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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● PA State House: Pennsylvania Democrats must win a May 16 special election in the Philadelphia suburbs in order to preserve their one-seat majority in the state House, and they’re turning to Gov. Josh Shapiro to underscore the stakes. “If Republican extremists win, they’ll take away my veto power by putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape and incest,” Shapiro says in a new spot from the House Democratic Campaign Committee touting Heather Boyd, a former member of the local school board.
Another ad from the committee says of her GOP rival, “Katie Ford will give MAGA Republicans the majority they desperately want and that’s downright dangerous. They’re counting on Katie Ford to be the deciding vote to make every abortion in Pennsylvania illegal.” Their Republican counterparts don’t appear to have gone on TV, though the House Republican Campaign Committee has sent out anti-Boyd literature masquerading as a newspaper.
The 163rd House District in Delaware County became vacant in March when Democrat Mike Zabel resigned after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment, and Ford and her allies are hoping that scandal will give the GOP an opening in a constituency that supported Joe Biden 62-37. The Republican has accused Boyd, who is a local party official, of not taking action after an SEIU lobbyist named Andi Perez told Boyd that Zabel had harassed her back in 2019. But Perez herself praised Boyd in March as someone who “has been a true ally to me because she kept what I told her about my experience of sexual harassment private until I was ready to share my story publicly,” though that hasn’t deterred Republicans from using this line of attack.
A victory for Boyd in next week’s contest, which coincides with the regularly scheduled statewide primary, would confirm Democratic control of the House for the third time in less than seven months. The party took its first majority in a dozen years in November when Democrats won 102 of the chamber's 203 seats, but Republicans temporarily enjoyed a small 101-99 advantage in membership because three Democratic-held seats became vacant. Democrats swept the February special elections for that trio of western Pennsylvania constituencies, and Joanna McClinton became the first Black woman to serve as speaker a short time later after Mark Rozzi, a moderate Democrat who had won the gavel with GOP support the previous month, stepped aside.
Zabel resigned a short time later, but Democrats still maintained a one-seat advantage because Republican Schlegel Culver had left the lower chamber after winning her own January special election to the state Senate. The contest to fill Culver’s old 108th District will also take place next week, but both parties are treating this 65-33 Trump constituency as an easy hold for the GOP.
P.S. The Associated Press notes that four Democratic representatives are on the ballot next week in primaries for local office, so control of the chamber could again be at stake should any of them go on to prevail in November. John Galloway, who is campaigning for a judgeship in Bucks County, represents the most competitive seat of the four, though Biden still took his 140th District 55-44.
The president scored just over 60% of the vote in the seats held by Sara Innamorato and Kristine Howard, who are respectively running for Alleghany County executive and a judicial post in Chester County. Biden also won 93% in the Philadelphia seat held by Amen Brown, though polls show the representative with almost no support in the primary for mayor.
● CA-Sen: Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office said Wednesday she was returning to D.C. for the first time since she went to California to get treated for shingles nearly three months ago. The senator’s absence from the Judiciary Committee has allowed Republicans to delay Joe Biden’s judicial nominations, but she did not heed calls for her resignation from Rep. Ro Khanna and other intra-party critics.
● FL-Sen: As they seek a challenger to take on Republican Sen. Rick Scott next year, some Florida Democrats are reportedly hoping that a former NBA superstar will lace up his high-tops and check in at the scorer's table. According to a new story from NBC, some major donors are trying to woo Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade while others are pursuing Hall of Famer Grant Hill, who spent seven years with the Orlando Magic.
Wade, who played 15 of his 17 seasons in Miami and won three championships—one alongside Shaquille O'Neal and two with LeBron James—would likely be the bigger name. In 2021, two years after his retirement, the NBA named him one of the top 75 players in league history, and he, too, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.
But just last month, Wade, a part-owner of the Utah Jazz, explained that he'd left the state on account of anti-trans legislation Republican lawmakers have recently passed, saying that "my family would not be accepted or feel comfortable there." (Wade's teenage daughter is trans, and his family lives in Los Angeles.)
Hill was a seven-time All-Star during his 18-year career, which came to a close in 2013; he last played for the Magic during the 2006-2007 season and has for years lived in the Orlando area. Since his playing days, he's worked as a basketball analyst and became a minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks in 2015.
He's also long had an interest in politics: He interned for another NBA icon, Bill Bradley, when Bradley represented New Jersey in the Senate and graduated from Duke with a degree in history and political science. In an interview following his retirement, Hill said, "I really like the world of politics, and I look forward to just participating more than I have in the last 20 years." He's often supported Democratic candidates and once shot hoops with Barack Obama on the former president's birthday.
