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.
● NJ-Gov: It looks like the Democratic Governors Association wants to stir up some GOP anxiety by releasing a poll of New Jersey's June 8 Republican primary for governor that shows the ostensible frontrunner, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, leading perennial candidate Hirsh Singh just 29-23.
But with Hudson County pastor Phil Rizzo taking 8% and former Franklin Mayor Brian Levine at just 2%, according to the survey from Public Policy Polling, that means 38% of voters are undecided, so there's lots of room left for wiggling. Perhaps most surprisingly, PPP's numbers also suggest that a recent Singh poll that had him up 22-20 weren't completely bonkers.
Ciattarelli seems to agree. As the New Jersey Globe's David Wildstein notes, he just went up with ads criticizing Singh for "attacking our men and women in blue" alongside "the woke mob" and aggressively criticized his rival in the lone debate of the race on Tuesday night. Singh has portrayed himself as the only true Trump acolyte running, which explains why Ciattarelli's ad labels him a "fake MAGA candidate."
It's all quite a turnaround from where we were just last month: Ciattarelli was acting as though he had the nomination sewn up, seeing as he was firing off a barrage of ads attacking Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. We'll know in less than two weeks how premature his pivot to the general election really was.
● MO-Sen: The Missouri Independent reports that, according to unnamed "sources familiar with her plans," Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler will announce a Senate bid early next month.
● OH-Sen: Republican Rep. Bill Johnson, who'd been considering a Senate bid ever since Rob Portman unexpectedly announced his retirement in January, has opted against joining the race. Johnson cited the presence of several well-funded candidates already seeking the GOP nod (including some with personal wealth) as an obstacle, explaining, "I'm not going to deny that coming from a base in Appalachia, where fundraising is a challenge under the best of circumstances, it can be exceptionally slow in a contested primary." Johnson's 6th Congressional District ranks 359th in the nation in median household income.
● WI-Sen: State Sen. Chris Larsen kicked off a bid Wednesday for the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Sen. Ron Johnson (who still hasn't said whether he's seeking re-election). Larsen has represented a seat in the Milwaukee area for a decade and has twice sought the position of Milwaukee County executive, including an extremely tight 2020 race that he lost 50.05-49.52 to fellow Democrat David Crowley.
Larsen is the fourth notable Democrat to enter the race, after state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.
● CA-Gov: The nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California finds the likely recall election of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom failing by a 57-40 margin, virtually unchanged from its 56-40 result in March.
● NV-Gov: Politico's Alex Isenstadt reports that former Sen. Dean Heller is "preparing to run for governor" next year and is meeting with party leaders about a bid at a conference hosted by the Republican Governors Association, according to unnamed sources "familiar with the conversations." Heller's apparent interest in running—and the RGA's interest in him—is particularly notable because of the recent entry of Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who just gave the GOP a high-profile candidate with experience winning in Nevada's most populous (and bluest) county.
But that's precisely why Lombardo's conservative bona fides might come into question. Two years ago, for instance, he ended the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's collaboration with ICE to detain individuals arrested on local charges until federal officials can apprehend them if they are also suspected of immigration violations.
Heller, however, may not be the antidote. These days, fealty to conservative dogma is entirely subordinate to fealty to Donald Trump when it comes to Republican primary voters, and the ex-senator has not scored well on that front. Most vividly, he earned undying Trumpist ire when he initially voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act in 2017, then sealed his doom when he later voted in favor of doing so. The painful flip-flop played a key role in his 50-45 loss to Democrat Jackie Rosen, which Trump himself claimed came as a consequence of Heller being "extraordinarily hostile" to him.
So who will claim the Trump mantle? The third notable candidate in the race, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, was a Democrat until last month (albeit a conservative one), a resume that poses its own obvious problems. That could leave an opening for someone else, but the most prominent name still considering the race, Rep. Mark Amodei, has been an imperfect disciple: Just two years ago, after he expressed a vague openness to Trump's first impeachment, the extremist (and extremely well-funded) Club for Growth threatened to back a primary challenger. Amodei wound up voting against impeachment, of course, but as far as the die-hards are concerned, it's very hard to erase the taint of sinning against Trump in the first place.
