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.
● TX-28: Immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros announced Thursday that she would seek a rematch against Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, a conservative Democrat who defeated her 52-48 in a very expensive 2020 primary. The current version of the 28th District, which includes Laredo, has been reliably blue turf for some time, but like other heavily Latino seats in South Texas' Rio Grande Valley, it lurched hard toward Trump last year: Joe Biden won 52-47 in a seat that Hillary Clinton had carried 58-38, though Cuellar won his general election 58-39 against an unheralded Republican foe.
Cuellar is a longtime force in local politics who has spent his decades in public life frustrating fellow Democrats, and his nine terms in Congress have been no different. In 2014, for instance, the congressman joined with Republicans on legislation to make it easier to deport child migrants. During the first two years of the Trump administration, FiveThirtyEight found that Cuellar voted with the administration nearly 70% of the time, more than any other Democrat in either chamber.
Cuellar, who is the extremely rare Democrat to have ever been endorsed by the radical anti-tax Club for Growth, is also no stranger to crossing party lines. In 2000, he supported George W. Bush's presidential campaign, and in 2018 he came to the aid of a home state colleague, John Carter, during the Republican's competitive re-election fight in the 31st District.
While Cuellar inflamed national Democrats, though, he went over a decade without attracting a serious primary foe until Cisneros decided to challenge him from the left last cycle, but she quickly proved she could raise a serious amount of money for what turned out to be a pricey and nasty race. Cisneros went after Cuellar for his conservative voting record, with one ad declaring, "Not only did Cuellar vote for Trump's wall twice, but he's taken over $100,000 from corporations that build facilities and cages to detain families." EMILY's List also spent $1 million to back her, while many labor groups were in Cisneros' corner as well.
The congressman, meanwhile, ran a race that could have easily passed for a GOP campaign against the woman his team derided as "the Socialist Cisneros." He argued that Cisneros' support for environmental protection policies would destroy local oil industry jobs, and he aired a commercial arguing that she "supports allowing minors to have an abortion without parents' knowledge."
Cuellar and his allies also tried to portray Cisneros, who was born and raised in South Texas and returned home after briefly practicing law in New York, as an outsider; one particularly ugly mailer from a pro-Cuellar group charged that the challenger was "bringing New York flavor to Texas," complete with pictures of "NYC Pizza" and "NYC Bagel."
Cuellar benefited from spending from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and, remarkably, the Koch network, the first Democrat ever to do so. Republican voters also likely pushed him across the finish line in what turned out to be a tight race: Texas does not have party registration, which left GOP voters who didn't participate in Donald Trump's uncompetitive primary free to vote in the Democratic race.
Cisneros kicked off her new campaign Thursday arguing that not only did Cuellar remain too conservative, he'd also done a poor job aiding his constituents during the pandemic: She specifically took him to task for helping obtain coronavirus testing kits for the district last year that turned out to be defective.
Cisneros' entry into the race attracted far more attention than her launch did two years ago, but that's not the only way that the 2022 primary will be different from last cycle's fight. Perhaps most importantly, no one knows what this constituency will look like after the GOP legislature finishes redistricting, much less whether map makers will try to make it more Republican. And even if the new 28th District doesn't change much, Trump's gains last year could leave some Democrats nervous about losing Cuellar as their nominee.
One other factor is that while the 2020 race was a duel between Cuellar and Cisneros, next year's race could be more crowded. One other contender, educator Tannya Benavides, kicked off her own campaign in mid-June: While Benavides brought in just over $10,000 over the next few weeks, her presence on the ballot could make it tougher for anyone to win the majority of the vote they'd need to avoid a primary runoff.
Cuellar, for his part, raised $240,000 during the second quarter of 2021 and ended June with $1.7 million in the bank. That's considerably less than the $3 million he had available at this point in the 2020 cycle, but it does give him a big head start ahead of his rematch with Cisneros.
● Redistricting: Mark your calendars: The U.S. Census Bureau will release the population data essential for redistricting at a press conference on the afternoon of Aug. 12. The deadline was originally set for April 1, but it was delayed because of disruptions from the pandemic.
