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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● TX-Sen: Democratic Rep. Colin Allred announced Wednesday that he would challenge Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a launch that gives his party a top-tier contender in a tough state. Allred, who played as a linebacker for the Tennessee Titans before becoming a civil rights lawyer, released a video that begins, "When I left the NFL, I thought my days of putting people on the ground were over. Then Jan. 6 happened." The congressman continues by saying that, while he "took off my jacket and got ready to take on anyone who came through that door," Cruz encouraged the rioters before hiding in a supply closet. "But that's Ted for you," says Allred, "all hat, no cattle."
Democrats haven't won a single statewide race in Texas since 1994, but Cruz's surprisingly small 51-48 victory against Beto O'Rourke in 2018 gives the party some reasons for optimism in a cycle where they have so few other viable Senate targets. But before Allred, who would be the Lone Star State's first Black senator, can focus on his potentially history-making bid, he'll need to prepare for what could be a competitive primary against state Sen. Roland Gutierrez.
The San Antonio Express-News wrote last month that people close to Gutierrez, who would be the first Latino Democrat to represent the state, believe he's "nearly certain" to get in, though the San Antonio-based legislator says he'll make his choice after the legislative session ends on May 29. But unlike Allred, who had $2.2 million stockpiled at the end of March in his federal campaign account, Gutierrez would need to start his fundraising from scratch. Cruz, for his part, finished the first quarter of the year with $3.3 million to defend himself in this expensive state.
It's possible that other Democrats may also take an interest in this race, though no one else has publicly expressed interest. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro was reportedly interested in February, but the Texas Tribune writes that a spokesperson indicated he "does not plan to run." Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, meanwhile, endorsed Allred.
Allred himself first reached Congress by winning both a tough primary and general election campaign in 2018 in a suburban Dallas constituency that once appeared unwinnable for his party. Two years earlier, Republican Rep. Pete Sessions secured his 11th term without any Democratic opposition—even as his 32nd Congressional District was swinging hard to the left from 57-41 Romney to 49-47 Clinton—and plenty of observers doubted that longtime GOP voters were ready to abandon their party down the ticket.
Sessions was one of them, saying in October 2017 that he'd "begged the NRCC, even when I was chairman, 'Keep the hell away from Dallas, Texas,'" and that, "We need to go in somewhere else, it's up to me to win in Dallas, Texas. It's not up to some other group." Allred was one of several Democrats who believed otherwise, but he initially struggled to raise money in a crowded nomination contest. However, he unexpectedly took first place in the primary before convincingly winning the runoff, and it soon became apparent, even to Sessions, that this was one of the most competitive races in the nation.
Conservative outside groups, despite the incumbent's earlier pleas, did indeed spend millions here, and one of their products was an infamous digital ad showing an image of a darkened hand over a white woman's mouth. Allred ended up toppling the once-invincible Sessions by a 52-46 margin, and the former NRCC chair responded to his defeat by whining that he'd been the victim of "an incredible amount of money and an overwhelming sense of mischaracterization."
Sessions initially considered a 2020 rematch with the new congressman but unexpectedly decided to wage a successful bid to return to the House 80 miles away in the dark red 17th District. Wealthy businesswoman Genevieve Collins instead stepped up to take on Allred, but major outside groups this time steered clear of a seat that was moving the wrong way for the GOP. The Democrat went on to turn in another 52-46 win as Joe Biden was taking this former GOP stronghold 54-44, and Republican mapmakers soon decided to make the 32nd safely blue in order to shore up their incumbents in other Dallas-area seats.
Allred, who for once had no serious GOP opposition to worry about, soon drew attention as a possible challenger for Cruz, and he made it official Wednesday. The congressman, after recounting the incumbent's infamous vacation to Cancun during the 2021 Texas freeze, declared in his launch video, "He'll do anything to get on Fox News, but he can't be bothered to help keep rural Texas hospitals open … the struggles of regular Texans just don't interest him."
● 2023 may be an off-year, but that just means Virginia takes its traditional place as one of the key states to watch. With odd-year state elections, Virginia has often been a key bellwether for the rest of the country and this year is no different. Both the state Senate and the House of Delegates are up and each chamber could be won by either party. Daily Kos Elections Editor Jeff Singer joins us to preview the key races in both the June primary and the fall general election.
Host David Beard and guest host Joe Sudbay also discuss the many notable campaign announcements from the past week, including Democratic Rep. Colin Allred’s entrance into the U.S. Senate race in Texas against Ted Cruz and GOP Gov. Jim Justice’s entrance into the West Virginia Senate race against Joe Manchin. Then they cover two big retirements in blue states, Sen. Ben Cardin in Maryland and Gov. Jay Inslee in Washington, plus which Democrats might run to replace them.
New episodes of The Downballot come out every Thursday morning. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show, and you'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time.