● VA-Gov: As the June 8 Democratic primary for Virginia’s open gubernatorial race approaches, we have a rundown of candidate spending on TV ads. According to Medium Buying, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is outspending former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy on the airwaves $3.28 million to $1.33 million. The pair are dwarfing the rest of the field as the third-biggest spender, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, has shelled out just $108,000.
On the Republican side, businessman Glenn Youngkin, who already has the nomination locked up, is out with his first general election spot. In the commercial, he plays up his business experience and attempts to paint himself as an outsider. He also takes a veiled swipe at McAuliffe, the Democratic frontrunner, when he proclaims, “What we need isn’t a politician or worse: the same politician”.
● FL-10: With Rep. Val Demings running for Senate, fellow Democrats are lining up to succeed her in Florida's 10th Congressional District, located in the Orlando area. Former State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who served one term as the top prosecutor in Orange and Osceola counties, had been considering a Senate bid herself but quickly shifted gears and announced a bid for Demings' seat. State Sen. Randolph Bracy has jumped in as well; he, too, reportedly had his eye on statewide office—in his case, the governorship.
Civil rights attorney and Navy veteran Natalie Jackson also kicked off a campaign this week. She is best known for her work on behalf of a number of families who've lost relatives to police violence, including those of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
● GA-10: Wealthy businessman Matt Richards is the latest Republican to enter the race for Georgia's deep-red 10th Congressional District. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that he's prepared to self-fund at least $1 million in his bid for this open seat.
● ME-02: Republican state Rep. Mike Perkins, who said last month that he was exploring a bid against Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, has now filed paperwork to create a campaign committee with the FEC.
● NM-01: Democrat Melanie Stansbury is out with a positive ad ahead of Tuesday’s special election. The spot touts her background in the district and also attempts to tie herself to the Biden administration. Stansbury is pictured with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (whose confirmation to that position opened this seat) and first lady Jill Biden as the voiceover says “In Congress, she’s ready to get to work with President Biden.”
Stansbury was endorsed by Biden himself earlier this week, and second gentlemen Douglas Emhoff is slated to campaign with her on Thursday.
● OK-AG: Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter abruptly announced his resignation on Wednesday, a day after The Oklahoman sent him questions about an alleged extramarital affair with a state employee. Hunter, who filed for divorce last week, did not respond to the questions or address any details, but in a statement he said, "Regrettably, certain personal matters that are becoming public will become a distraction for this office."
Hunter, a Republican, was appointed to the office by then-Gov. Mary Fallin in 2017 after the incumbent at the time, Scott Pruitt, was tapped by Donald Trump to run the EPA. He easily won election in his own right the following year, defeating Democrat Mark Myles 64-36, and had been gearing up to run for a second full term next year. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who had experienced some friction with Hunter, will now be able to name a replacement of his own.
● Boston, MA Mayor: There's no doubt that Boston will elect a person of color as mayor for the first time ever now that candidate filing has closed in this year's all-Democratic race, but as Gabby Deutch notes in her deep look at the field for Jewish Insider, this year's contest is very different from those of the past in another key way: None of the six serious contenders, writes Deutch, "are actively seeking the endorsement of the city's police union."
Of this sextet, only City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George has spoken out against the idea of reallocating funds from the police budget to other areas, though she's acknowledged that "tough conversations" are needed on the future of law enforcement. The rest of the field consists of acting Mayor Kim Janey, who was elevated from City Council president to the top job earlier this year; City Councilors Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu; state Rep. Jon Santiago; and the former head of economic development for the city, John Barros. All have called for changes in how the police conduct their work.
While a major part of this shift is due to the national movement aimed at reforming law enforcement, two unrelated scandals involving senior Boston police officials have also dominated the headlines in recent months. In April, the public learned that former officer Patrick Rose, who would later go on to head the police union, remained on the force in the mid-1990s even though a contemporary internal report concluded there was enough evidence to charge him with molesting a 12-year-old.
Other documents said that Rose had been placed on administrative duty, but even this limited sanction was withdrawn after the union threatened to file a grievance on his behalf. Rose is currently under indictment for allegedly abusing other children during the subsequent decades.
The second matter is a still-unfolding debacle that began in late January, after then-Mayor Marty Walsh was nominated to become secretary of labor but before he was confirmed. Boston Police Commissioner William Gross announced his resignation shortly after Joe Biden tapped Walsh for his cabinet, prompting Walsh to immediately appoint Gross' close friend and chief of staff, Dennis White, to succeed him.