But as is usually the case when celebrities are courted for political office, neither man has publicly said a word about the possibility of running, and a campaign by either is unlikely. As NBC notes, the recruitment efforts "have not been driven by either the state or national parties" but rather by wealthy donors and political operatives acting on their own.
Much more probable is a bid by an established Democratic politician. Several names have circulated so far, but NBC adds one fresh possibility: Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins, who hasn't spoken about her interest but was vetted by Charlie Crist as a possible running mate during his unsuccessful campaign for governor last year. In addition, state Sen. Shevrin Jones, who'd previously been mentioned, has now indicated he's thinking about the race, saying he'll "evaluate how I can best serve Floridians, whether that be in the Florida Senate or elsewhere" in the "coming months."
Two final updates concern a pair of former U.S. House members, Stephanie Murphy and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Murphy, who did not seek reelection last cycle, previously declined to rule out a bid in December. While her stance hasn't changed, it's notable that she still hasn't foreclosed a run in new comments to NBC, since we hadn't otherwise heard from her since last year.
Mucarsel-Powell, who lost reelection in 2020 to Republican Carlos Giménez, by contrast first surfaced as a possibility last month when Inside Elections reported she was weighing a run. She confirms to NBC that she has "a lot to consider," but said she was currently focused on her work with the gun safety organization Giffords.
● MD-Sen: Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced her campaign to succeed retiring Sen. Ben Cardin on Tuesday, and if successful, she’d make history as the first Black woman to represent Maryland in the upper chamber.
“There aren’t a lot of people like me in the U.S. Senate,” Alsobrooks said of a body where no African American women are currently members. Alsobrooks would also be the first woman in the Old Line State’s 10-person congressional delegation since Barbara Mikulski retired from Maryland’s other Senate seat ahead of the 2016 elections and Rep. Donna Edwards lost the primary to succeed her to now-Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
Alsobrooks joins what promises to be a competitive Democratic primary. The field already includes Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando, who would likewise be the state’s first African American senator, as well as Rep. David Trone, a wealthy liquor store magnate who has promised to use “a lot” of his own money to win.
Trone showed this week that he means it, launching what his campaign says is a “seven-figure buy” a full year ahead of the May 2024 primary. His initial ad, the first of many that voters can expect to see, focuses on substance abuse and criminal justice reform.
Alsobrooks, by contrast, begins the race without any money stockpiled, but she starts with a base of support in populous Prince George’s County, a Democratic bastion that has long been one of the most affluent majority-Black counties in the country. In 2010, she became the first woman to serve as the county’s top prosecutor, then successfully sought a promotion in 2018 when she ran for executive.
Alsobrooks’ main intra-party foe was Edwards, who had carried Prince George’s County 63-32 in the Senate primary two years earlier despite losing 53-39 statewide. But it was Alsobrooks who scored a lopsided 62-24 victory ahead of an uncontested general election, a triumph that made her the first Black woman to lead a Maryland county.
Alsobrooks was initially talked about as a candidate for governor for 2022, but she decided to seek re-election instead. Despite passing on the race, though, she played a big role in the primary by backing former nonprofit head Wes Moore and mobilizing her network behind him. Observers cited that endorsement as one of the reasons that Moore, who carried Prince George’s County 47-21, pulled off a narrow statewide victory on his way to becoming Maryland’s first Black governor.
● MI-Sen: Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga reaffirmed this week that he's still interested in running for the Senate, though he acknowledged that party infighting could make things tougher. The congressman noted that local Republicans launched an unsuccessful attempt to deny him renomination when he told the Wall Street Journal, "Michigan, to be frank, is a mess politically right now." He added, "It's going to be hard attracting good candidates for all offices, and we need to work through that and figure it out in a hurry."
● WI-Sen: Wealthy businessman Eric Hovde said Tuesday he’d decide within the next six months if he’ll challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in a contest where the GOP is still looking for a viable contender.
● IN-Gov: Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch on Tuesday unveiled an endorsement from Rep. Greg Pence, who is the brother of Mike Pence, for the 2024 Republican primary. Politico reported back in January that Indiana political watchers had "widely gossiped" about the idea the congressman could forgo a re-election campaign to instead serve as Crouch's running mate, but we haven't heard anything about the idea since then.
● NC-Gov: Former Rep. Mark Walker, who has been flirting with a bid for the GOP nod, has a “special announcement” set for May 20.
● CA-40, CA-49: Two politicians who both unsuccessfully campaigned for the same state Senate seat last year took steps toward running for Congress Tuesday in Southern California constituencies. Retired Orange County Fire Capt. Joe Kerr filed paperwork to campaign as a Democrat against Republican Rep. Young Kim in the 40th District, while businessman Matt Gunderson announced he’d run as a Republican to unseat Democratic incumbent Mike Levin in the 49th.