● MD-Sen: Former Rep. John Delaney on Monday didn't rule out the idea that he could seek the Democratic nod to succeed retiring Sen. Ben Cardin, telling The Hill, "I do think now is the time to only celebrate Ben, his truly magnificent career and his wonderful partner in all of this Myrna—and not the time to talk politics." The wealthy congressman didn't seek re-election in 2018 in order to concentrate on a White House run that, predictably, flopped.
But former Gov. Larry Hogan, who decided earlier this year not to pursue his own hopeless bid for the GOP presidential nomination, has made it clear he doesn't "have any interest" in being in the Senate.
● MT-Sen: The end of Montana's legislative session Tuesday night means that the GOP proposal to conduct the 2024 Senate election using top-two rules in order to weaken Democratic incumbent Jon Tester is officially dead. NRSC chair Steve Daines, who is Montana's junior senator, reportedly pressured Republican lawmakers to support the plan, and it passed the state Senate last month. A state House committee, though, tabled the measure weeks later, and an attempt to resurrect the top-two also failed a short time later.
● OH-Sen: Secretary of State Frank LaRose tells WLWT he hopes to make up his mind by "mid-to-late" summer whether he'll seek the GOP nod to take on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, saying, "It's not a question of desire … But the question is one of practicality." LaRose earlier in the year acknowledged that his ability to raise money is "kind of the big question" in a primary that now includes two self-funders, state Sen. Matt Dolan and businessman Bernie Moreno.
● WV-Sen: The Republican firm co/efficient has conducted a survey arguing that Gov. Jim Justice is well ahead in both the GOP primary against Rep. Alex Mooney and the general election with Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin, though it did not respond to an inquiry as it was done for a client. Justice, who entered the race two days after this survey was finished, posts a 45-17 edge over Rep. Alex Mooney, while he leads Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin 43-29. But the incumbent, who says he'll decide in December, edges out Mooney 36-30.
While it's not clear if co/efficient has a rooting interest, its memo, which was released to the National Journal, very much touts the governor as a strong recruit. It declares he "holds a dramaitc [sic] image advantage over Mooney that may prove insurmountable," while Manchin may win re-election "without a well known and well liked Republican challenger like Governor Justice."
● WA-Gov: Former Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, who has a long history of flirting with running for statewide office but never actually doing it, characteristically responded to questions about his interest in campaigning to succeed retiring Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee with a "[n]ever say never."
State Rep. Jim Walsh, meanwhile, says it's a "possibility" he'll enter next year's top-two primary, though he may not exactly be the guy Evergreen State Republicans should want as their standard bearer as they try to win their first gubernatorial election since 1980. The state representative apologized in 2021 for comparing COVID mitigation policies to the Holocaust, and he's bashed a new Washington law meant to protect out-of-state residents who come seeking abortions or gender affirming care.
Former Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, for her part, has yet to say anything publicly about a run for governor, though the Washington Observer says she's been speaking to donors about the idea. Finally, state party chair Caleb Heimlich lists state Sen. John Braun as one of the Republicans he's talked to about running, but there's no word on his interest. "We're kind of taking all calls right now," the chair added.
On the Democratic side, Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Tuesday rolled out endorsements from Reps. Suzan DelBene, Derek Kilmer, Pramila Jayapal, and Adam Smith for his exploratory committee. Centrist state Sen. Mark Mullet, for his part, tells the Seattle Times he expects to decide in four to six weeks.
● CA-47: Democratic state Sen. Dave Min was arrested for drunk driving Tuesday night in the Sacramento area and released the next day, and the congressional candidate wrote Wednesday afternoon that he'd been "cited for a misdemeanor." Min, who is campaigning to succeed Democratic Senate candidate Katie Porter in Orange County, continued, "My decision to drive last night was irresponsible. I accept full responsibility and there is no excuse for my actions … I will not let this personal failure distract from our work in California and in Washington."
● TX-32: Democratic state Rep. Julie Johnson, whose 2018 win made her the first Texas legislator with a same-sex spouse, was quick to confirm her interest in running to succeed Senate candidate Colin Allred in a northern Dallas constituency the GOP gerrymandered to be safely blue. Johnson added that any decision would come after the legislative session ends May 29.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Allegheny County, PA Executive: The GOP pollster Public Opinion Strategies finds state Rep. Sara Innamorato surging from third to a clear first place in the May 16 Democratic primary in its newest poll for the "business-organized labor-workforce-economic development alliance" Pittsburgh Works Together. Innamorato, who is a prominent local progressive, takes 32%, while County Treasurer John Weinstein and Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb tie for second with 20% each.