Just days later, though, Walsh placed White on leave after the Boston Globe began asking about allegations that the new commissioner had abused his wife in 1999. Walsh also commissioned a report into what had happened, but it was still unfinished when Janey took over as acting mayor in March.
That report was released this month, though, and it revealed a previously unknown 1993 confrontation between White and a 19-year-old. The investigator, Tamsin Kaplan, also said that both the police and the Walsh administration had interfered with her probe, with Kaplan writing, "One retired BPD officer told me that they had received at least five phone calls directing them not to talk with me."
Janey quickly announced she would fire White, who went to court in an effort to block her from doing so. Gross also filed an affidavit saying that Walsh had known about the allegations against White when he made the appointment, something that the labor secretary quickly denied. It may be some time before all of this is settled: While a state judge ruled that Janey could fire White, she issued a stay the next day, allowing the commissioner to keep his job while he appeals.
It remains to be seen how this ongoing mess will impact September's officially nonpartisan face-off, which will winnow the field down to two ahead of the November general election. The entire field agrees that White needs to be replaced, though Essaibi George still accepted an endorsement from Gross, who briefly considered running for mayor himself. (A far-less controversial public safety group, the local firefighters union, is also backing her.)
There has been little polling here, though a MassINC survey conducted last month found a 46% plurality undecided. That poll also showed Wu leading Janey 19-18, while fellow Campbell was in third with 6%.
Janey's ascension to the mayor's office in March made her the city's first Black mayor, as well as its first woman leader, and she would again make history if she won the post in her own right this year. Wu, Campbell, and Essaibi George would also each be the first woman elected to the top job.
All of the contenders would also achieve another historic first. Wu, who has the backing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and many of the young activists who helped propel Ed Markey to victory in his own Senate primary last year, would be the first Asian American person to lead Boston. Campbell or former city administration official John Barros, meanwhile, would be the first Black person elected in a city that still has a reputation for racism targeting African Americans. State Rep. Jon Santiago, meanwhile, would be Boston's first Latino chief executive, while Essaibi George would be its first Arab American leader.
● New York City, NY Mayor: A new poll from Core Decision Analytics on behalf of Fontas Advisors, a lobbying group that is not working for any candidates, shows Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams leading 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang 18-13 in the June 22 Democratic primary, with former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia at 13%. That’s a notable shift from March, when this firm had Yang beating Adams 16-10 as Garcia barely registered with just 2% of the vote.
Garcia was endorsed by the New York Times earlier this month, and another survey also shows her gaining ground since then. Yang recently released a Slingshot Strategies poll that found him edging out Adams 19-16, with city Comptroller Scott Stringer and Garcia at 13% and 10%, respectively; in late April, Slingshot showed Yang leading Stringer 24-16, with Garcia at 3%. This May survey has Yang beating Adams by a narrow 51-49 after simulating the instant runoff process.
Meanwhile, another candidate is in bad shape heading into the final weeks. Three senior staffers for nonprofit head Dianne Morales, including her campaign manager, resigned over the last few days over what Politico calls “accusations of mistreatment, inadequate pay and lack of unionization and health care.” Morales responded by saying she “accepted accountability in my role as the head of this campaign that allowed for this harm to occur.”
● Manhattan, NY District Attorney: The June 22 Democratic primary to succeed Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is coming up quickly, and voters got another reminder of the power of this office on Tuesday when news broke that the retiring incumbent had convened a grand jury to weigh potential charges for Donald Trump. It remains to be seen what role Vance's eventual successor would have in this matter, but there's no question that whoever wins the primary in this extremely blue borough will be the overwhelming favorite to head what's arguably the most prominent local prosecutor's office in America.
Eight Democrats are competing in a race where it takes just a plurality to win the Democratic nomination. (While New York City voters backed a 2019 referendum to institute instant-runoff voting in primaries for many local offices, the measure does not apply to state-level posts like this one.) Almost all of the contenders have pitched themselves as progressives who will bring much-needed changes to the post, but as the New York Times' Jonah Bromwich explained in March, there are some important differences between them.
"The race can be divided into two camps," wrote Bromwich, "with three candidates who have not worked as prosecutors and five who have." The former group consists of civil rights attorney Tahanie Aboushi, public defender Eliza Orlins, and Assemblyman Dan Quart, who is also the only elected official running. This trio, wrote Bromwich, has argued that the D.A.'s role needs to involve a shift "toward reducing incarceration and cutting back prosecution of low-level crimes."
