The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● AZ-Sen, AZ-Gov: Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican whom Donald Trump trashed just weeks ago as "lackluster," announced Thursday that he would challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Until recently, local politicos believed Brnovich would run to succeed GOP Gov. Doug Ducey instead, but Kelly's win in last year's special election appears to have changed his calculations.
Brnovich has been a rising star in Grand Canyon State politics going back to 2014, when he denied renomination to Attorney General Tom Horne, who was the subject of multiple investigations but ultimately never charged with anything. Brnovich went on to win the general election 53-47, and he earned his second term 52-48 during the 2018 Democratic wave.
Brnovich also spent much of 2020 clashing with Ducey over his handling of the pandemic, with the attorney general challenging Ducey's September order closing bars. The two intra-party antagonists, though, have together found themselves on the receiving end of Trump's wrath for recognizing Joe Biden's victory.
In late May, Trump, who had appointed Brnovich's wife to a federal judgeship in 2018, put out a statement telling the attorney general to "get on the ball" with the state senators conducting the bogus "audit" of Maricopa County's 2020 vote. Trump whined how Brnovich "is always on television promoting himself, but never mentions the Crime of the Century," and predicted that he "must put himself in gear, or no Arizona Republican will vote for him in the upcoming elections."
Brnovich has avoided criticizing the GOP legislature's actions over the ensuing weeks, saying just before he entered the Senate race, "I'm going to wait until our office gets all the facts and evidence, gets the final report from the Senate before weighing in and kind of telling them what they should or shouldn't have done." He also told Politico he'd had "good conversations" with Trump and other party leaders about his Senate run, though he declined to say if he thought he could get Trump's backing.
Still, Brnovich still hasn't emulated most other major Republican candidates by echoing Trump's lies about the 2020 election. His announcement video notably featured a clip of CNN calling the race for Joe Biden with the new candidate intoning that people should be able to trust "that when you elect someone, they'll do the job you sent them there to do."
While Brnovich went on to say he's been "standing up for election integrity" and sported a Grateful Dead-inspired "Make America Grateful Again" shirt, he never mentioned Trump or Biden by name. (He also didn't showcase the proficiency with nunchucks he demonstrated in 2019 after they were legalized in the state.)
Brnovich joins a primary that already includes businessman Jim Lamon and retired Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, who recently stepped down as adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard. The field could get larger still, as billionaire Peter Thiel has already funded a super PAC to support the potential candidacy of one of his top allies, Thiel Capital chief operating officer Blake Masters. Far-right Rep. Andy Biggs also talked about running earlier this year, though he doesn't appear to have said anything new since he blew off his late March timeline to decide.
● AL-Sen: Retiring Sen. Richard Shelby announced Thursday that he was endorsing his old chief of staff, former Business Council of Alabama head Katie Boyd Britt, in next year's Republican primary to succeed him.
● CA-Gov: Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer so far has struggled to attract attention at a time when recall campaign coverage is being dominated by former reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner and a 1,000-pound brown bear, but a new group called Fund for a Better California is hoping it can give the onetime GOP rising star a boost.
The Republican firm Medium Buying reports that the organization, which is largely funded by real estate agent Gerald Marcil, is spending $1.8 million on a TV buy arguing that Faulconer "has a record of turning around bad situations." And if almost all current recall polls are on target, he certainly has quite a bad situation to turn around.
Another Republican candidate, 2018 nominee John Cox, is arguing that Team Red's prospects are far better than they look, however. Cox has released an early June poll from Moore Information that finds a 49-46 plurality of likely voters saying they would vote to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, though we're not sure how likely voters can be determined when no one even knows what month the election will take place in. The recall fails 50-44 when registered voters are asked instead, which is still considerably closer than what most other firms have found.
Cox has the lead in various potential scenarios to replace Newsom, though a large number of respondents are undecided.
● CO-Gov: Colorado Politics writes that University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl "is almost certainly running for higher office next year, probably governor, and could announce as soon as next month." She hasn't said anything publicly about her plans yet, though she used a recent GOP meeting to trash Democratic Gov. Jared Polis as "the king of Karens," explaining, "The Karens aren't just afraid to live, they're afraid to let you live too."
Ganahl was elected to one of two at-large seats on the Board of Regents in 2016, making her the last Republican to win statewide office in Colorado.
