $500,000 missing. Then he blamed his staff."
Schweikert responded by circulating mailers showing the challenger and a male friend with the caption, "Elijah Norton isn't being straight with you." An angry Norton filed a lawsuit against the congressman over what he called a "homophobic" messaging that falsely implied the challenger is gay and noted that Schweikert had utilized a similar tactic in his successful 2012 primary against fellow Rep. Ben Quayle, an effort that included a mailer saying Quayle "goes both ways." Schweikert this time won renomination 44-33 after an underfunded third candidate took a crucial 23%, while Norton submitted a new defamation lawsuit in February.
Major outside groups from both parties initially acted like Schweikert was secure despite that ugly finish, but both Democrats and Republicans super PACs began spending here during the final two weeks of his general election against Hodge. The Democratic group House Majority PAC ultimately outspent its GOP counterpart, the Congressional Leadership Fund, $1.7 million to $910,000, and the late investment was almost enough to help Hodge pull off an upset. Schweikert ultimately edged out his foe by about 3,200 votes, but Democrats are hoping that his luck will finally come to an end in 2024.
● CA-12: BART Board member Lateefah Simon, who remains the only major declared candidate in this dark blue East Bay seat, last week publicized a long list of endorsements, and two names stand out: 15th District Rep. Kevin Mullin, who represents a San Mateo County seat on the other side of the San Francisco Bay, and Attorney General Rob Bonta, who represented about two-thirds of this constituency in the Assembly until he was appointed to his current job in 2021.
● FL-11: Veteran incumbent Daniel Webster on Monday picked up a GOP primary challenge from former state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a hard-right extremist who lost last year's primary for the neighboring 7th District to now-Rep. Cory Mills. Sabatini, though, made his announcement almost three months after Laura Loomer, a far-right troll who held Webster to a shockingly weak 51-44 victory in their 2022 nomination battle, said she'd seek a rematch. It only takes a plurality of the vote to win the primary for this 55-44 Trump seat, which includes the western Orlando suburbs and The Villages.
● MI-10: Financial planner Diane Young on Monday became the first Democrat to launch a campaign against freshman Republican John James in Michigan's 10th District, a constituency in the Detroit suburbs that Trump took by a narrow 50-49 margin. Young, who badly lost a 2016 state House race for a dark red seat, said she was entering the race now so she'd have time to bring in money against James, who is a prolific fundraiser.
James won his seat last year by holding off Democrat Carl Marlinga just 48.8-48.3 in an open seat race that the two largest Democratic outside groups spent nothing on, and Democrats very much want to make this a target in 2024. Marlinga reportedly has been telling party activists he plans to run again, but he does not appear to have said anything publicly yet.
● NM-02: Former Rep. Yvette Herrell has publicized an April 10 rally with Speaker Kevin McCarthy where she'll "launch a new campaign to restore our values and flip this district," and her spokesperson confirms "she will be making a campaign announcement" there. The Republican opened a new FEC account less than a month after her 50.3-49.7 defeat to Democrat Gabe Vasquez last year in a constituency in the southern New Mexico and western Albuquerque area that Biden took 52-46.
● OH-09: Former state Rep. Craig Riedel announced Monday that he'd once again challenge Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a move that comes less than a year after he unexpectedly lost the Republican primary to the disastrous J.R. Majewski 36-31.
Riedel joins former Walbridge Mayor Dan Wilczynski in the nomination contest for a 51-48 Trump seat that Ohio Republicans will have the chance to gerrymander all over again, but it remains to be seen if Majewski will come back to threaten his party's chances all over again. The last 2022 nominee wrote in late January he was "looking forward to making a decision very soon," but the prolific tweeter still has yet to reveal his plans.
● RI-01: Former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg filed FEC paperwork on Saturday days before his fellow Democrat, Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera, announced that she would not enter the upcoming special election.
Regunberg says he hasn't made a final decision yet, though he notably stepped down as a clerk at the U.S. District Court before he filled out paperwork. The former state representative was last on the ballot in 2018 when he lost the primary for lieutenant governor by a narrow 51-49 margin to then-incumbent Dan McKee, who is now governor.