The five ex-prosecutors in the contest are Alvin Bragg, Liz Crotty, Diana Florence, Lucy Lang, and Tali Farhadian Weinstein. Crotty, a self-described centrist backed by several police unions, has run to the right of the field and cast doubt on reform efforts, saying at one debate, "I am the candidate who from the beginning of my campaign has talked about public safety." The remainder, says Bromwich, have "pitched themselves as occupying a middle ground, focused on less sweeping changes."
(The Appeal's Sam Mellins has also detailed the candidates' views on key issues, including sentencing and sex work, with helpful graphics breaking down where the field stands.)
As Bromwich noted, every contender save Quart would achieve a historic first should they prevail. Six of the candidates would be the first woman to win this office, while Aboushi would additionally be the first Muslim or Arab American to hold the post. Bragg, meanwhile, would be Manhattan's first Black district attorney.
There's still no clear frontrunner, but two of the candidates have significantly more resources than the rest of the field. Farhadian Weinstein, who is married to wealthy hedge fund manager Boaz Weinstein, took in $2.2 million from mid-January to May 17, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that more than half of her haul "came from four dozen donors, many of whom work in the financial sector."
Bragg raised a considerably smaller $710,000 during this time, though he led Farhadian Weinstein, who has been spending heavily, in cash-on-hand for the stretch run, $1.2 million to $805,000. Bragg also has the backing of three of the city's most politically influential unions, and he's benefited from $1 million in outside spending from Color of Change.
Aboushi had the third-largest war chest with $560,000 on-hand, while Quart and Orlins had $555,000 and $525,000 in the bank, respectively. Lang, who has been self-funding much of her race, had $400,000 available , while Crotty was further back with $250,000; Florence brought up the rear with $115,000 on-hand.
● John Warner, a Republican who served as Senator from Virginia from 1979 through 2009, died Tuesday at the age of 94. Warner cultivated a reputation for moderation and bipartisanship during his 30 years in the Senate, and he was long willing to oppose Republicans he disliked. In 1994, rather than back Iran-Contra figure Oliver North’s campaign against Democratic colleague Chuck Robb, Warner recruited another Republican, 1989 gubernatorial nominee Marshall Coleman, to run as an independent, a development that helped Robb win in that disastrous year for Democrats.
Warner served as secretary of the Navy during the Nixon administration from 1972 to 1974, and he attracted global attention in 1976 when he married the famed actress Elizabeth Taylor. Warner ran for an open Senate seat in 1978 but lost the GOP nominating convention to a more conservative opponent, Richard Obenshain. Obenshain, though, died in a plane crash two days later, and party officials selected Warner as their new nominee.
Warner was often overshadowed by his famous spouse during that campaign. The most remembered incident of the contest occurred in the Appalachian community of Big Stone Gap, where Taylor was hospitalized after a chicken bone became lodged in her throat, an experience that made it to “Saturday Night Live.” Warner ultimately ended up very narrowly beating his Democratic opponent, former state Attorney General Andrew Miller, 50.2-49.8, a margin of fewer than 5,000 votes. Warner spent his first few years in office still known mostly as Taylor’s husband, though their marriage ended during his first term in 1982.
Warner himself easily won re-election two years later, and he had no Democratic opposition at all in 1990. In 1996, though, he faced a serious general election challenge from wealthy businessman Mark Warner. The race was defined by the novelty of a contest between the two unrelated Warners: The challenger ordered “Mark, not John” bumper stickers that were sometimes mistaken for a biblical reference, while the incumbent urged voters to “make your mark for John.” The Republican, though, appeared safe, so it was a surprise when he held off Mark Warner just 53-47.
John Warner won his last term in 2002 again without Democratic opposition, and almost no one guessed this would be the last time Team Red would win a Virginia Senate race through today. Warner decided not to run again in 2008 and was easily succeeded by his old opponent Mark Warner, who had been elected governor during the ensuing years.
John Warner went on to back the Democratic incumbent in 2014, an endorsement that may have made the difference in what proved to be an unexpectedly tight race. Warner would go on to support Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden over Donald Trump and back a number of Democratic congressional candidates, though he still endorsed Republican nominee Ed Gillespie’s failed 2017 run for governor.