● GA-Sen: CNN reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is one of the many prominent Republicans who is worried that former football star Herschel Walker will jeopardize Team Red's chances against Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock should he run, and that he's hoping one prominent name will reconsider his plans to stay out of the race. Former Sen. David Perdue took his name out of contention back in February, but CNN writes that McConnell "has suggested to allies" that he'd like for Perdue to switch course.
Perdue met with McConnell last month in D.C., and while we don't know exactly what was discussed, it's a good bet this contest came up. Perdue himself ignored questions at the time inquiring if he'd run again, and CNN says he also attended a party donor dinner on that trip and "indicated he had nothing to say about whether he would launch another Senate campaign."
The story also says that McConnell would like it if another former GOP senator, Kelly Loeffler, ran as well. Loeffler, unlike her ex-colleague, has shown some public interest, but it's not clear if she's willing to take on Walker if he gets in. An unnamed source did tell CNN that Loeffler would "likely" run should Walker, whom Donald Trump has been aggressively trying to recruit, ultimately stay out, though that would hardly solve McConnell's immediate dilemma.
A trio of notable Peach State Republicans are already in, and McConnell reportedly will be meeting with at least some of them. The top fundraiser so far is banking executive Latham Saddler, who raised $1.4 million and ended June with $1.1 million to spend. State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, meanwhile, brought in just over $700,000 during his opening weeks and had $680,000 in the bank. Businessman Kelvin King, finally, took in $380,000 from donors, self-funded an additional $300,000, and had $570,000 on-hand.
So far, Black has been the only one to attack Walker, though he hasn't yet brought up the allegations that his would-be rival threatened to kill his ex-wife in 2005. Instead, the commissioner released a digital ad this week making fun of a video where Walker, a longtime Texas resident, got out of a car sporting what appeared to be his new Georgia license plate. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says that plate is suspended.) "For fun, my ride's a tractor," said Black, "And I've had Georgia plates all my life."
Whoever emerges with the GOP nod will be in for an expensive race against Warnock, who remains a strong fundraiser months after his January special election win. The senator brought in $6.9 million during the second quarter, and he had $10.5 million on-hand.
● AL-Gov: Gov. Kay Ivey raised $525,000 during July ahead of a potential Republican primary challenge from state Auditor Jim Zeigler, and she had $1.7 million on-hand. Zeigler, who says he'll announce if he'll run on Aug. 21, did set up a fundraising committee this week, though he says state law required him to do that because his GoFundMe campaign fundraiser brought in more than $1,000.
● CA-Gov: SurveyUSA's first poll of the Sept. 14 recall election shows two very unexpected outcomes: a majority of voters are ready to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom, but a fellow Democrat leads in the race to replace him.
While almost every other poll has found at least a plurality of voters saying they'll vote against firing Newsom, SurveyUSA has a 51-40 majority in favor of the pro-recall yes side. Recent numbers from UC Berkeley and Core Decision Analytics showed the anti-recall side ahead 50-47 and 49-42, respectively―closer than Democrats might feel comfortable with, but nowhere near as bad as what these newest numbers show.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, SurveyUSA finds Democrat Kevin Paffrath, a financial analyst who is best known for his YouTube videos about personal finance, leading conservative radio host Larry Elder 27-23 in the race to replace Newsom—though crucially, Paffrath was the only Democratic option offered. Both the aforementioned polls found Elder ahead of other Republicans, with Paffrath, who has no establishment support, taking a mere 3% of the vote.
We always caution that you should never let one poll determine your outlook of a race, and that's especially true when that poll has such startling results. We'll almost certainly get more numbers here before too long, though, which will give us a better idea of the state of next month's race.
● HI-Gov: Honolulu City Councilwoman Andria Tupola, a Republican, announced Wednesday that she would not run for governor next year. Tupola was Team Red’s 2018 nominee against Democratic Gov. David Ige, a contest she lost 63-34.
Tupola is the only Republican who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for this office so far, which Republicans have not won since 2006.
