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● Allegheny & Northampton counties, PA District Attorneys: Two district attorneys based in opposite ends of Pennsylvania―Allegheny County’s Stephen Zappala and Northampton County’s Terry Houck―face serious challenges from the left in their Democratic primaries, but each may still be on the November general election ballot anyway as Republicans. That’s because local GOP voters don’t have any candidates to choose from in these races, and each incumbent could collect enough write-in Republican votes to advance to November even if their actual party rejects them.
We’ll start with Zappala, who has spent the last 25 years as the top prosecutor for Pittsburgh and many of its suburbs. The district attorney has long had a bad relationship with criminal justice reformers, and he memorably declared during his 2019 campaign that he was "done with socialists and ACLU forums." His Democratic primary foe is county Chief Public Defender Matt Dugan, who launched his bid by declaring, "Police are looking for alternatives to arrest, prosecute, and punish." His campaign has also argued, "Steve Zappala has presided over the increase of crime in Allegheny County."
Zappala’s detractors, as Bolts Magazine’s Alex Burness wrote last month, have highlighted how about two-thirds of the county’s prison inmates are Black even though African Americans make up only 12% of the overall population. They’ve also faulted him for rarely prosecuting police officers for misconduct and for a 2021 incident where the incumbent forbade his prosecutors from offering any plea deals to clients represented by a prominent Black attorney who had called the district attorney's office "systematically racist." Zappala did away with that policy after a backlash, but critics like Rep. Summer Lee have hardly forgiven him.
Dugan himself has avoided identifying himself as a "progressive," but he has the support from some prominent liberals like Lee and billionaire philanthropist George Soros, as well as the county Democratic Party. Soros himself has contributed $760,000 to a PAC that’s aired ads attacking Zappala’s record, which is considerably more than what the challenger has raised. The district attorney, though, is hoping to turn this into a liability for his opponent by running ads that, while not mentioning Soros, declare that Dugan’s "entire campaign is funded by shady dark money groups." Those spots also argue that Zappala is "reforming the system and giving people a second chance."
The incumbent has the backing of the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, but his Republican allies may be more helpful in ensuring he has a place on the general election ballot no matter how well Dugan does next week. Back in March news broke that at least one local Republican party leader was encouraging GOP voters to write down Zappala’s name on their own primary ballots, an effort the head of the county GOP neither endorsed nor denounced. Republicans usually have little chance at winning in a blue bastion that Joe Biden took 59-39, though the dynamics could be different if a longtime Democratic elected official like Zappala were the GOP candidate.
And there’s good reason to think enough Republicans will give him the chance. An election expert said that the district attorney would need to secure at least 500 write-in votes, which is the number of signatures that would have been required to get on the GOP primary ballot, in order to win with a plurality of support: Zappala himself earned nearly three times that many write-ins four years ago in another primary where no Republicans were on the ballot, though he also won renomination 59-41 that year. Zappala’s team said in March they didn't ask any GOP groups to support a write-in campaign, though the district attorney himself said in December he could again secure the Republican nomination this way.
Another high-profile Democratic primary is taking place 300 miles to the east in Northampton County in the Lehigh Valley where District Attorney Terry Houck has outright announced that he wants Republicans to write down his name in case he loses renomination to former local Judge Stephen Baratta. The GOP isn’t running a candidate here even though Biden won just 50-49 here in 2020 four years after Donald Trump took the county 50-46.
The local GOP doesn’t seem especially excited about the idea of having Houck as its standard bearer, though, as the county chair said last month his party might run its own write-in option. No names have emerged, however, in a contest where the winner would need at least 250 votes to advance.
Houck and Baratta have largely feuded over how well the district attorney’s office is functioning. Baratta has faulted the incumbent for "significant" turnover and singled out cases where he believed Houck showed "incompetence, fundamental unfairness, and ethical concerns." The challenger, though, has also run to the left by pledging not to require pretrial bail for people charged with low-level offenses who can’t pay.