Kerr ran for office in 2018 when he took a close third in the nonpartisan primary for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, finishing just 454 votes behind fellow Democrat Doug Chaffee. (Chaffee’s subsequent victory that fall made him the first Democrat on the body in 12 years, but he’s often sided against his party on key votes.) Kerr campaigned as a centrist four years later when he sought the 38th state Senate seat, but he did poorly in the top-two primary: Gunderson earned 46% while Democrat Catherine Blakespear far outpaced Kerr 43-11 for second.
Kerr faces another daunting challenge against Kim, who has no announced opponents, in an eastern Orange County seat that remains tough turf for Democrats downballot even though it favored Joe Biden 50-48. The congresswoman won re-election 57-43 last year as fellow Republican Brian Dahle was beating Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom 55-45 there even as he was badly losing statewide.
Gunderson, who is also Levin’s first notable opponent, himself had a tough battle against Blakespear in a seat Biden had taken 57-41, but he came close to pulling off an upset. Blakespear, though, prevailed 52-48 at the same time that Newsom was carrying the seat 53-47. Conditions that year were similar in Levin’s 49th Congressional District, a 55-43 Biden constituency located along the coast of southern Orange and northern San Diego counties: The incumbent turned back Republican Brian Maryott 53-47 after an expensive battle for a seat that Newsom took just 50.4-49.6.
● NY-03: CNN reported on Tuesday evening that federal prosecutors have formally charged Republican Rep. George Santos with criminal wrongdoing, according to three unnamed sources, though details of the charges are not yet known. Santos will reportedly appear in court "as soon as Wednesday." The freshman congressman has been accused of an extraordinary array of falsehoods and misdeeds, but those of the most immediate interest to federal law enforcement are likely to be the inexplicable campaign finance irregularities that have surrounded his two campaigns for the House.
● NY-17: New York Democrats landed their first prominent candidate to retake a competitive Hudson Valley House seat on Tuesday when local school board member Liz Gereghty, who is the sister of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, announced she would challenge freshman Republican Rep. Mike Lawler in the 17th Congressional District.
Gereghty likely won't have the 2024 primary to herself: Politico reported last month that former Rep. Mondaire Jones is getting ready to launch a comeback bid sometime in the third quarter of the year. The Democrat who lost to Lawler last year, former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, also hasn't publicly dismissed the idea, though he seemed unlikely to seek a rematch even before Axios reported last week that Joe Biden intends to nominate him to become ambassador to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Biden carried the current version of this court-drawn constituency 54-44 in 2020, but Democrats learned the hard way last year that this is anything but solidly blue turf. Maloney, who was Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair at the time, infuriated Jones and many local party members when he decided to run here rather than defend the 18th District, a slightly more competitive seat that included the bulk of his current constituents.
Jones decided to avoid a primary by campaigning well to the south in the Brooklyn-based 10th District, but he ended up taking third in the primary to now-Rep. Dan Goldman. Things worked out poorly for Maloney, too, as Lawler edged him out 50.3-49.7 at the same time that Republican Lee Zeldin was beating Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul 52-48 in the 17th, according to Bloomberg's Greg Giroux. (Ironically, Democrat Pat Ryan held the 18th District that Maloney left behind.)
Gereghty, who has lived in the Hudson Valley for over 20 years, kicked off her campaign with a video in which she touts her service on the board of the Katonah-Lewisboro School District, saying, "I've seen firsthand how our divisions get in the way of getting things done to the detriment of our children." The candidate casts herself as a problem-solver going up against an incumbent who aides the GOP leaders "threatening our core rights, our safety, and our economic future." Gereghty does not mention her sibling, but if Whitmer deploys her status as a celebrity among plugged-in Democrats and her access to a nationwide donor network on her sister's behalf, it could prove to be a considerable boon.
Mayors and County Leaders
● San Francisco, CA Mayor: San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safaí on Monday became the first major candidate to announce a bid against Mayor London Breed, a former ally he's fallen out with, in the November 2024 instant runoff election. The contest was originally set to take place this fall, but voters in 2022 overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure to permanently move the mayoral race from odd-numbered to presidential cycle years too bost turnout―a victory that came despite Breed's insistence that "a group of democratic socialists" were seeking to "have more control and power of being able to get more of their people elected."
Safaí and Breed, though, have each long been identified as moderates in a dark blue city where the main political conflict usually pits their faction against progressives. Indeed, Safaí's 2016 win restored moderates to the majority on San Francisco's legislative body, though he insisted at the time he didn't identify with either camp. He launched his campaign for the top job this week by telling the San Francisco Chronicle, "People are very dissatisfied with the current mayor, dissatisfied with the condition of the city and they're looking for change."