Two months ago this firm had Weinstein edging out Lamb 28-24 as Innamorato took 17%, and we've seen no other surveys in the intervening time. That first poll was taken while Weinstein had a monopoly on TV, but Innamorato and her allies at the Working Families Party have since taken to the airwaves themselves; Lamb and his ally, termed-out incumbent Rich Fitzgerald, are also up, but they've so far spent considerably less than either of their two main rivals or attorney Dave Fawcett.
Innamorato's team celebrated their candidate's showing in this new survey, though WESA's Chris Potter writes that unnamed "Democrats outside the Innamorato fold" were wondering if this poll was an attempt to help the state representative win the nomination under the assumption that she'd be vulnerable in November against Republican Joe Rockey.
Potter relays that the grumblings came both from the fact that POS is a GOP firm and that Pittsburgh Works Together's membership "draws heavily from interests that might not seem friendly to Innamorato's left-of-center campaign: building trade unions as well as corporate interests active in manufacturing and natural gas." The poll's sponsor, though, quickly denied it was doing anything to aid or hinder any candidate.
● Colorado Springs, CO Mayor: While Republican Wayne Williams was at a huge financial disadvantage against independent Yemi Mobolade in the days following the April 4 nonpartisan primary, dark money groups have helped him dramatically change that in the leadup to the May 16 general election. The Colorado Springs Indy reports that Williams finished April 25 with a $200,000 to $100,000 cash-on-hand edge.
● Indianapolis, IN Mayor: Incumbent Joe Hogsett won his Democratic primary for a third term Tuesday 58-38 against state Rep. Robin Shackleford, who struggled to raise money for her bid to become both the first woman and African American to hold this post. Hogsett will go up against self-funding businessman Jefferson Shreve, who defeated IndyPolitics.org publisher Abdul-Hakim Shabazz 66-26 for the GOP nod, in the Nov. 7 general election.
Indianapolis was a GOP stronghold in the decades after then-Mayor Richard Lugar successfully pushed to consolidate the city with the rest of Marion County in 1970, but Democrats are now very much the party in power. Hogsett's 2019 landslide win helped propel his party to a supermajority on the City-County Council, while Joe Biden took Marion County 63-34 the following year. Republicans, however, are hoping that Hogsett will experience the same fate as fellow Democrat Bart Peterson, whose 2007 bid for a third term ended with an upset loss to Greg Ballard.
Hogsett himself acknowledged that the wealthy Shreve, who deployed $2 million to win his primary, will have the resources to put up a fight, though the Democrat insisted this could help him turn out voters in November. "I think (Democrats are) maybe even more enthusiastic now than they were three months ago because, in the course of 30 seconds, (Shreve) can write a check that makes this a much more competitive race than it would otherwise be," he told Axios.
● Lincoln, NE Mayor: Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, who is one of the few prominent Nebraska Democrats in elected office, on Tuesday overcame an expensive Republican effort to oust her and turned back former state Sen. Suzanne Geist 54-46 in the officially nonpartisan contest.
Geist and an allied PAC benefited from at least $1.6 million in support from the Peed family, which owns the Lincoln-based information processing giant Sandhills Global, while GOP Sen. Pete Ricketts also contributed to the anti-Gaylor Baird effort. That money financed commercials attacking the incumbent on public safety, while Geist and the local police union went after the Democrat for joining 2020 protests in response to the murder of George Floyd.
Gaylor Baird, though, worked to portray her Republican opponent as too extreme to lead Lincoln, which is one of the few blue bastions in the Cornhusker State. The two clashed over abortion rights in a campaign that took place days after Republicans in the unicameral state legislature fell one vote short of overcoming a Democratic-led filibuster on a bill that would have outlawed the procedure after only about six weeks. The incumbent emphasized her support for reproductive rights, while Geist responded at a debate focused on the concerns of African American residents by telling the audience, "Twenty million of you have been aborted. Is that positive for your community? No, it's not."
Gaylor Baird's re-election Tuesday in the state's second-largest city, which is home to the second-tallest capitol building in America and the University of Nebraska, extends a local Democratic victory streak that began in 1999. The mayor's victory, which came as her party maintained its 6-1 majority on the City Council, also ensures that Lincoln will remain one of the few parts of Nebraska where Democrats are in charge: The GOP has controlled the governorship since the 1998 election, while Republican Jean Stothert in 2013 flipped the mayor's office in Omaha.
● Where Are They Now?: Eliot Cutler, an independent who almost became governor of Maine in 2010, reached a plea agreement this week where he will spend 9 months in prison for possession of child pornography starting June 1. The former candidate is to also serve six years of probation, a sanction that includes online monitoring and the possibility of random searches.
Cutler lost the 2010 open seat race 38-36 to Republican Paul LePage, with Democrat Libby Mitchell taking third with 19%. Four years later, Cutler resisted calls from Democrats to drop out to avoid splitting the anti-LePage vote; the Republican ended up beating Democrat Michael Michaud 48-43, with Cutler earning 8%.