Houck, for his part, argued that his opponent has lied about his tenure, saying, "I think the voters have had their fill of this Trump-like mudslinging and baseless accusations." The incumbent has instead declared he’s run an effective operation while expanding diversionary programs while saying of his foe, "He would have no idea what was going on in the district attorney’s office."
Houck has also cast Baratta as "a very, very lenient judge" and highlighted how the challenger backs Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s decision to continue Pennsylvania's moratorium on the death penalty. "If you were to go into office, would it be you or one of your subordinates to tell these families to deny what a jury has imposed?" Houck asked at a debate. Baratta pushed back by saying he’d use his own judgment, "And if the law is unfair like it is now, and discriminates against other people, I am not going to impose the death penalty."
● FL-Sen: Politico's Gary Fineout reports that Brevard School Board member Jennifer Jenkins spoke to unnamed "national Democrats and donors" while she was in D.C. last week, which he says is a sign that prominent party members are making a serious effort to recruit her to take on Republican Sen. Rick Scott. Jenkins, who was vetted by Charlie Crist as a possible running mate during his unsuccessful campaign for governor last year, has not publicly expressed interest in what would be a difficult and expensive campaign.
● MD-Sen: EMILY's List announced Thursday it was endorsing Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who would be the first woman to represent Maryland in either chamber of Congress since early 2017.
Meanwhile, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski says of his own potential Democratic primary bid, "I'm talking to my family and I expect in the next week or so, we'll make an announcement." Alsobrooks and the other two serious declared contenders, Rep. David Trone and Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando, each hail from the D.C. suburbs, while Olszewski would be the first candidate with a base in the Baltimore area.
● IN-Gov: Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch publicized a Republican primary endorsement from Rep. Larry Bucshon on Thursday, a move that comes the same week that she announced the support of fellow Rep. Greg Pence.
On the Democratic side, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott played down the possibility he'd run while not quite ruling it out. "As for me, I don't see the stars aligning for a McDermott candidacy in 2024 at this time," said the mayor, who badly lost last year's Senate race to Republican Todd Young. "Of course, you can never say never and things do change from time to time, but currently I have no plans to campaign for governor in 2024." The only serious Democratic contender is Jennifer McCormick, a former GOP state education superintendent who fell out with the Republican Party years before outright leaving it.
● MS-Gov: New campaign finance reports from the first four months of the year show that Republican Gov. Tate Reeves outraised his only serious Democratic foe, Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, $1.7 million to $1.35 million and ended the period with a huge $9 million to $1.6 million cash on hand edge.
● NC-Gov: Change Research (D) for Carolina Forward: Mark Robinson (R): 46, Josh Stein (D): 43
● IN-05: While we hadn't heard from former state Sen. John Ruckelshaus since he first expressed interest in running back in February, the Republican tells Howey Politics he's still considering entering the race for this gerrymandered seat.
● NY-03: Former state Sen. Anna Kaplan announced Thursday she would seek the Democratic nomination for the seat held by freshly-indicted Rep. George Santos. Kaplan, a Jewish refugee from Iran who came to the United States as a child to escape religious oppression, was a North Hempstead town councilwoman when she took fourth place in the 2016 nomination fight for a previous version of this seat. She had far more success two years later when she decisively unseated Republican state Sen. Elaine Phillips, but Kaplan went on to lose her 2022 general election to former state Sen. Jack Martins 53-47.
Kaplan joins Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, who finished third in last year's primary, in the contest. Plenty of other Nassau County Democrats could also run for this 54-45 Biden seat including former Rep. Tom Suozzi, who beat Kaplan in 2016 and left last cycle to run for governor, but Santos' travails add plenty of uncertainty to this race. If there's a special election it would be up to party leaders, not primary voters, to pick the nominees.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Denver, CO Mayor: Former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough has earned endorsements for the June 6 nonpartisan general election from both the local firefighters union and former Gov. Bill Ritter, who was elected to his only term in 2010. But Ritter, who previously served as Denver's district attorney, played down how much any endorsements, including his own, would matter. "I think at the end of the day, people pay maybe less attention to them than candidates do or campaigns do," he said.