● PA-Gov: Republican state Sen. Dan Laughlin announced Friday that he had formed an exploratory committee ahead of a possible run for this open seat. Laughlin, who previously predicted he'd have a "clear path to the middle" if he got in, also compared himself to two former moderate Republican governors, Bill Scranton and Dick Thornburgh.
● SC-06: While local politicos have speculated for years about who could run to succeed longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn whenever he retires, the incumbent made it clear Thursday that he's not going anywhere this cycle. When the Post and Courier asked the House majority whip if he'd be running again, Clyburn replied, "Not just yes, but hell yes."
● TN-05: Tennessee's conservative legislature has the power to gerrymander Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper's reliably blue Nashville seat into a safely red seat, and one Republican is already expressing interest in running if that's what ends up happening. Former state House Speaker Beth Harwell, who took fourth place in the 2018 primary for governor, told Tennessee Lookout that she "would have to just wait and see where I am personally and what the district lines look like before I make a decision."
● TX-28: On Thursday, Jessica Cisneros put out a video that unsubtly hinted that she'd seek a rematch with Rep. Henry Cuellar in the 2022 Democratic primary. Cisneros literally ran across a field with her dalmatian before asking her companion if they were "ready to go again?" before taking off once more.
Last year, Cisneros held Cuellar, who is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, to a 52-48 victory in a race that attracted national attention: Cuellar went on to prevail 58-39 against an unheralded opponent as this Laredo-based seat was shifting hard to the right from 58-38 Clinton to 52-47 Biden.
Around the same time that Cisneros hinted that she would try again, educator Tannya Benavides also announced that she'd challenge Cuellar from the left. A runoff would take place if no one won a majority of the vote in the primary.
Secretaries of State
● AZ-SoS: Secretary of State Katie Hobbs announced earlier this month that she'd run for governor rather than seek a second term as Arizona's chief elections administrator, and one familiar fellow Democrat sounds likely to get in the race to succeed her. Former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes put out a video Friday where he told viewers he was "getting ready to run for Arizona secretary of state," though he stopped short of announcing anything. Fontes may soon have company in the primary, as local NBC reporter Brahm Resnik says that state House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding "is expected" to run.
Fontes won the 2016 race to administer elections in Maricopa County, which is home to more than 60% of the state's population and whose 4.5 million residents make it the fourth-largest county nationally. However, Republican members of the county Board of Supervisors took control of key powers from Fontes' office following his victory, and Team Red targeted him four years later. Fontes ultimately lost re-election by a very close 50.1-49.9 margin to Republican Stephen Richer as Joe Biden was carrying Maricopa County 50-48.
The GOP side already consists of two state legislators who have been loud advocates of voter suppression: state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who has sponsored some of the most aggressive new voting restrictions in Arizona, and state Rep. Mark Finchem, who led the push to have the legislature reject Arizona's popular vote and instead appoint a slate of electors who would back Donald Trump.
● Atlanta, GA Mayor: Kasim Reed used his Thursday birthday fundraiser to confirm he would run this fall to reclaim the office he was termed out of four years ago. The well-known and well-connected former mayor will almost certainly start out as the frontrunner ahead of the November nonpartisan primary to succeed incumbent Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is retiring after one term, but not everyone is eager to see him back.
Reed's predecessor, Shirley Franklin, responded to the news about her 2001 campaign manager by saying she was "embarrassed by his lack of ethical leadership." That's an unsubtle reference to the corruption scandals that have so far resulted in bribery convictions for two senior Reed administration officials and federal indictments for others, though Reed himself has not been implicated.
Reed notably launched his campaign by speaking out against the idea of Buckhead, an affluent and predominantly white neighborhood, creating its own city.
There have long been advocates pushing for this area, which is home to about one-fifth of Atlanta's population and produces about 40% of its revenue, to secede, but chatter has only intensified in recent months as crime rates have risen across the city. (Buckhead, which was annexed in 1952 as part of an unsuccessful effort to keep Atlanta from becoming majority Black, has still remained one of its safest areas, though.) Reed argued that the departure of Buckhead would badly harm the remainder of Atlanta, and that the best way to prevent this split is to reduce crime.
It's not clear what role the debate about Buckhead's future will play in this year's mayoral election, nor if the GOP-dominated state legislature will allow a referendum to create a new city over the next few years. A ballot referendum would also hardly be guaranteed to win over the support of a majority of Buckhead residents, as much of the local business establishment remains opposed to the idea.