● IL-Gov: Kirk Dillard, who heads the board of directors for the Regional Transportation Agency, said on Wednesday that he was considering seeking the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker next year. Dillard was the runner-up in the 2010 and 2014 Republican primaries for this seat, losing both races by narrow margins.
● NH-Gov: John DiStaso of WMUR writes that some New Hampshire Democrats are urging Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington to run for governor next year. There’s no quote from Warmington about her 2022 plans, though DiStaso also relays that she’s focused on her current job, which is not a no.
Warmington is the lone Democrat on the five-member Executive Council, a body that is key for certain legislation along with approving executive and judicial appointments. Currently, Democrats do not yet have a notable candidate for this seat, though Rep. Chris Pappas and 2020 nominee Dan Feltes have not ruled out bids.
● NY-Gov: Following Tuesday’s bombshell release of the state attorney general's investigation report concluding that Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, five New York district attorneys have confirmed that they’re investigating sexual harassment allegations against the governor, with two of them saying that they’ve already opened criminal investigations. Cuomo may have more immediate worries, though, as the Associated Press reports that 86 of the 150 members of the state Assembly say they support opening impeachment proceedings.
If a majority of the lower chamber votes to impeach him, Cuomo’s powers would be temporarily transferred to a fellow Democrat, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul; the governor would only regain his powers if he manages to avoid conviction in the Senate. It will likely be a little while, though, before impeachment can start. The Democratic-run Assembly has given Cuomo until Aug. 13 to submit evidence in his defense, and two members of the Judiciary Committee, Tom Abinanti and Phil Steck, tell the AP they expect the chamber’s investigation to end in “weeks or a month.”
The pair said that plenty of their colleagues want Cuomo impeached much faster following the release of Attorney General Tish James’s report. However, they argued that the Assembly needs time to build a strong argument for the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats and would ultimately decide Cuomo’s fate.
Deputy Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris said that should the Assembly vote to impeach, his chamber could begin Cuomo’s trial weeks later. As we’ve written before, members of New York’s highest court, known as the Court of Appeals, would also sit as jurors. Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins would not participate, however, because she is second in the line of succession after the lieutenant governor. As a result, the jury would consist of seven judges—all of whom are Cuomo appointees—and 62 senators, with a two-thirds majority, or 46 votes, needed to convict the governor and remove him from office.
Cuomo could avoid all this by resigning, but he’s continued to proclaim his innocence and refuse to quit. The governor was similarly defiant in March as more and more allegations surfaced about his behavior and other alleged abuses in office, but while he had enough allies back then to hang on, his situation has very much deteriorated following James’ Tuesday press conference. Several longtime Cuomo backers, including state party chair Jay Jacobs and the state’s influential unions, have turned against him, and the New York Times notes that he has very few prominent defenders left.
Indeed, Cuomo’s most high-profile advocate at this point may be disgraced Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who characteristically compared Cuomo’s situation to the multitude of allegations leveled at his old client. Giuliani’s son, former White House staffer Andrew Giuliani, announced earlier this year that he’d run against Cuomo.
● FL-20: State Sen. Bobby Powell said Wednesday that he would support state Rep. Bobby DuBose rather than compete in November's special Democratic primary. The filing deadline is Aug. 10.
● MO-07: GOP Rep. Billy Long kicked off a Senate bid earlier this week, and several Republicans have already been mentioned or expressed interest in replacing the six-term congressman in this 70-28 Trump seat.
State Sen. Mike Moon, former state Sen. Jay Wasson, and physician Sam Alexander all indicated they were considering getting in. State Sen. Lincoln Hough, whom the Missouri Independent mentioned as a possible candidate on Wednesday, also did not rule out a bid. State Rep. Cody Smith and former state Sen. Gary Nodler likewise did not rule out bids, but both sound unlikely to run.
State Sen. Bill White, former state House Speaker Elijah Haahr, Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon, and former state Sen. Ron Richard all said they would not enter the contest, while former U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison was mentioned as a possible candidate by St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum.
● Cleveland, OH Mayor: EMILY’s List has endorsed Democratic state Sen. Sandra Williams for mayor of Cleveland.