It's also very possible that even a successful referendum would be followed by years of litigation, which is what has happened so far following a comparable vote in Louisiana. Back in 2019, residents in Baton Rouge's mostly white southeastern suburbs voted to create a new city to be called St. George, but the area still remains an unincorporated part of East Baton Rouge Parish as the legal battle continues.
If a "Buckhead City" did eventually come into being, though, it could very much change local elections in Atlanta. In 2009, Reed won his office for the first time by beating independent Mary Norwood, who is herself a Buckhead resident, 50.4-49.6, while Bottoms beat her by that identical margin eight years later. Political analyst Niles Francis writes in Peach State Politics that Norwood carried the area making up the proposed new city in a 82-18 landslide in 2017, but Bottoms held on by winning the rest of the city 60-40.
● New York City, NY Mayor: Where exactly does Eric Adams live? That question consumed New York's political scene this week—so much so that it was the very first topic at Thursday's debate—after a report in Politico made one thing plain: No one can say with certitude.
Here's what we do know:
- Adams, the borough president of Brooklyn, plopped a mattress in front of his office desk in Borough Hall last year early on in the pandemic and said he'd moved in so that he could "always be ready" to fight the virus. (For laundry, however, he was still returning home—wherever that might be.)
- Now, though, more than a year later—and with the worst of the pandemic behind the city—Adams for some reason appears to still be camping out at Borough Hall, and keeping odd hours, to boot, according to Politico. (His staff says he "sometimes arrives in the wee hours to tend to official duties such as signing off on land use applications and capital allocations.")
- So why not just go home, back to some normal apartment somewhere? That would, of course, require having one in the first place, and preferably one in New York City, the burgh that Adams is hoping to govern. But does he have one?
- Perhaps more than one! One place he owns (or owned, or co-owned) is in the Prospect Heights neighborhood, an address he used to register his mayoral campaign committee and listed when he made a donation to Staten Island Assemblyman Charles Fall last year. Only problem: Someone else not named Eric Adams lives there. (His campaign said it would amend the documents that included this address.)
- Another place he owns is in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which Politico describes as a "a three-unit rowhouse" that, according to the Daily News, has earned him as much as $50,000 a year in rental income in recent years (which he apparently failed to disclose to the IRS). Adams is registered to vote there, but, at least until recently, was listed as living on the first floor—where, guess what, someone else lives.
- Adams' campaign says he actually lives in the basement unit "but rarely sleeps there due to his hectic schedule." Notable: City Limits reported last month that none of his neighbors seem to know him. Also notable: In a radio interview last year, Adams said he has three tenants in the building. Three units, three tenants—plus Eric Adams. Either this is a cheesy sitcom premise, or things are about to get really weird. (They are.)
- And, welp, there's New Jersey. Adams also owns an apartment in Fort Lee (longtime readers, you remember Fort Lee) with his partner, Tracey Collins. Adams' campaign told Politico that he "has not been there in months on account of his campaign schedule," but two members of the building's staff "said they recognized Mr. Adams when shown his picture by a reporter" for the New York Times. (Maybe they, like you, dear readers, simply enjoy following out-of-state elections.)
The day after Tuesday's Politico piece, Adams decided to give reporters a tour of that basement apartment in Bed-Stuy, which proved exactly nothing, and only raised more questions. "Fridge truthers" pointed out that the contents of his refrigerator (which he put on display) consisted mostly of condiments and animal products—not the foodstuffs of a vocal vegan who's proudly showcased fridges full of vegetables more than once in the past. (Adams said the food was his son's.)
(Your humble correspondent also notes that the "small bathroom" Adams showed to reporters did not appear to feature a bathtub. In Thursday's debate, Adams said the one thing he could not "live without" was a "hot bubble bath with warm roses.")
So where does that leave us, and will any of this matter? Adams' rivals were all eager to pounce on the frontrunner, with an official statement from Maya Wiley reading "WTF?" not once but twice. Andrew Yang, whom Adams has mercilessly berated for fleeing the city during the pandemic, enjoyed how the turntables had turned, tweeting, "I don't think he lives there." At the debate, Scott Stringer summed up the feelings of many New Yorkers when he quipped, "The only time I go to New Jersey is by accident." (Adams, for his part, released a new TV ad that starts with a shot of him departing the Bed-Stuy townhouse with his son.)
But early voting begins this weekend, and the Democratic primary is fast-approaching on June 22, so anyone hoping to make a serious dent into Adams' polling lead is going to need a lot more than some snarky tweets and half-baked (albeit very amusing) conspiracy theories.